My first Toastmasters speech, delivered to the Palo Alto club. The Ice Breaker.
In 2012 I attended the Mormon Church for the last time as a believer. For three years now, I have been identifying myself by that status change in my life. If you asked me to write up a general introduction for myself I might say “Hello, I’m Jenna, married, a mother of-two-children and an ex-Mormon. I’m a blogger, a photographer, a web developer, and a lover of authenticity (even though I know it’s in vogue to hate on that word right now).”
Lately though, I’ve been questioning whether I want ex-Mormon to be a lifestyle choice I identify by. I would never introduce myself as “A blogger, not a surfer, a photographer, not a sculptor, not a stamp collector. “ If I had no children and stated “I’m a married childfree-by-choice photographer” I might have my audience scratching their heads, and I don’t think I would book many portrait sessions for my photography business.
Reflecting on this has led to a few conclusions. When I was an active participant in the Mormon Faith I frequently brought up my religious beliefs as a way to introduce myself to people. I wanted those familiar with the religion to understand that I wouldn’t be drinking alcohol with them and hoped they would spend some time speaking about God with me. After 25+ years identifying myself based on religious belief it feels natural to do so. Except now, identifying based on my non-religious status is a way for me to communicate that I would love to grab a drink with you and am really hoping you don’t want to try to engage in a discussion about God with me.
Bringing up my departure from Mormonism has also led to some fantastic discussions with others who are post-religious or who have transitioned their own beliefs in dramatic ways. I’ve engaged in quite a few lively discussions where I try to convince another post-religious individuals that my experience was more stringent or demanding or extreme than theirs. Only a few specific cultures and belief systems have been able to match my experiences thus far!
If I’m being completely honest with myself, and you, the biggest reason I’m still using this tactic is that I have a terrible memory, and am regularly embarrassed by how little I’m able to recall about other people. I frequently have entire conversations with people where I’m unable to recall both their names and how I know them. Last week I responded to a posting online asking for a toddler bed, something I’ve had sitting in my garage for eight months now, and when the individual arrived at my house to pick it up it was a fellow Toastmaster from this group! If she hadn’t made the connection and voiced it out loud I would have had no idea. My ex-Mormonism is a crutch I love to lean on when engaging in conversation – it not only opens up a variety of conversation points around the contrast between my former and current lifestyle choices, it often leads to doing something I find very enjoyable and easy – talking about myself.
Due to this last point, I think it’s time for me to start phasing out this crutch I’ve come to lean on. We all want to form real and deep connections with the people we encounter and I’m missing out on that when I spend the entire exchange talking about myself and how many years I was on earth before I watched my first rated-r movie. This doesn’t mean I won’t ever talk about my Mormon past – it’s a crucial part of my identity that is in many ways responsible for who I am and where I am today. I’m simply going to shift my introduction of myself to focus on who I am, not what I am not. I’m looking forward to getting to know each one of you in this club, and all of the ways I’ll be able to learn about and from you as I actively work to listen more and speak a little less.