A Defining Moment
“Happy New Day! Today is the start to the rest of your life.” ~Ria Story
August 14 is a special day for me. Actually, every day is special but August 14 has a little extra significance. It’s my own little “independence day.” August 14 is the day I celebrate becoming victorious over my past instead of remaining a prisoner of it.
On August 14, 2013, exactly three years ago today, I woke up at 4:00am in Orlando, Florida. In the dark, I found my running shoes and went outside for a run.
At 5:15am, I quietly tiptoed back into the hotel room to shower and dress. Mack was still asleep when I left the room again in search of a cup of coffee.
I was nervous, excited, and afraid, all at once. I posted on Facebook, “3 hours of sleep, a five mile run, and a three dollar cup of coffee (large!) and I’m ready to go. Happy New Day! Today is the start to the rest of your life.”
How true that turned out to be for me.
Mack and I were down in Orlando for a Les Brown speaker training. Part of the training was the 60 second speech challenge. We all would be given the opportunity to give a 60 second speech, and five winners would be chosen to speak on stage with Les Brown. I had known for six months what the topic for my speech would be. I had known ever since I heard Les Brown first speak. He said, “You have a story to tell. Someone needs to hear your story and only you can help that person.”
I knew I had a story. The problem was, I wasn’t sure I could tell it.
The contest didn’t start until 10:00am, so I had plenty of time to practice that morning. I had planned exactly what to say, and practiced it over and over. Silently. I couldn’t even say the words out loud because I was afraid someone would hear them. I had it down to 46 seconds.
At 9:30, a friend found me, and we started chatting. She mentioned that she was concerned about running out of time, so I offered to time her. She practiced. Then offered, “Okay, let me time you now.” I was not prepared but reluctantly agreed that it would be helpful. I broke down while giving my speech. It took almost two minutes just to get the words out. She hugged me and wished me luck. I knew I had to get my emotions under control.
I sat down on a sofa near the ladies room after repairing my mascara. Shaking and emotional, the only thing I knew to do was pray. “Lord, if this is your will, then give me the strength to do this. If it’s not your will, then lay another topic on my heart for this speech.”
With a sense of peace, I felt better and went back to the conference area. At exactly 10:00am, the doors to the conference room opened; we went in and found our seats. The room felt electric with energy to me. We were given a countdown clock. The first round, we would present our speech to the other people sitting at our table and they would vote for the winner. Steve, on my right, went first this time. He shared his one-minute speech, and I was touched.
The next person went. Then, it was my turn. I stood and waited for the countdown clock, and then blurted out my speech, rushing through it and hoping no one was really paying attention. But they were, and everyone hugged me when I was done, saying I had done a good job. The rest of our group finished with their speeches. I think everyone was glad it was over.
The time had now come to vote on who would advance to the next round. There were five of us at the table, but only two of us were eligible for the next round, me and Steve. Again, I took a moment to pray and wrote down my vote for Steve on my slip of paper. Lareece, on my left, counted the votes; three for me and two for Steve. Steve told me he was proud of me. I was grateful for his kind words.
The table winners were asked to stay while everyone else went to lunch. I looked around the room. There were 35 other people sitting at their own tables. I knew most of them, at least by name. Our instructions were brief – come up on stage and give your one-minute speech. I sat there, inspired and amazed by the talented speakers presenting. We clapped for everyone. There was a strong sense of support from the group. Sitting at the very back of the room, I was one of the last to go.
One last prayer, I asked God to give me strength. I made my way to the stage and picked up the microphone. This was my last chance to change my mind. More than anything, I just wanted it to be over. For the first time, I was going to share my story publicly. I nodded for my countdown timer.
“Eleanor Roosevelt said ‘I am who I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.’ 13 years ago, I decided I wasn’t going to let seven years of sexual abuse hold me back. I was 19 when I left home. Don’t let the past hold you back. You are who you are today because of the choices you made yesterday. But, who you will be tomorrow is based on the choices you make today. Choose wisely.”
When I stepped off that stage, it didn’t matter if I won the contest or not. I had won a much bigger victory inside myself. I wasn’t going to be a prisoner of the past any longer.
We don’t choose to be victims of what happens to us in life. But, we can choose to be survivors of it. August 14 was the start of the rest of my life. It was the day I chose to be a survivor. It was the day I chose to let go of shame. And, it was just the beginning of my healing journey. I was one of the winners of the contest, as it turned out. Mack and I would both go on to share the stage with Les Brown in L.A. the following year. The story doesn’t end there, but this blog does! You can read the rest of the story in Ria’s Story From Ashes To Beauty and Beyond Bound and Broken: A Journey of Healing and Resilience.
Today is the start of the rest of your life. Now go live it!
About the author: Like many, Ria has faced adversity in life. Raised on an isolated farm in Alabama, she was sexually abused by her father from age 12 – 19. She was forced to play the role of a wife and even shared with other men due to her father’s perversions. Desperate to escape, she left home at 19 without a job, a car, or even a high school diploma. Ria learned to be resilient, and not only to survive, but also to thrive. She shares her story to inspire hope and teach others how to apply the same success and leadership principles she applied. This blog is an excerpt from her book, Ria’s Story From Ashes To Beauty.
Ria co-founded Top Story Leadership, a consulting company offering keynote speaking, leadership training, and coaching. They work with organizations to unleash leadership potential by taking the complex and making it simple.