Be a Sponge: “YOU CAN’T!” Unless You’ve Got These 5 Assets | Darren LaCroix

Be a Sponge: “YOU CAN’T!” Unless You’ve Got These 5 Assets

By Darren LaCroix | Master Public Speaking

No matter what challenges you’re facing, or ridiculous dreams in front of you, your naysayers could be right, unless you own these five assets. The cool part is that some are free and some are almost free. What are they?

Well, first let me ask, are you a hobbyist? A dreamer? Or are you someone who lives a life worth watching? It is a choice. If you want to overcome your obstacles and own your dream, you need to find, gather and own these assets and let no one take them from you.

Asset #1 A Decision

A week ago, I was sick and tired of being tired and “saying” I was going to get back to exercising. Talk is cheap and makes the talker feel good for a day, but the walker is the person who is doing it. Are you walking or talking? I was a talker. I kept making it a goal to build up to running four miles for several years. I start with a single mile and creep a little higher, and then stop. I can’t say exactly what triggered it, but last week I decided I was just going to run four miles. It didn’t matter how long it took me, or even if it ended in a shuffle, I was going to go the distance. I did. Amazing. I had it in me all of this time, but let my limiting self-talk win. Letting the doubts and being tired keep me from that goal. I kid you not, last week when I walked up to my house, only steps from completing the four miles, I saw this rainbow. To me it was like God smiling, saying, “It was there, you just needed to decide.” Since then I have run four miles about every other day.

I was at a conference last week and heard a quote from a book by Price Pritchett, author of You2 (I ordered the book, but I could not find the quote on the internet to verify), but the quote I heard was, “Be the person who takes ownership of the result even before they know how.” WOW. Brilliant!  I realized, that was who I was when I started standup after my first night. I didn’t care how long it took and I had no idea how I was going to figure out how to make people laugh, but I decided I would find a way. It worked. Honestly, lately, I lost my grit somewhere along the way. I need to get it back and that is what I’m doing now. My own four-mile run was a huge “aha!” Filled with a regret of not deciding sooner! I also celebrated that I finally did decide and it worked. You can either decide to be a hobbyist or decide that you will find a way to make it happen. If you don’t intentionally decide, you actually did decide not to commit. Deciding is free. Not deciding can be very costly in terms of time, energy and lackluster results. Where in your life, do you need to actually decide? Decide.

Asset #2 – Consistent Effort

When I went to China a year ago, I kept seeing this feisty speaker named Sherrie Su. She reminded me of myself back in the day. She was speaking all over and I could see the effort she was putting in and how hard she was working. I heard other speakers compliment her everywhere I went. It is easy to stand out when you work harder than everyone else. Mentors and colleagues can easily see who puts in the most effort. Sherrie was up there at the top of the list. She put in consistent effort.

If you know my story, you heard that at the beginning of my career, I looked for stage time anywhere I could get it. I was not looking to be a speaker, I didn’t even know what that was when I stumbled upon Toastmasters. My mentors told me there was no replacement for actual experience of being on stage. Time for joke writing was important, but the time on stage was priceless. It was also rare. There were only so many places and small windows of opportunity. That was why I drove two and a half hours to Portland, Maine from Boston on some nights. My friends thought I was stupid, my mentors were impressed. Who do your efforts impress? Make sure your efforts would be admired by people who know what it takes to succeed in your chosen goal.

The biggest part of this though, is the consistency. Consistent effort yields experience, which leads to wisdom. Wisdom is a crucial part of achievement. Perpetual students are common. Hearing it and knowing it are both only potential. I can tell you what I learned from the experience of watching 90 World Championship Finalist speeches, but you can only hear the insights, that’s not the same as studying, to knowing and applying it the way I did. Cathey Armillas has a brilliant quote, “Consistency beats ability.” There were many more talented speakers than me in the speech contest, but no one out worked me. Many comedians in the old days who started with me were much more talented than I was. Many quit, but I kept going up bomb after bomb. Bombs are invaluable experience.

Asset #3 – Direction & Correction

Do you have clear direction to get to your goal? Where do you direct your efforts? Who do you listen to? If you are facing a life adversity, find as many people who have overcome the same adversity you face as you can! They look at the challenge from a place of wisdom based on experience. You may have heard me say, “A little bit of effort in the right direction will outperform massive effort in the wrong direction.” Don’t get me wrong, massive effort is good, but without the right direction to channel that effort, much is wasted. So, though I love the idea of stage time, stage time, stage time, it’s not enough to own the stage. Like me in the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s, I was working hard, but was not actually growing. I lacked direction and correction. I thought I was good enough.

Here is a deep question, do you want your own growth to be incremental or exponential? If you are trying to figure it out on your own like I was, or getting advice from people at your own level, you are channeling your efforts in the seemingly right direction which most of the time, misses the mark. I wasted many years and can’t imaging how much better I would be now if I sought better direction in the speaking world. My ego cost me years of development.

Books are great. Great learning programs can be transformational, but the problem is, we bring our own doubts and past life experience to the new knowledge. It was not until I met Mark Brown, who showed this to me first hand by holding up a mirror, that I realized this. Had I just taken his one-time advice alone, I would have been on a better path than I was. When I committed to being coached by him, the real transformation happened. It was his adjustments to how I took the advice that helped me apply the advice in the necessary manner. That is the true value of a mentor or coach. Once trust is built in that relationship, your true evolution begins.

Find a coach or mentor who is experienced as a teacher. One that you trust and will be truly open to. Not all people who have climbed the mountain are good teachers or coaches. Be careful who you listen to. Also be careful of your own attitude. I’m embarrassed to say I argued with Mark Brown, and thank God, I eventually let go of my ego and truly opened myself to him. You can listen to him explain in this video

When it comes to speaking, I don’t believe I’m the right teacher or coach for everyone. I can tend to be too direct when coaching at our live events, but with most of the people who invest in being a VIP, that is what they want. You have to find the right mentor, coach or teacher for you. The right coach or mentor may or may not be free, but I can’t imagine where I would be without Mark Brown’s coaching.

When I met Sherrie Su in China, there were some really good speakers and good coaches there. No one from China, though, had ever placed in the WCPS finals. Sherrie quickly became a sponge and came to each presentation I gave when traveling around her part of China. She was already working hard, but when she joined Stage Time University she got more direction and correction. Here are some of the messages she sent to me: 

Find someone who is where you want to be, and be a sponge. On my very first night as a comedian in 1992,  I approached the comedian to ask him for advice and he told me to get the book Standup Comedy by Judy Carter. Here was a guy who was where I wanted to be and he said, get this book. I got the book. Why question it? If my friends suggested a book, I can question that because they are advising from a place of no wisdom from experience. Not every book is a great one. Some may even lead you astray. Mark Brown was one of my best assets. At the beginning of my comedy career, it was my mentors Vinny and Dave Fitzgerald. Find your direction and a mentor or coach to help you with correction along the way.

Asset #4 A Cause Bigger Than You

Think beyond the mountain, beyond the trophy. What is the cause bigger than you? What is your message to the world? When you look beyond, you will see fewer obstacles along the way. You will put in more effort. You will be tireless. That is why people will follow you. LaShunda Rundles, 2008 World Champion, was on a mission with a message that mattered. You could see it in her speech. Ramona J. Smith was on a mission with her message too, it came out in her delivery. She was inspired by LaShunda. If you want a trophy, buy one. When you are doing what you do to help others along the way, your conviction will shine brightly. I admire a speaker who wants to spread the word about suicide. That’s huge. That is where help is needed and it was in his skill set, he speaks from experience helping people in that area. That’s the person whom I’m more likely to help. My friend, Shannon inspires women with eating disorders. She makes a difference with her story and doesn’t need a trophy. Think about it. If you were a mentor, who would you want to help? Would you be more likely to help someone who wanted to win a trophy for themselves or someone who used their story to help people from their experience?

When I heard Sherrie’s bigger cause, I was even more excited for her. She said, After I got the 2nd place in the semifinal, many members told me, it’s a great result for a native-born Chinese. We are not native speakers after all. I realized many Chinese members didn’t even believe we could do it. So I was determined to go further. It was not for me, or the trophy. It was for all the Chinese members, all the nonnative speakers, all the female speakers and all the people who have doubted themselves. And now, I have received messages from them saying, ‘I believe I can also do it!’”

Figure out your cause. Find one bigger than you. That asset will take you further than you would go if it was just for you.

Asset #5 – Support

Who is your support system? Who can you go to when you get knocked down? For me in the 1990’s, it was the National Speakers Association and Toastmasters. Most people in my family did not understand my dream or what it took to achieve it. My mentors have been many along the way and came in all shapes, sizes and have been in my life for different seasons and different reasons.

If your spouse is not supportive of your dream, then you will need even more support. People around us affect us more than we care to admit. If your spouse is supportive, that goes a long way to catapulting you where you want to be. Sherrie Su placed second in the world out of 35,000 contestants. She was the first Chinese-native to place in the World Championship Final. I loved what Sherrie told me about her husband Jim, who she talks about in her speech. She told me, I told Jim about my dream of being a world-class speaker when we had just started dating in 2015. He told me he would always support me. And we got married in 2017. In the wedding vow, he said, “Your dream will change many lives. So your dream is also mine.’”

Who is your support system? Build yourself one of your most important assets. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your goal.

No matter what challenges you have facing you, or ridiculous dreams in front of you, your naysayers could be right, unless you own these five assets. These five assets, however, do not guarantee your success in any area. I do promise you this, when you have all of them, they will dramatically increase your success rate and the percentage chance you get to your goal. Reflect on this quote by Angela Duckworth from her book Grit, “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”

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P.S. This is also a reason I created Stage Time University the way I did. Knowing what I needed along the way to get where I am now. We help people with messages reach the people who need to hear them. I created one place online where people can get direction, correction and community support.

​Are you making any of these Top 10 Speaking Mistakes?