Conflict and Confession about Motivational Speeches

March 22, 2017

A few weeks ago (while my house and half of the OKC metro was dealing with gastrointestinal distress) I had the opportunity to go to Mustang, Oklahoma and give a "motivational" talk about sports - and life by extension. The Mustang Lady Broncos invited me to come speak and I jumped at the chance because my cousin is a coach there and I'm happy to help out. But, truth be told, I was actually a little bit scared to talk to them for a few different reasons:

  1. I was talking to high school kids.

  2. I was giving a motivational talk.

  3. I was giving a motivational talk to high school kids.

My fear had nothing to do with the high school girls themselves. That's not true. Part of my fear had to do with the high school girls. Not because they're girls but because they're high schoolers. I have ZERO frames of reference to talk to current high school kids. I'm 16 years removed from that world so it's like an entire generation with whom I have had zero interaction. I have no idea what they’re like, if they’ll take me seriously, if their eyeballs would be staring into their phones, or if I was good enough to pull their eyeballs out of their phones. And, as far as motivational talks go, I actually didn’t anticipate giving motivational talks when I started this professional speaking thing. After speaking with quite a few friends, I've found that most lay-people have two pictures in my their head of what motivational speakers are. One image is of the Tony Robbins seminar weekend as seen in Joe Berlinger’s “I Am Not Your Guru” available on Netflix.



The other image is of course a Matt Foley-type character – one that has not really achieved much professionally but motivates as an example of what not to do.




My inner critic tells me I’m somewhere in between – which is even more terrifying because I don't really know what that looks like.


Also, I’ve always been a bit of a butthole about “motivational” stuff. I’ve been known to tick all the boxes of being “too cool for school”… also known as cynical. I’ve never had a widespread cynicism about everything in life but I’ve certainly been cynical about "self-help" or motivation simply because I’ve been skeptical about the intentions of the speaker or (more accurately) my ego told me that I needed neither help nor motivation. That's not coming from a place of self-actualization, it was just short-sighted and I gave myself too much credit.


The irony is that to get prepared to give this motivational talk, I actually had to look up motivational talks. I had to get inspired to give an inspirational speech. I had to research sports psychology, watch videos, read articles and an amazing thing happened – while doing the research to see how people inspire others, I began to get inspired myself. It started becoming apparent that whether you are playing sports or trying to live a full life, the grind doesn’t stop – it just changes shapes. The grind is a shape-shifter. In athletics, it’s hill sprints; as a professional, it’s supporting your family and pursuing passions. Once that realization hit, my talk came together. It wasn’t as flawless as it should be; I didn’t draw all the connections I needed to but it’s a message I’m excited to hone going forward.


Going back to the first point of talking to high school student athletes, I had no friggin’ clue what to expect. I think I had an expectation that they were going to be aloof wondering why this bald, bearded fraud is trying to sell them some ideas about making good choices through the grind - basically, that they would act like the high school version of me. But I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised when I walked into the room. The Mustang Lady Broncos were so warm and receptive – not with clapping but with genuinely warm “Hi’s” and “Hello’s” and “Welcomes”. It was so nice and inviting that it put me more at ease. They were interactive and receptive to what I was saying. They were engaged and funny and laughing. I saw one girl shoot a text on her phone at the beginning but then that was it (she never revisited it again). They obliterated the expectations (or non-expectations) my brain built up and I would totally do it again - not just for them but for others too.


Epilogue: After the event, the Mustang Lady Broncos finished the season as Regional Champs and made it to the state tournament to the quarter finals. That's a pretty great season and they have a lot of players coming back next year. Though I only saw one game and had one interaction, I can say that those ball-players should be proud of their accomplishments and be thankful for a kind and considerate coaching staff.


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Riley Evan Ross
Speaker and Writer Moderation Blog

I speak and write on the topic of moderation because I believe that a thorough re-examination of moderation can help our societies build change resilience and grow together.

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