It’s a cult! Or is it? Madame Toastmaster, esteemed guests and fellow Toastmasters; good evening and welcome to the cult of Toastmasters.
I am a seeker. I look for connections with other people in this hurricane we call life. I like to feel useful and appreciated, even needed. This search for belonging has led me down some interesting paths.
In my early twenties I joined an organization called RunWalkforLife. It all started innocently enough; I was to walk/run for 7 and a half minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Almost before I knew it 7.5 minutes became 10, 10 became 12.5. The next thing I was running a 5km race every Sunday. The amount of time I spent running increased, and it all culminated in a 15km race one cold, dark, early Sunday morning. I had been up late the night before, so late in fact that in my brain it made sense to stay awake, as I needed to get up so early for the race. A few hours, 3 strong, hot coffees and a peanut-butter banana sandwich later, I was huddled amongst the other runners in the pre-race excitement. I stretched my sleep-deprived muscles and tried to warm up – a futile attempt in the icy June air. How did I get here?
All the signs were there: The soft-sell, starting with baby steps. Then, gradually requiring more and more of my personal time. Lastly, strange rituals performed in large groups: have you ever seen a 5km race on a Sunday morning? From a distance it looks like a swarm of ants smothering the tar road, carrying their pickings en masse to the finish line!
I realized that I had joined a cult. The extraction process was smooth. My carefully devised escape plan consisted of flu, then missing a few training runs, and ultimately letting natural motivation wane.
I had my freedom back! But not for long. I found myself signing up to a Weigh-Less club. The plans and checklists of this detailed diet plan really did it for my Type A personality. I planned out all my meals, meticulously measuring each morsel of food before it entered my mouth. Soon I was attending weekly weigh-ins – a part of my life I would rather forget! It wasn’t long before the group had its long, sticky tentacles all over me and my personal life. After experiencing some weight loss with the program, I was “promoted” to group leader. I ran not 1, not 2 but 3 weekly weigh-in meetings at local clubs. I was overcommitted and stuck. At the weigh-ins each person at their turn would nervously take off their shoes, then their belts, then their watches, hair accessories, even earrings before they get on the scale! All in an effort to weigh a few grams less!
All the signs were there: The soft sell: they make the plan really fun and easy to follow at the beginning. The gradually encroaching more and more on my personal time: Lugging that heavy scale up and down stairs to the various venues. And strange rituals performed in large groups. Those weigh-ins were creepy!
I realized that I had joined a cult. My exit this time was easier – all I had to do was decide that I do indeed like eating foodI didn’t have to worry about every bite that must first be measured and accounted for.
As you may understand, I was quite wary by the time I joined Toastmasters –
All the signs are there: The soft-sell: an extremely welcoming environment making to make you feel safe. The gradual taking over of my personal time – anyone who has taken part in the executive committee as a club officer can attest to this – running a club is like running a small country. And lastly, strange rituals performed in large groups – have you ever attended a meeting?
There are however signs of a different nature that I can see in Toastmasters: A sense of community- every meeting made possible by members playing various roles. A sense of a higher purpose- we are all here together to achieve something valuable: better communication and honed leadership skills. And Group integrity- we do what we say and we say what we do. Although the club may require more time from you as you progress, we each make the commitment that we are able to, to run the club in an awesome fashion.
I have found where I belong. Although it has some similarities to my cults of yesteryear, Toastmasters proves to be more than just a group of like-minded seekers. We are a tribe, an ecosystem, gracefully weathering the hurricane of life as we help each other thrive together.
A few cults later, I finally found my cult, or rather tribe! Have you?