I recently enrolled on Toastmasters International.
If you are already picturing me graciously rotating a glass of red wine, I am afraid I’m going to burst your bubble. Toastmasters International is a network of clubs that provides a well organised and friendly environment to practice public speaking and improve communication and leadership skills.
Clubs gather every other week, in meetings where some of the members deliver short speeches and receive evaluations and feedback from others.
The history of this non profit educational organisation started in 1924 in California. Since then, Toastmasters International has tested and established an effective format for its meetings.
I first read about this organisation about one year ago. I bumped into it while randomly browsing the internet for tips to practice and improve my English, but only decided to join it a few weeks ago.
Although quite sociable and curious of others, I am not exactly a gregarious person. Clubs, lobbies and closed circles never looked too appealing to me , …besides that one time in middle school when I tried to convince my classmates to start an adventurous, Goonies-like society and had absolutely no luck in finding followers (but that’s another story).
However, I found out that Toastmasters clubs are more inclusive than I thought and distribute roles in a very equitable way, for those who wish to get involved.
So far, it’s been an interesting experiment.
One of the club’s customs is the “word of the day”: at the beginning of the meeting one member presents a word related to the theme of the evening and invites the other participants to use it in their speeches.
My first role in the club was to choose and introduce the word of the day during this week’s meeting, the theme of which was The Road to Inspiration.
Here is my presentation of the word I picked.
The word of the day is SERENDIPITY. I chose it because it describes my favourite form of inspiration. It’s also one of the rare words in the English language to have a known inventor.
The term was coined by the British writer and politician Horace Walpole in 1754. Its definition is: ‘luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for’.
In other words, serendipity indicates a lucky coincidence that brings unexpected beneficial outcomes. For added fun, you can try to use the related adjective serendipitous or the adverb serendipitously.
Walpole named this fascinating concept after Serendip, an old name for Sri Lanka. The reference is to an old tale, The Three Princes of Serendip, the heroes of which – in Walpole’s words – ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of ’.
Serendipity plays (in fact) an important role in creativity and discovery. We owe some of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind to fortunate strokes of serendipity: penicillin, the microwave oven, tarte tatin, …even Viagra, just to name a few (quite diverse) examples.
They were all discovered by chance, but not by accident, in my belief. You can only encounter serendipity while you are up to something else; it happens when your mind is applied to a purpose and your spirit excited with eagerness, receptive to the unpredictable.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote: ‘birds do not sing in caves, nor do doves cherish their innocence in dovecots’.
To my understanding, what he meant is that you are not going to find your inspiration as long as you constrain your true self, not even in the most confortable of cages.
If you have any song to sing, you should fly out of the enslaving coziness of your cave right now! Keep busy, stay open, apply yourself to what you’re good at!