Updated: Oct 20, 2021
My Journey to where I am today started in 2008. My Daddy told me I was the worst communicator on the planet and to take a communications class. I searched and was encouraged by my boss to join Toastmasters. I wasn’t planning to do anything except learn what I needed to in order to keep peace with Daddy. At that time, I worked as a social worker for Job and Family Services, and I was becoming a “burnt out county worker.” My goal then was to just get to 30 years so I could retire. We plan, God laughs.
2013 was a year of challenge, crossroads and decisions. Around this time in that year, I was finishing my term as the 2nd black woman elected to serve as District Director of my then 72 year old district. I was also walking off of my job of nearly 10 years with a government agency. I made the decision to change careers and follow my dreams of becoming a speaker, author, teacher and IT guru (whatever that looked like). I quit with no job lined up, not a lot of money, and no plans in place of what direction I was headed in. Additionally, I was severely depressed and on the verge of suicide from grieving the loss of my father and two miscarriages I had the year before. I was a wreck! But guess what? God uses us in the most craziest times of our lives to prune us and improve us so we can become a better vessel for Him. As they say, there is truly no testimony without a TEST.
One day, I was in the heat of an argument with a family member, and this person said to me in the text thread “go work for Toastmasters for free, because that’s all you do…” Can I tell you a secret? Most of my life, I’ve been side-eyed by family members because I’m not like them. I do not fit their mold. I am different and weird. They like socialization, and I have been a loner. My girl cousins are glamorous and pride themselves with wearing name-brand labels, and I am cook with wearing sweats, t-shirts, my hair in a ponytail with my Teva or Birkenstock Sandals. I don’t operate like everyone else. I march at the beat of my own drum. I preferred traveling to wineries and reading on a hammock instead of going clubbing and bar hopping. For a long time, the fight to belong while trying to be comfortable in my own skin was debilitating for me in terms of growth and achieving goals. It was that conversation that changed the trajectory of my life. And I said forget anyone who can’t love me for who I am! I continued to allow Toastmasters to do what it needed to do to help mold me into the person I needed to become!
I am also an avid reader and learner. I thirst for knowledge like a Deer thirsts for water. Needing to learn something new is my drug of choice. I am always taking a class, reading a self-help book, earning credits and working on becoming better in my professional life. When the pandemic came, I made a decision that I was not going to be the same person going into it when it was all over. I was coming out with a new mindset, attitude, more training and additional certification, as well as the tools needed to gain another position. I was no longer willing to stunt my growth. As a Lydia, it is so important to have advanced knowledge in your field, to stay ahead of the game, and be a contender and relevant for new clients and opportunities. What you learned in 2015 cannot be used in 2021 in some fields as time has evolved us. If you want to be successful, hunger and thirst after knowledge and wisdom.
Today, I am a seven-time minted Distinguished Toastmaster - and that opened many doors for me. I am a three-time certified bestselling author, earned many awards for my “free” speaking lessons learned, a paid professional speaker with a speakers bureau, and own three businesses. Additionally, I went from a cubicle in a dark room with no windows to an office overlooking in my current professional role. God and Toastmasters did THAT for me!
Finally, Lydia, STAY THE COURSE! If you are affiliated with an organization that has allowed you the opportunity to serve in leadership or on their board, stay there! Whether you're earning a small stipend, a salary or nothing at all, there is always something to learn while you are in your position. Just like taking classes or being mentored by someone, serving is an honor and as you are giving of your time and self, you should be learning in that role as well. What you learn as a volunteer can easily be taken into a paid position, especially leadership skills. Most organizations love candidates that served as a volunteer and will use those skills you've learned towards making the decision to hire you. Do what you need to do for you!
Here is a list of recommended organizations that offer significantly reduced or free courses. Of course, if you are wanting to earn more than a certificate, you can connect with a college or university to assist you with your educational plans. Please note, we are not offering any educational advice, but providing resources only to assist. If you want academic counseling, it is advised that you reach out to your respective state's department of education.
Listen to the latest episode of The Lydia Leader Project Podcast here: https://anchor.fm/lydialeaderproject/episodes/Learning-Equals-Earning-e134nth