Sunday, March 27, 2016

Why I Love Losing

''Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.''

This quote made famous by U.S. football coach Vince Lombardi explains why I usually hate competition.

Yesterday, I lost a speech contest in Toastmaster's International Speech Contest, specifically the Area A4 contest. Why do I feel so happy about it?

When I joined Toastmaster's three years ago, it was to learn public speaking. But I wondered what the contests were all about. I thought it was CRAZY that the club used so many of its resources on competitions. There are two contest seasons a year, starting in October and then again in March.

Three things changed my mind: 1. The contestants seemed to be having such a good time! 2. Contestants, whether they won or lost, talked about how much they learned. 3. Many more men compete than women, partly explaining why the top champs are usually men—that got my dander up.

Here's what my some of my club members said about competing:
Marc: ''In competing I find out so much about himself, in fact I found myself!''
Carol: ''I love it. I always win because I am competing against myself.''

I vowed to start competing. This was my third contest, and I finally won at first level, the club contest. Then began the hard work of revising and rehearsing it for the area contest, where competition is severe—we have some world-class talent.

Nearly all of us ''competitors'' got together to workshop our speeches—in a spirit of collaboration. We all came away with amazing ideas for improvement. Plus, one club member helped me refine and rehearse. I worked hard, revising well into the late hours of Friday night. (After being sick as a dog after lunch, and not knowing whether I would make it!)

2nd prize in Paris Speech Masters' club contest:
International and evaluation. My first trophies!
Certificates of participation in the A4 area contest.

On Saturday at midday, after the contest was over, about a dozen people--club members and total strangers--told me how much they enjoyed the speech, and how noticeably improved it was. (Go here for the speech ''The Color Of Confidence.'' It was related to my earlier blogpost, ''Going Cold, Gray Turkey.'')

That was icing on the cake. Because I already felt like a winner. I learned a lot about myself: that I can memorize a 7-minute speech, speak comfortably in front of a crowd, and make them laugh!

Women tend to avoid competition and instead seek cooperative endeavors. I believe that because we tend not to compete, we lose out in so many ways—that go a long way to explain the gender gap.

But when competition and collaboration exist together, as it usually does at Toastmasters, it's a win-win situation.

So what do we have to lose by friendly competition? From what I've learned, nothing at all. Unless we fear becoming better, and tapping the power within ourselves and others.

To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, ''Collaboration isn't everything, it's the only thing.''
That's more like it!
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Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Message Is Out

This past week, I went to one of the biggest cocktail parties ever. I wore my little black dress and heels. It was mom’s night out.

It’s wasn’t to the presidential palace, or to a corporate banquet.

It was to the annual meeting of my support group—Message. I joined the group some 16 years ago when I was pregnant with my first (and only) child. Life as a mom can be difficult anywhere, but in a foreign country without family and friends, it can be daunting.

Message was there to help.

At first I was a bit wary. I didn’t need a “support group.” Was it some kind of 12-step program? Would I have to bare soul or my lactating boobs in front of strangers?

The short answer was that I found a surrogate family who were willing to care and share.

The idea is simple: moms (and now dads) host a playdate or outing. Members sign up. You get together, the kids play and the parents celebrate … or commiserate. And it’s free, beyond the reasonable annual membership fee.

The idea is so simple and powerful that Message grew from a handful of members in 1984 to more than 2,000 today! It’s one of the biggest English-speaking associations in France. And entirely volunteer-run.

Through Message, I found a neighborhood playgroup for my daughter, then started one of my own. In the playgroup, my timid 2-year-old found her first friends. And I found some long-lasting bonds too!

Beyond activities, the association hosts parenting classes and trained breastfeeding help. There are programs about education and health. The website has a wealth of information … including about my current worry, raising teens. One of my friends purchased all of her baby gear second-hand through the site’s classifieds.
Message Easter egg hunt in 2010 at Les Arènes de Lutèce in Paris 

The group is always ready to rally to the support of a member truly in need, whether they’ve lost their job, their spouse, or their baby—totally anonymously.

Without Message, I think I would have truly lost my sanity. Instead, I think I’ve retained about more than half—not too shabby!

It goes to show you the power of community, even in France, where people tend to look to the government first for help.

One reason I’m writing this post is to “get the Message out.” Together, we can do so much when alone it might feel impossible. Together, we can kick up our heels once a year and say: We made it!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The ‘’Beehive’’ of Paris: A Rare Visit

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going back to the “beehive” or “La Ruche” in the far reaches of the 15th arrondissement in Paris. Not to make honey, but to make art.

This famous artists’ residence was built in 1900 out of the remains of a gazebo-like structure from the Paris Universal Exposition held that year. It was nicknamed “La Ruche” for its unique shape, which reminds me of a smaller version of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.

Inside this beehive are very busy artists, like Jan Olsson, with whom I had the privilege of taking a print-making workshop organized through the nonprofit association WICE.

Taking a workshop is in fact one of the only ways to see this amazing structure, now officially called la Fondation La Ruche – Cité d’artistes. It's closed to the general public.

When I’m there, I feel as if I’ve stepped back in time. I leave the routine of work and family, and put on my black smock, and start to make art.

Jan makes it easy for people like me who are dabblers to make a finished work. On this day, we’re learning how to make monotypes. We take a small plate and apply ink using brushes, cardboard, Q-tips or other implements. I worked from a photo of three fish that I took.

I take my plate and paper to Jan’s own press, which looks as old as La Ruche, but was made for her in 1993. I get behind the captain’s wheel and turn. I peel off the paper to see what I’ve made.
And I go back to make more.

Jan remarked that we were very productive that day, making about six prints each. Very busy bees at the beehive. On my way out, I circumferenced the hive to take in the brick, iron, and glass structure—laced with ivy—that speaks of Paris, art, and the creative spirit.
Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home."