The Wedding Speech

Seven years ago, my husband and I got married. We splurged and hired a videographer to capture videos of the day and every so often we’ll pull out the DVD to show the kids or reminisce over the joy of the day. Within our “wedding movie” there is a section that has each of the wedding speeches fully recorded. The one I find the hardest to watch is my dad’s.

My dad enjoys public speaking and in his later years would often perform in community theater – he wrote an eloquent speech and he spoke very well…but as he spoke on our wedding day I remember feeling slightly mortified. First, because his speech ended up being about 20 minutes long (it took up 2 chapters on the DVD :)), and second, because it contained a detailed history of my accomplishments. From the science awards to the piano accomplishments, to the statement (word-for-word) “Tiffany obtained her Master’s of Accounting at the age of 23” I was embarrassed to have dozens of my achievements listed off like it was a verbal CV.

Yes, my dad was proud of me and my accomplishments, and, in a room full of his friends, I could see how he might want to shine a light on them…but in the last year I realized there was another reason why I found it difficult to watch.

I realized that the speech said nothing about me as a person, or who I had become.

There was no mention of those funny childhood anecdotes that give you a sense for the person’s passions/humor. Nor were there any descriptions of my personality.

I could be the biggest bitch in the world who stabbed people in the back, lived my life in vain and greed, & only respected people who had something to offer me in return…and my father could have read the same speech. Because all of the facts he read would still be true.

Surely, my parents wanted me to grow up to be a kind and compassionate person…but I sometimes reflect on how my parents would feel if I had more academic/career success but with a less kind personality. I don’t think they would mind the trade off.

You can’t change others and you can’t change your past…but you can write the past you want to remember and write the future you want for yourself. Here are snippets of a wedding speech I wish he would have read:

As a young girl Tiffany was equal parts creative as she was defiant. After a trip to Universal Studios we asked the kids to each write a 2 page report on the experience. Tiffany, who was 7 yrs old, didn’t love the assignment and instead created an exciting 2 page brochure marketing the thrills of the amusement park – complete with pictures and exciting captions littered with exclamation points. Getting the job done, but on her own terms.

(6 years later she did something similar in school when the class was tasked with writing a report on anything related to baseball and while some suggested topics were “Women in baseball” and “The History of Baseball”, she asked if she could write about “Halitosis & The Effects of Chewing Tobacco on Baseball Players”.)

Her brother nicknamed her “Chippy Monster” as she had an overwhelming love for chips. So much so, that she named her favorite stuffed dog “Ruffles” after the chip brand.

Tiffany had a special empathy for her stuffed animals and would often admonish her mother for tossing them in the corner exclaiming “You hurt her! Say you’re sorry and give her a hug!”. Along with “Ruffles”, her favorite stuffed animals were “Raccoon” (a stuffed raccoon), “You’re the greatest” (a teddy bear won at the CNE that wore a pink shirt that said “You’re the greatest”) and “Mouse-y” (an adorable white mouse with a red flowered dress). Creative names weren’t her specialty.

Our nickname for Tiffany at home was “Little Mommy” – partially because she tried to take care of everyone from the time she was 8 years old, and partially because she was so bossy.

As a teen, Tiffany had an undeniable & obsessive love for the band Hanson. Her bedroom walls are still wall-papered with sun-faded Teen Beat, Bop!, and Tiger Beat Hanson pin-ups. She was also smugly proud that she shared the same birthday as Zac Hanson.

Tiffany’s love for volunteering grew out of her early experiences. She first started volunteering at the hospital doing super boring things like folding towels and refilling glove boxes. But her favorite part was delivering meals to the patients because she could see her young presence brought a smile to the elderly patients’ faces. She also enjoyed the free Drumstick ice cream cones at break time.

A few years later she volunteered at Pathways to teach swimming to children with special needs which was an incredibly rewarding experience. A decade later this would influence her to both advocate for accessibility and provide feedback on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (she gets a kick out of doing employee AODA training, knowing she played a small part in its creation) and eventually volunteering with her church’s Friendship group where she felt privileged to build friendships with adult’s with special needs.

Sometimes people write their own eulogies, and perhaps this is a start to what I’d like to write in mine.

I hope that as my daughters grow older that I remember that their successes need not be measured by trophies or letters behind their name, and to appreciate them for all the things that make them them. Big or small, good or bad, publishable or private.

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Potential

It wasn’t until recently that I really paid attention to the word “potential”, what I thought it meant, and how it made me feel.

Growing up I was encouraged when I heard a teacher say “You’ve got potential for a great future.” My mother used to half-joke that I was so good at arguing with her that I had the potential to be a lawyer (subliminal influence at it’s finest ;)). At one of my earlier employers, someone I respected once shared a flattering, yet daunting comment that they felt I had the potential to be “the next ____ ____” (the name of a female VP who was my mentor, whom I enjoyed working with and also respected).

Potential is one of those things that is nice to hear when people think you have it, but (in my mind) was also tied with expectations and pressure to live up to that potential. To not fulfil it meant you were disappointing someone. And that scared me.

I still feel like not becoming a lawyer means I haven’t fully lived up to my parents’ idea of what my potential is/was, and with every career choice I’ve made that was different from the path of that VP I felt like I was disappointing these wonderful people who had spent time and energy mentoring me (though realistically, they’ve got enough going on in their own lives and probably haven’t thought much about me as my career/life evolves). And I’ve only recently learned to tell myself that that’s okay.

I’ve also realized a few other things:

  1. Over the past 30+ years I had learned to equate “potential” to “earning potential”  or “job status potential”. This is flawed. Those are 2 types of potentials in an ocean of possibilities.
  2. I don’t actually know what some people’s expectations are of me, and I’ve probably put some pressure on myself to live up to what I think others’ expectations are of me.
  3. Potential is something that you could be, or as dictionary.com defines it “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future”. It doesn’t mean you have to be that or that’s the only thing you can be. And “something in the future” is quite vague which, again, means there’s limitless “something’s” you could be.
  4. We only have so much time and energy in our lives. When you choose to fulfil your potential in certain areas of your life, inevitably you’ll have less resources to fulfil other areas. I see this now when I recognize the potential I’ve realized in the last few months as a mother, wife, friend, Deacon, and even cook(!) that was previously lacking when I focused the majority of my energy on fulfilling my career potential. Still lots of improvement/potential lies ahead, but I see the strides I’ve made.
  5. We each have unique gifts, priorities and circumstances – and there is no standard template or check list of what we should strive for and potentials we choose to fulfil.

When I think about my 4-year old daughter, who just started junior kindergarten, I think of all the potential that lays ahead of her. The potential she has to make a difference in this world in big and small ways. The potential to positively impact a classmate’s day by being kind to them or cheering them up. The potential to soak up classroom knowledge. The potential to learn just by observing nature and everyday life. The potential to strengthen her empathetic qualities and become aware of people’s feelings around her. The potential to face and overcome social challenges (inevitable fights with best friends, bullying, etc.). These aren’t earth-shattering attributes or goals…heck, they definitely aren’t “SMART” goals, but they’re still important and worth celebrating.

I now recognize that at 32 years old I still have loads of potential that lays ahead of me too.

Actually, I have the same potential that I see for my daughters.

I have the potential to make a difference in this world in big and small ways. The potential to positively impact a friend/co-worker/stranger/husband/daughter’s day by being kind to them or cheering them up. The potential to soak up knowledge with every job I take (whether it’s my paying job, my role as a Deacon, or volunteering roles I take on). The potential to learn just by observing nature and every day life. The potential to strengthen my empathetic qualities and become aware of people’s feelings around me. The potential to face and overcome social challenges (relationships change over time and with more responsibilities & less time we need to consciously determine how we spend our time and who it is with).

In fact, you could very well replace the word “potential” in that paragraph with the word “choice”. We have a choice to set priorities/goals (big or small), and the potential to improve ourselves and achieve them.

My husband and I joked a few years ago that it seemed like after having kids life was going to be mundane, with no exciting peaks (like graduation, wedding, first pregnancy, etc.). I realize now how short-sighted that was and how narrowly we were defining our purpose and goals and limiting our own potential. I can literally choose to do or be anything I want – whether it’s an attribute, attitude, or career. It may not be easy or it may not happen quickly…but I can do it.

(I should also note that I recognize that, once again, I am privileged to live in a country and time where it’s much easier for me to define and fulfil my own potential.)

My ask today is for you to take the time to see the potential that lays ahead of your life – whether you’re 9 years old or 90 years old.

Potential doesn’t have to be daunting and it doesn’t have to be for something headline- or facebook-post-worthy. Every day we have the potential to better ourselves and potential is as much a capacity/quality as it is a mind-frame.

Your potential is a limitless, delightfuly unattainable gift that continues to expand the more you achieve it.