I’ve struggled with something my entire life, and last week I told a room full of people about it in my first Toastmasters speech.
My name is Jena Binderup and I am a copywriter, and I’m here because I have to be. A few months ago, I quit my job.
Let me explain.
I’m a writer. Sometimes people ask me how I became a writer, and it’s a very hard question to answer. I was born this way, Lady-Gaga style. I always kept a diary, I frequently got in trouble for writing too much, in fourth grade I wrote 5 chapters of a novel. Writing isn’t what I do; it’s who I am. I’m lucky because I’m good enough to get paid for my writing. I’ve won awards and been asked to speak places because of it.
But that’s not why I’m here.
This time last year, I was working as a copywriter in a corporate office. A woman—another writer, actually–began working in my department. She wasn’t a great writer, but she had fantastical skills in pitching herself and getting company leaders to love her. She was so good that I noticed something after a few months: she got credit for all of my ideas. How did she do that?
I thought about this for a long time. It worked like this:
I’d have an idea or a solution for a strategy, new project, or marketing piece. I’d bring it to her or my manager and it would get shot down immediately–then re-introduced by her a week or so later, to great applause. Meanwhile, every time something went wrong in the department, the woman found a way to blame it on me. She got promoted in six months because she sold herself constantly as an expert. But for me, it got to the point where my manager thought I was incompetent. After all, I never had any great ideas and I always made mistakes. I began to believe that I was on the verge of getting fired.
All the while, I was working as a freelancer on the side. One day, I got a big job from one of my freelance clients. It was big enough that it would take me a whole month to finish and it was going to pay me twice what I was making at my full time job. I called in sick the next day to work. I went to the park and stewed on what to do. The next day I walked into work and quit my job, effective immediately. My manager was angry, and it was the only time I’ve left a job on bad terms where they wouldn’t rehire me. But I don’t regret it.
Since then, my freelance career has taken off. My current clients love my work. However… while that was a toxic office environment, I still have the same problem. I see bad writing on billboards, marketing materials, pretty much everywhere. I know that I can do better. But when I pitch myself or my ideas to a client–especially one I really want–I talk too fast and too much, talk too little, minimize my successes, or say straight-up strange things. When I think back, I remember a few times when I actually apologized to people for my ideas. In doing all that, I have talked myself out of jobs. It’s a miracle that I am so busy.
A few months ago I told a friend of mine about my problem. “Why don’t you try Toastmasters?” she said.
“What’s that?” I said. “Some kind of California cult?”
She laughed. “No, look it up.”
I did. I came to a meeting and realized within the first ten minutes that I needed to stick around. I love public speaking, actually, and I’m good at it–a prepared speech with prepared materials, entertaining or instructing or involving the audience in an activity, is a strength. I love it, and I’ve been told that audiences connect with me. Selling myself is where I fall flat. So most of my speeches will be, in some way, me pitching myself, my work, or my ideas. I may ask people to interrupt me so that I am forced to think on my feet. I may bring my resume in here and ask people to quiz me on my qualifications. After all, like I said—I’m here because I have to improve to be as successful as I want to be.
Let the writing continue, because it will. But let the pitching begin.