This is a true career story as told to DiversityJobs.com and is one of many interviews with professionals who have found fulfilling careers after using our job-search resources. I am a professional writer, of website content, that has worked in this industry for over ten years. Today, my job most closely resembles my ideal situation. I am employed by two writing agencies that put me in touch with clients needing content written for their websites. This is similar to freelance writing, but I do not have to solicit work from clients or negotiate fees and contracts. My agencies handle the business side while I am free to focus on the writing. My satisfaction level is a ten because I am able to release my full enthusiasm for the work. This job is something that I have always wanted, but it was my eight years of service in the military that made it possible by shaping me into an individual that could achieve this. My work is not easy, and those considering this line of work should know that there are challenges faced by all levels of writers. The road to my current career opportunity began when I enlisted. I entered the service as an undesignated enlistee because I was unsure of what I could do. My first years of service were humbling and challenging because I worked as a non-rate in main propulsion. My duties included wiping up oil, fetching tools, and constantly executing the menial tasks that support a ship's operation. There was no glory in my early years, but that time helped me to understand what opportunity truly looks like. I believe very few people will ever have a career handed to them, and while I served at the lowest levels of the military I learned to take pride in every task I was assigned. Learning how to take what I was given and turn into the opportunities I desired was a hard lesson, but that is the greatest lesson I learned in the military. I never allowed myself to become complacent with my situation as it first appeared. In the beginning, I had no rank or authority in the military but I was still motivated to succeed. I became known for being dependable with any task and eager to accept any challenge. Slowly, my life improved because my outlook improved. The people I served with spent their time waiting for opportunities to appear, while I took opportunities I had and exceeded expectations for the sole reward of the experience. The work attitude I developed in the military gave me the stamina, fortitude and patience that have brought me to my current level of achievement. The strangest part of being a professional writer today is the feeling I get every time I introduce myself as such. I get out of bed every day and attack each assignment with the same eagerness I learned in the military. I am proud of all that I have achieved, but I do not allow that to make me complacent in my current successes. The biggest challenge I face is the continued struggle to perform at a level of excellence that is unprecedented by others regardless of the immediate rewards. Most of my successes both in the military and today were quiet and only resulted in the respect of my immediate coworkers. The military taught me to look for my own rewards and to not spend my time waiting for the recognition of others. Great achievement and reaching goals takes time, and the most stressful part of my life is the result of trying to keep taking the small steps and making the slow progress toward my dreams day-after-day despite the lack of compliments and awards. In the military, I learned that my job only had to be as stressful as I allowed it to be. Now, I handle the daily stresses by staying focused on my own goals. I earn a modest wage, but I choose to measure my success in progress rather than dollars. Today, I work full-time doing what I love in perfect harmony to my family life and other personal goals. I am able to travel with my family at any time because I have learned how to be disciplined with my work time. The military taught me that life could be extremely hard and disappointing if circumstance was allowed to dictate how I felt. There are constantly situations and challenges that affect my work, but I always have the control to decide how I feel about those outside variables. I rose to the level of an E-5 at the peak of my enlistment, but I never allowed my rank to limit my personal standards or dreams. There are many career paths to being a professional writer. I have a bachelor's degree and I am currently working on my master's. I also wrote for publications without pay and struggled to find career opportunities. However, it is my unwavering belief in myself and dedication to my goals that has seen me through to this opportunity. In five years, I believe I will have increased my income by continuing to write every assignment to the best of my ability while simultaneously exploring additional opportunities. By constantly growing and seeking new challenges, I extend further into my own achievements. Success means different things to different people, but it is never something that is bestowed upon those that simply wait for it. The military taught me that all situations can be transformed into opportunity for greatness. Career military writing image from Bigstock
Public speaking can’t always be avoided in the business world when you’re tapped on the shoulder to give a presentation to your peers or to an important client.
Even in the age of home video conferencing, it’s still very natural to feel like you’d rather do ANYTHING other than turn on that camera, take a deep breath, and feel everyone’s eyes on you…watching.
Ever wonder how actors push through stage fright?
As a trained actor and coach (prior to entering the business world), I’ve learned to not be timid while orating Shakespeare in the spotlight or when hitting those high notes in front of thousands of eyeballs.
Not surprisingly, the same tricks actors use can be applied to public speaking in a business context. Here are some tips from an actor-turned-business-professional on calming your nerves.
Tip #1: Put Yourself In The Audience’s Seats
I always get incredibly nervous right before a singing audition. I’ve found what helps lessen my anxiety is to do as a fellow performer once suggested and put myself in the director’s chair. (The director is typically the person who decides if you are cast in the show).
The director WANTS you to do well! They want you to be the perfect person for the role—able to garner good reviews and box office sales. They want you to do so well that they could even tell everyone else to go home; they’ve found their star.
Plus, no director wants to sit through hours and hours of bad singing auditions…would you?
Likewise with public speaking.
When have you ever found yourself listening to a speaker and wished that they would be boring? Or wanted them to bomb so badly that you get nothing from their talk?
Rather, you probably hope the speaker is so dynamite that you actually forget to take notes because you are so transfixed and inspired by their message.
Know that the audience is on your side and let that encourage you. They want you to do well.
Tip #2: Give ‘Em The Old Razzle-Dazzle
I love to tap dance. Sometimes (ok, quite often), my feet don’t move as quickly as they should and I mess up a step or two…or ten.
A choreographer once taught me that a major part of dancing, and where the audience usually focuses, is all in the face and arms. If you are smiling a 1,000-watt smile and making grand arm gestures, the audience isn’t likely to see that your feet messed up that paradiddle step. (Yes, that’s a real thing!)
Public speaking also follows this rule. The audience can’t tell that you are nervous and feel like you just might pass out.
Bluff it! Put on your smile and stand tall. Walk with purpose and speak with authority, even if you feel unsure of yourself. It can feel weird, but you have to trust me here.
When you act as if you are confident, the audience will assume you are confident. Your body will even convince your brain into believing that you are, in fact, confident!
What if you DO mess up? So what? Keep going! Don’t drop your poise and strong voice, as they are effectively drawing attention away from any insecurities that may come up, just like jazz hands can help cover for missing a step-shuffle-ball-change.
Tip #3: Enter The Clown
Actors have learned that mistakes are bound to happen and sometimes you have to play the fool.
For instance, props or scenery may break or fall unexpectedly during a show. Actors are taught to pretend like it is supposed to happen, and work it into the scene. Or they may quickly remove the wayward item and simply continue on.
I’ve even witnessed actors stumble and fall onstage, then make a comment about what a klutz they are (in character, of course!) and continue on like it was scripted that way.
Let’s say during your speech you trip up on some words unexpectedly. Work it into the presentation as if you meant for it to happen. For example: “The biggest finanbial chamanges…a-hem, well those lesser-known things…as well as the biggest financial challenges we face are…”
Call yourself out and you get an on-the-spot joke to lighten the mood—and the audience loves you for it.
Or let’s say you knock over your glass of water while speaking. That’s the perfect time to make a crack about how uncoordinated you are and why you never made the basketball team. (*Rimshot please!*)
Tip #4: “Once Again From The Top, Ah-5-6-7-8!”
Actors spend hours, days…weeks! memorizing their lines to be “word perfect” right down to the smallest pause. They get every tilt of the head, every gesture, and every single word into muscle memory.
When opening night comes, no matter how much their stomach is turning over like they’re on a cruise ship in a hurricane, they can effectively put themselves on autopilot and get through the show without a hitch.
Now, with this tip, I would NEVER recommend that you, as a public speaker, go to the extremes actors do.
Why? Memorizing isn’t necessary for public speaking. In fact, I strongly suggest you don’t memorize, as you risk coming off as “fake.”
Rehearsing on the other hand is a must!
Rehearse in front of a mirror…while shopping for groceries…in front of a friend. Video or audio record yourself and play it back.
If possible, practice in the actual space where you will be speaking (yes, even if it’s in your home office) to get a feel for it so that it doesn’t disorient you on the big day.
Your goal is to know your main points and examples while allowing yourself to improvise here and there with different words and phrases to keep it fresh.
If you try to memorize and you forget a sentence while speaking, it has the tendency to really trip you up unless you’re a seasoned pro. However, if you practice experimenting with different ways of saying things, you’re building your quick-thinking prowess and ability to handle the unexpected while in the spotlight.
Notes are, of course, perfectly acceptable, but you don’t want to stay buried in your notes resulting in never making eye contact with the audience (or webcam).
Another no-no is clearly reading from a script while on a video conference. Reading a script is one of the best ways to disengage the audience unless you are very good at making it sound conversational…a tough skill to master.
Instead, know your speech so well that glancing at the first few words on a notecard will propel you into that part of the speech, without having to constantly refer to your notes.
Remember that public speaking is one fear that, with a little practice and the right mindset, can be overcome. Who knows, you may start to crave the spotlight so much that I’ll see you at the next audition!
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