Strive for Progress, Not Perfection

I can’t recall where I first heard this quote, but I’ve adopted it as my mantra.  It’s been written on my whiteboard at work since the time before COVID. The quote speaks to me; it applies to all areas of my life, including Toastmasters. My DTM project was to chair Division B-Day on Nov 25, 2021.

Guess what my theme was? Strive for Progress, Not Perfection.

My name is Dawn Thomas-Cameron. I have been a Toastmaster since 2003.  My primary reason for joining was to be able to speak in public without “shaking the podium.” Ironically, this was my experience from Grade 11 Student Representative Council (SRC) elections. Public speaking was not my forte. And they didn’t teach it in school when I attended – elementary, secondary, or post-secondary. Presentations were given, but they were not effective.

Eleven years after joining my first club meeting in Saskatoon, I attained my first Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM).  I was so proud! This was not my intention when I first joined Toastmasters.  A boot camp run by Keith Lee changed all that.  He gave out a roadmap to fill out; when I had done so, I realized I only needed a couple more things to complete my DTM – on the leadership side. My first DTM was in my line of sight; I completed it approximately 2 years later.

When Pathways was launched a few years ago, I was one of the first members of my club to sign up and start working the program.  Ironically, I had served 2 years as a Pathways Learning Master, so I was eager to see the changes to the program.

And so, I started my next journey – a second DTM.  This time, it only took me 3 years to achieve this. I made it through 2 paths in Pathways. Fortunately, I had a club mentor role and Speechcraft banked from years before. I took on Area Director for 2020 – 2021 as my last major leadership role. And then I did my DTM project.

You might wonder what I get from staying in Toastmasters after achieving a DTM award (well, 2 now).  First, paying it forward; many people served as mentors (informally and formally) and now, I have the opportunity to do the same for others. Second, the weekly meetings help keep my butterflies flying in formation. (I get rusty when I take a break.)

Advice for someone else working the Toastmasters program:

  • Step outside your comfort zone. That’s the only way you can learn.  It doesn’t have to be very far outside your comfort zone – just a little way.
  • Take your next best step. Even if it’s just a baby step – take the next one. Book and deliver your next speech. Finish a level. Complete a path. Take on a leadership role.
  • Track your educational awards and speeches. I use a spreadsheet with every speech I’ve given and which projects and paths I’m working on. It keeps me organized; I even put upcoming speeches in.
  • Set a goal. It’s hard to hit a moving target.  Set a goal and work towards it. If you don’t make it, re-evaluate, and set a new one.  I planned to get my first Competent Communicator (CC) within a year.  It took me 16 months, but I did it.
  • Spread it out. Break the larger goal into bite size pieces. It’s not necessary to do everything in a short period of time.  Sure, some people only take 4 years to get a DTM.  Others take 10 years.  And others, decades.  Progress is progress.
  • Celebrate the little things. Gave a speech…buy yourself a special drink. Finished a level…post it to social media. Completed a path…get your nails done.  Every little thing should be celebrated – even if it’s just a self-administered pat on the back.

And most importantly, strive for progress, not perfection. Your speech can always be tweaked. Your goal can change. Life happens. Global pandemics hit.

You don’t have to be perfect. Your speeches don’t have to be perfect. Remember that Toastmasters is a “mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every member has the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.”

It’s your journey. Plan it, embrace it, celebrate it. And strive for progress, not perfection.

Dawn Thomas-Cameron, DTM
President, Downtowners Toastmasters Club

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