Dare to Question the Norm – A Tale of Two Women

My message to you today is this: Dare to question the norm.  

Susan Cain is the author of the New York Times best-selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  The video of Her TED talk “The Power of Introvert” has been viewed more than 25 million times. In that TED talk, she describes her experience in packing a suitcase of books to take to a summer camp. After a couple of failed attempts to read (she read a lot, that was her habit), and seen as un-cool, she put the suitcase away under her bed. What she experienced in that camp would be repeated many times during her life. She learned to hide the fact that she is an introvert, and became a successful Wall Street attorney.  But she knew that wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life. She spent six years researching and writing before publishing her book.  She wanted to share the findings of her research with large audiences.  Though she had spoken publicly before (after all she was an attorney), she wanted to communicate her findings in an effective way.  What do you think she did?

Yes, she joined Toastmasters.  In an interview she gave the Toastmasters magazine in 2012, she said, it was about speaking outside of her comfort zone.  She could practice her speech among fellow Toastmasters. Many of them, in fact, 50% of them, were introverts.

What did Susan dare to question? She questioned the norm that you needed to be an extrovert in order to succeed. She questioned the practices of designing schools and workspaces to make it hard for introverts to perform to their potentials. 

She succeeded as an introvert and advocates for introverts. She questioned the norm.

How many of you have heard of Helen Blanchard?

She was the first woman to be admitted to the Toastmasters in 1970. She worked for the Navy Research and Development Center in San Diego.  She was new on the job that required her to travel and train offshore Navy engineers in a standard way to analyze and report on the data they collected.  She needed all the help she could get. One day she came across an ad that said “Join Toastmasters and present with confidence”.  Helen thought this would be perfect for her. She didn’t read the fine print which said: “only for men on the move”.  When she called the number on the ad, the man said it was only for men, but she went to the meeting anyway.  She was very impressed with the evaluation segment and decided to join.  She formally applied under the gender-neutral name of H. Blanchard.  The application was sent to the headquarters, and in the meantime, Helen continued to attend the meeting.  A few weeks later, the application was sent back, asking for a first name. The club president didn’t want to send her real name. And get this – they used table topics to select a name – and it was “Homer”.  She remained Homer, until 1971 when the club was granted acceptance of female members because they were meeting on federal property.  This then prompted Toastmasters to change its policy in 1973 to accept women into Toastmasters. 

In 1985, Helen went on to become the first woman president of Toastmasters International.

What did Helen do? She questioned the norm. She was innovative and didn’t hold back.

Take a risk. Question the norm. You will be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Note: A version of this was delivered as a speech at my Toastmasters club.

Image of Susan courtesy Wikipedia

Image of Helen courtesy Toastmasters International

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