Rhonda Scharf shares how she went from her small town to speking all over the world.
I’m from a really small town. The kind where the speed limit doesn’t even reduce as you travel through it. Everyone knows everyone, and the big world out there is an unknown entity. Roles were traditional, jobs were predictable and although arranged marriages weren’t actually practiced, families tried to get sons and daughters together around the same time they started school.
I went to the high school my mom and dad had gone to, the same high school that my first husband attended. And two years ago, my son graduated from there, too.
In our town, your science teacher was your math teacher and your English teacher—for every year of high school. When you had a crush on someone, you had to ask your parents if you were related to them first.
My dad was an electrician and my mom stayed at home until I was 12, and then she worked at our local bank branch. We didn’t travel, we didn’t go anywhere. Social life was all about the family.
The big bad world out there was something you didn’t even think about. Girls became teachers or nurses, and boys became farmers or they worked for Hydro.
As for me, I wanted to go on the road with Bon Jovi. It wasn’t a career path my parents were thrilled with.
You didn’t “go” anywhere in my family. For us, a big trip was heading out to Kmart on Friday night. So, my Bon Jovi plans curtailed, I went to college and became a nurse instead. My parents were incredibly proud of me, their daughter in that little white dress, the cute little hat and those oh-so-comfy shoes.
I knew I wanted more. I just didn’t know what that was. I had never heard of Zig Ziglar and the only public speakers I knew were the ones I listened to in church.
So I finished college, and then I promptly changed my career path. I decided that nursing wasn’t for me and I went to work in an office.
My path to public speaking was accidental. I’m really not sure how I ended up in the front of the classroom teaching my colleagues, but I did… and I loved it.
In 1993 I ventured out on my own, delivering training. And the world began to blossom for me. In those early days I would get all excited about sleeping in a hotel room and every once in a while, I would splurge on room service. My children thought I worked at the airport.
I became pretty darned proud of myself. Me, the girl from small-town Canada, jetting off to glamorous places all over North America. When I flew to England for the first time to speak, my father started to wonder if there was something wrong with me. Why couldn’t I be happy where I was raised? Why did I want to travel when we lived in the best place in the world?
That was nearly 20 years ago and many countries ago but even today, I still get a little rush from the fact that I can travel the world and get paid for it.
Although, as you know, the travel gets old fast.
After a while, small-town started looking good to me again. I started to resent the airlines and their poor service. I found out that eating in restaurants and on airplanes is a good way to gain weight. I became a bit too comfortable with the glamorous life I was leading. When I got home I started expecting people to clean up after me and to make my bed.
I’d been to all corners of the earth speaking, and finally, enough was enough. I decided to put an end to the long-distance travel. I rearranged my business to be North American only.
But then I got an unexpected telephone call. They wanted me to speak (regularly) in the Middle East. Did I want to start that travel model again? Did I want to venture out of my very comfortable comfort zone?
I decided yes and surprisingly, it brought back that little spark for speaking in front an audience that I’d somehow lost along the way.
I hadn’t realized it but I’d become too comfortable with myself and my audience. I was complaining about the travel, and not appreciating the incredible life I had. I had taken for granted so much of what my country and my lifestyle brings to me, and I needed a wake up call.
Well, a 14-hour flight will put a little of that back into perspective for you.
I was excited; but more than anything, I was nervous again, and questioning myself. Would my message translate well in a completely different culture? I had to re-evaluate my stories, my humour and my examples to make sure they would apply where I was going.
It’s so easy to become too comfortable. You start to believe your own marketing material. We need to remind ourselves that continuous learning is the best thing we can do for our audiences. Not the learning that comes from reading another book, but the learning that occurs when you go outside your comfort zone.
The best part of world travel is not the neat little socks they give you on the plane, but it’s that humbling experience that just maybe you still have a few things to learn.
I love travelling to the Middle East (although certainly the long commute is always a challenge). I’m on my toes when I deliver, I’m very aware that what we take for granted at home is not necessarily the same on the other side of the world.
I have reworked all my material, and I know for a fact that makes me a better speaker. I find I have more compassion now, and more understanding for my audience.
And I’ve certainly got a lot more Air Mile points… points I can use to take my family along with me on our next, shared adventure.