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My last two years of high school, I was involved in the Forensics program (otherwise known as speech and debate). I remember being scared shitless; I mean I already had issues being around men (my father’s death at age 34 strained many areas of my young life), but I remember being around my Svengali-esque forensics coach was especially hard. I talked to my mom about it. I wanted to quit right then, on day three of class and transfer to something else. Then something magical happened, my mom asked me to try and stick with it for two weeks, see what would happen and if I still wanted to transfer out, she would back me 100%.

And so I stayed and within those first two weeks, I came in second place in an upper division in a tournament in Visalia, California. I was just expected to test the waters and get a feel for the competition and travel. Instead, I came home with a trophy and went on to place nationally in the event the following year. I can still remember the feeling of elation… I’m feeling quite happy right now simply writing about it now.

I tell this story because the event that I competed in, called International Extemporaneous speaking, gives you a half-hour to prepare for a 7-10 minute speech on international affairs. You’re generally given a list at the start of that half-hour of three questions or topics. As you can imagine, as a 15 or 16-year-old, you’re shitting yourself trying to prepare with the limited materials your team is allowed to bring. Without the ability to speak to a soul during that time, you really have to focus — something I’ve never been particularly good at.

My saving grace were the quotes that my coach ingrained in the minds of all of the members of his team. His philosophy was that everyone should start with a relatable story or quote to engage the audience and somehow make speeches about places like Namibia more relatable.

I won a lot of awards using that strategy and, as you might imagine, favorite quotes are something I hold near and dear.

The last few years have been, frankly, the best and worst of times in just about every area of my life. The quotes below helped me get through, and so I share those quotes and the stories about how I found them.

Before I left for Turkmenistan as part of the Peace Corps in 1998, they gave us this quote and — at the time — it seemed to encapsulate everything I hoped and knew my life was and would be:

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life — and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” – Georgia O’Keefe

These days, a quote I recently came across from one of my favorite ‘funny on the outside, tormented on the inside’ icons, feels (bitterly?) fitting:”All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy” – Spike Milligan

I’d love to know some of your faves and why they strike you… perhaps I’ll post more quotes and stories as time wears on.