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Challenge 23: Tear Up the Script


Through and through, I am a creature of habit. My planner is the most important purchase of the year and I thrive off my Sunday night organization session where I outline my upcoming week in multi-colored pens. I have certain habits for grocery shopping and laundry and when I like to study foreign languages.

These routines, much like running and writing, keep me grounded and focused. But at some point, routines can become too much. It isn’t until you’ve stepped outside of yourself for a day or a week that you notice how much you’ve missed. You know that feeling of taking a long weekend trip? Suddenly, Saturday seems to last forever as you forget about buying bananas and bread and focus on enjoying wherever you are.

All this is to say that while I appreciate some of the structures I’ve given my life, I can’t help but wonder what’s just outside the box. The new idea for Sunday blog posts is to write about one experience I had in the previous week that was out of routine, that wasn’t predictable, that made me think a little differently about myself and the world I live in.

Challenge 23: Tear Up the Script

Seven years ago, I attended a week-long camp called RYLA. RYLA stands for Rotary Youth Leadership Awards and to this day remains one of the most life-changing weeks of my entire life.

Four years ago, I was invited back to speak at the camp on behalf of The Smile Project. I was thrilled. I had always loved public speaking and this felt like a really beautiful opportunity to return to a place I love to share an idea I love.

Three years ago, I was brought on first as a counselor in training and then as a counselor for this camp and I have continued to speak every year since.

My first presentation was a multi-page word document. I had copied blog posts and filled in heartfelt thoughts and funny anecdotes. I printed the speech and read verbatim. And truthfully, four years ago, I thought it was awesome. I remember leaving the camp and stopping to see some friends, bubbling words 1000 per minute and so excited to tell them that I had to figure out a way to make talking to people my life.

When I went back to speak the next year, so much had changed with myself and the organization, so I wrote a brand new speech. Similar to my first year, I typed out everything I would say down to the “hi, I’m Liz” introduction. But something didn’t click as well. I didn’t feel as confident in what I was saying.

Last year, I was ready to make up for the fluke. Word for word, I read my speech, being the person to fall back on what is there as oppose to the person who is comfortable improvising for an audience. That third year felt the worst of all and I couldn’t pin it. I couldn’t figure out what was missing. I couldn’t figure out what was going wrong.

Having given my presentation this year, I think I finally understand. I was missing a certain comfort in my own skin, a certain confidence of knowing that what I said mattered.

Last Tuesday, I pulled up a PowerPoint, took a deep breath, and picked up the microphone. I didn’t have a script. Heck, I didn’t even have note cards.

But I believed in The Smile Project. And more importantly, I believed in myself. To quote a few of my former campers, “I just had to speak from the heart.”

I know what I affectionately call “The Story of the Smile.” I can tell it in my sleep. Every part of The Smile Project is intertwined with my own journey through life and because of that there is – realistically - nothing I am more qualified to talk about.

I introduced myself (sans notecard) and forced myself to take pauses. To be deliberate with my words. To talk about The Smile Project in an authentic way that didn’t feel scripted or over-rehearsed.

The second I trusted myself, the easier it became and I’d like to think that was reflected a bit in the presentation as well.

For 3 years, I defaulted to written word because I trusted them. Because I’m comfortable with it. Because it’s safe. In full disclosure, I also didn’t think I was capable of free talking for an hour about The Smile Project and having it make sense. In hindsight, I could talk about The Smile Project for days without preparation.

Going in without my security blanket script was momentarily scary – but I truly believe that trusting myself in that moment was the best decision I could have made. If it doesn’t feel right, try something a little different. It might be scary at first, but it also might be exactly what you need.

Love always,


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