Before I start this, I will note that this is my first blog. I have always avoided speaking on a platform in fear of pissing someone off. I was under the impression that my job was to be liked by all. It’s way too difficult for that to actually happen. So I’m going to begin sharing my thoughts and opinions, that I am aware will evolve as time passes. After all, if you aren’t growing and changing as a person, you’re wasting life experience.
This first post is about one of my speaking engagements and how the words you share are not always received in the way they are intended. Empowering others by sharing my failures and successes is one of my passions. Two things happened while speaking to an auditorium of high school seniors at a local Kansas City school that made me question if I could (or should) continue to pursue a speaking career at all.
I believe that life isn’t easy, and that was a message I wanted to get across during my time on stage. My speech was entitled “Pursuit of a Passion” during which I gave examples of my pursuit of different passions and the failures that I endured. I wanted to get the point across, and make the students aware, that they will fail in life, but never to get discouraged.
As I stood on the stage, a meme of myself stating, “If you can fail without being discouraged, success eventually becomes inevitable” was on the giant projector screen. I then started my speech like this: “We all start out as cookie dough. There are two different options in regards to picking a career. You can have a cookie cutter job. Those are jobs that have preexisting markets and paths like doctors, lawyers, teachers, mechanics, and plumbers and these jobs have 401ks, health insurance, paid vacations, and job security. If you decide to go the path less traveled, like myself, you can be cookie dough, but you’re responsible for molding yourself. There is nothing wrong with being a cookie, we aren’t all made for that, although at times I wish I were.”
Next on the projector was a slide with a picture of a cookie cutter that said, “There is nothing wrong with being a cookie.”
After I said this, a teacher tweeted and tagged me, like a gangsta, I may add, “@CamFAwesome, you might consider not insulting teachers at the beginning of a talk at a high school. #notacookie”
I do appreciate that she tagged me, but I wasn’t sure how I should respond, so I didn’t. On the side, I am also a standup comedian, and I am learning that “clean comedy” is different than “clean key-noting.” So while I know I must be more politically correct when delivering a keynote, I wasn’t expecting what I encountered.
Feedback is key, so I began to discuss this situation with others to get more opinions. I shared my experience with a few people who had mixed responses. I was told by a few people that “cookie cutter” is a derogatory term. How the hell did we get to the point of political correctness that we can play the victim to ANY term used? Some people told me that teachers are “sometimes too sensitive.” One person, which I will not name, said “Teachers fight against the status quo and bureaucracy every day because policies and mandates intend to box us in and try to make us all the same.”
Someone else told me that “cookie cutter” means a mass produced job. Does this mean a job that mandates you have classes, degrees, and certifications to be qualified for the job? And tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people are currently getting these qualifications for these jobs. If so, that is the very definition of it. I am not saying it doesn’t take hard work to get these jobs. I am stating that they have a set path for you to follow in order to reach your goals. Let me just say, I am fully aware of how overworked and underpaid teachers are.
The preexisting path and market is there and there are guidelines to qualify for that job. Teachers can absolutely still be creative and passionate. Actually, that is what makes them even better at their job. The point of my speech was to do a job because of the passion, not the money. Although not my intention, I offended at least one teacher and it was recommended for me to remove that part of my speech.
Another message I shared with the students was on chasing a passion and the confidence it takes to do so. To gain confidence, at times, you must sacrifice social comfort and believe in yourself. I shared a personal story of how I was bullied in school because of my weight and high pitched voice. I was often called bosoms and “man boobs”, and even called gay. I explained how these things affected my confidence and stopped me from chasing my goals earlier in life.
At the conclusion of my speeches, I do a live Twitter Q&A and as I scrolled though my mentions, I noticed a student said:
“@CamFAwesome Nice speech I guess but you somehow managed to offend the entire gsa & myself at the same time”
Apparently, this was due to me mentioning that I was called gay in middle school. The student was unhappy with middle school me being unhappy I was called gay. Again, I did not respond.
If I could share one thing with this person, I would suggest that they are representing a culture and to always be the best representative of your culture. I am a representative of the vegan culture and I cringe when I see “one of those” vegans making us look bad. They don’t adequately represent what we stand for. No one will like vegans if their first impression is an overly aggressive vegan that feels they need to play the victim. The same goes for sexual orientations. I think it’s ridiculous for someone to dislike someone just because they are gay. I think it’s equally ridiculous for someone to like someone just because they are gay. Remember, especially in middle school and high school, you’re making first impressions of your culture to large groups of people.
This sensitivity of a few people in that auditorium made me question if I could honestly speak within the PC lines without offending any of the 1,000+ students. After some thought, the answer is no.
The feedback I received was that I shouldn’t have mentioned the story about being called gay and I definitely shouldn’t mention the inappropriate word “boob.” Really? Do we believe high school seniors can’t handle the word boob? I wonder what songs they allow their DJs to play in their school dances.
Others also felt that the speech focused too strongly on my failures and should revolve around more of my triumphs. I don’t believe I should take the failures out of my stories, for they are the reason I am who I am today. How can you speak about resiliency without disappointment?
At first, my pride told me not to remove the term “cookie cutter” out of future speeches. But after calming down, I realized that I wasn’t doing this for self-glorification, I was doing it to get my message out in order to help others. Eventually, I decided to remove “boob”, “cookie cutter” and “gay” from my speech, because in the end, my passion for helping others weighs much heavier than my pride.
The positive part about this story is that my message was received by the majority of the students, who vocalized it through Twitter. And honestly, if I only got through to one out of the 1,000+ students, I would still consider it a success. I wish someone would have told me what I know now when I was in high school. For that, I thank the school for allowing me to share my message. I encourage all students to pursue their passions and never give up… because if you can fail without being discouraged, success eventually becomes inevitable.
Moving forward, I will continue to improve and share my message with the world, and I no longer attempt to be liked and accepted by everyone. It’s way to exhausting.
P.S. People like cookies.