I’m a Horrible Speaker

I, Scott Backovich, am the worst youth speaker I know.

Sadly, the above statement is 100% accurate (and has caused me to have quite the busy fall).

I have been in-and-out of doctors’ offices, ear/nose/throat specialists’ exam rooms, and hospitals for the past year and a half trying to diagnose a recurring health problem that I have been going through.

Before you get worried and have your grandmother send me cookies (which would be greatly appreciated), let me explain…

Every 6 weeks since June of 2010, my entire vocal system (including any feeling I might have in my throat) would essentially shut down, calling for me to go on a regimen of antibiotics to restore my health in time for my next speech or conference appearance.

Sometimes I would be lucky—the antibiotics would work, I would feel rejuvenated on stage, and everything would go well. Other times though, I wasn’t so lucky. I would struggle to speak for more than an hour, fight to maintain pitch and tone, and do everything I could to maintain a decent volume.

A few weeks ago though, (and after having an HD camera shoved down my throat) I finally received the answer as to what has been going on.

When speaking, your body uses a group of muscles in harmony to produce speech. Two of these muscles are primary, doing the vast majority of the work and supplying to pure power required to make sound. Two of the other muscles, while far less important, function to do smaller things such as control pitch and tone, fine tuning the power that the initial three muscles create. While still important, these last two muscles should not be overworked.

But unfortunately, my vocal system did not get the memo.

As the camera showed, my body does the exact opposite of what it is supposed to. Instead of doing the majority of the work, my primary muscles don’t do much of anything. Instead of simply fine tuning the sound produced, my two helper muscles do all of the work, causing the m to get tired, sick, and then to shut down.

Like I said, I’m a horrible speaker.

And as if it weren’t ironic enough, I will soon have to undergo speech therapy, re-teaching my muscles step-by-step to do one of my body’s most basic functions—to talk.

My point in telling you that story is not to make you feel bad for me, my situation, or to laugh at the irony of everything (though I personally find it hilarious). On the contrary, I decided to write today to tell you something different—

Sometimes, the things in life that are the most fulfilling are the exact things that constantly present you with daunting challenges.

Homecoming weeks at schools are here, midterms are clearly present, and for a lot of you, the stress of the school year is at an all-time high. And while you might be able to lighten the load by pulling near all-nighters, putting in hours upon hours of extra prep work after school, or neglecting everything else to stay focused, the sad fact is that your body will eventually run out of energy.

Instead of virtually killing yourself by sacrificing your body and doing the same things you’ve always done, my challenge to you is the same that I currently face:

Take the time to relearn something you do constantly in a new way.

Maybe that means restructuring how you spend your time during the day, perhaps it means getting better at designating tasks, or it might even be simply learning to let go at one time or another to see things pan-out for themselves.

Nothing truly great in life comes without the work to make it something great, and more importantly, nobody ever did something flawlessly without first doing it horribly hundreds of times.

Even if it is the most routine task you do on a daily basis, relearning to do things in different, more efficient ways can make our lives (and the lives of those around us), much more fulfilling.

I will be doing my best to relearn how to speak. What will you relearn to do?

No Ordinary Burger

One of the cool things about my “job” is not only speaking to teens at schools and conferences, but also hanging out with students afterwards for leadership training and awesome conversation. Usually, we’re able to strike up epic discussions about the important things in life: the new season of Glee, the horrible changes that Facebook has made to their homepage (a recurring topic), and when Eclipse is hitting theatres (fellas, Eclipse is the new TWILIGHT movie–take your lady friend to see it).

Recently, I was the featured middle school speaker at a leadership retreat in Idyllwild, California. After I got off the stage, the advisors invited me to a barbeque dinner with the students before we got started with in-depth workshops. I never turn down free food (let alone barbequed deliciousness), so I was completely game to pig out with the students for an hour or so. The coolest part about the night’s dinner was that the leadership students, not the advisors, would be preparing the food for us. Yum!

As group breakout time came to a close, the students sprang to work cutting lettuce, preparing buns, frying French fries, and most importantly, grilling burgers. After about 45 minutes of intense cooking time, I walked into the kitchen to view the students’ progress. Though about 12 leadership members had been cooking for nearly an hour, no cooked food could be found in the kitchen (sadness).

Instead of simply throwing the food on the grill, the groups’ 12 chef burger mafia had gotten together in the kitchen to prepare some special food for the nights meal. In their words, they were preparing “In-N-Out…but BETTER.” This consisted of a bun with the usual toppings (including “special spread”), and what was to be called a ‘deluxe burger’ (that’s right; this was no ordinary beef patty).

After talking to a few of the chefs, I found that the students had begun slicing beef patties in various ways in order to insert cheese in the middle of the burger. Also, the students began finding new and creative ways to include various vegetables into the burger itself.

An hour of preparation later, I was handed a “deluxe burger” with all the proper condiments. Within a second of my first bite, one thing became clear: it was DEFINITELY better than In-N-Out! We’re talking melt in your mouth delicious (ok, now I’m hungry again). As I looked around the room, everyone else shared the same satisfied expression on their faces. Finally, the night was topped off with applause as the 12 year old chefs made their appearance into the eating area. Needless to say, it was a cool site to see.

It’s interesting how a concept as simple as making a burger can bring so much joy and enthusiasm to a group of creative students. Rather than viewing the task of making dinner as a chore or a job, the students saw the night’s meal as an opportunity to be innovative (and have some fun while doing so).

I think that this is an approach that we as leaders need to strive to make within our groups and organizations. Instead of doing the same things year after year and viewing them as chores, we need to look at our action items as chances to innovate, experiment, and create.

Spring can easily become a time of year where we attempt to get back up to speed with everything on our plates. Whether its planning last minute trips for the summer, writing next to a million emails to those we need to contact, or cramming together homework and studying just in time for finals, we are all guilty of doing satisfactory “catch up” work at one time or another.

During these next few weeks, I encourage you to take some time and see where you can implement some creative changes into your yearly routine. Form a new study pattern with friends, think of a different way to go about writing your emails, or simply find new ways to free up a couple minutes to yourself. By constantly innovating the way we do things, we can help to make something far better than the average meal. =]

I hope you take the time to do so. I definitely will (but first, I’m off to eat).

We Need a Saucer

After devoting a few weeks of blog space to adventures that I thought people should spend some time on, I personally decided to take a day to go on my own expedition.  Earlier this week, a few friends and I made our way up to the Sierra Nevada’s for some fun in the snow. I’m still not quite used to the cold that Northern California has to offer (I forgot my Snuggie back home), but I was stoked nonetheless to jump into a fresh layer of powder when we got up there.

Eventually, the day brought us to a large opening on the side of the road near Strawberry, California (insert food joke here).  The small recreation area consisted of one HUGE hill that sledders could use to slide down on whatever they had with them. In the middle of the slope stood one large jump that daredevils could go off of if they were feeling risky. Luckily, we came prepared for the day with a few sleds and toboggans. Oh yes, it was game time.

Our first few trips down the hill were all but graceful. Matter of fact, none of us ACTUALLY made it down the slope our first couple of tries (our sleds did though…sad). Thirty minutes into our failed battle with the jump, we decided to take a quick break and watch some of the other sledders.

We spent the next few minutes looking on as countless people tried to make it to the dreaded jump of doom and failed. One after another, teens to adults would approach the lift only to either fall off or purposely slow down to avoid launching themselves into the air…

Except for one person.

No older than 6 or 7, a small girl began to draw a crowd as she repeatedly launched herself off the jump (and when I say launch, I’m not talking about a few inches…try a few feet). Her routine was simple: walk up, hop on her saucer, get major air, repeat. The more she jumped, the more people would huddle around to watch, all talking about how brave the girl was for doing something that everyone else feared.

I think that everyone is guilty of losing some of their childhood ambition at one point or another. Often times, the things we once viewed as entertaining and adventurous are now looked at as dangerous and risky. Instead of recognizing the jump as a source of fun and excitement, we too were guilty of counting its flaws and hazards. Only after repeatedly watching the girl attack the hill without fear were we truly able to take a swing at it.

Instead of giving you step-by-step instructions for your final adventure, I hope you take some time in the next few days to explore something in your life that you would usually shy away from. Go on your own winter hike, reconnect with some childhood friends, or even take a trip out to an old-school hangout location.

By taking a little bit of time to live life with some childhood spirit, I think we can all be refreshed and prepared to take this new year head-on.