How to Increase Your Happiness, Let Go of Outcomes, and Liberate Yourself

Photo: Jeff Davis

In early 2017, for the 5th year in a row, I competed in the Toastmasters International Speech Contest, known as the World Championship of Public Speaking. In this contest, you have 5 to 7 minutes to speak on any topic of your choice to the best of your ability — usually something inspirational, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re not already familiar with it, Toastmasters is a worldwide organization that helps people to improve their public speaking and leadership skills. The levels of the International speech contest are as follows:

Club level: You compete against fellow speakers at your club (the group you attend for regular bi-weekly meetings).

Area level: If you win at the club level, you go on to compete against the club-level winners from across the “area”, usually consisting of clubs from some of the surrounding towns.

Division level: If you win at the area level, you go on to compete against other area-level winners at the Division level. This is where you are competing against the best speakers from across the state.

Division level: If you win at the Division level, you go on to compete against fellow Division-level winners. This is where you are competing against speakers from across several states. I’m in District 53, and our District contest consists of speakers from across New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

Semifinals level: If you win at the District level, now you’re competing against the best speakers from across the world in the semifinals round. In this round you are competing against nine or ten other District champions from around the world.

Finals: If you win at the Semifinals, you have the wonderful privilege and honor of competing against nine other semifinalist champions with a chance of becoming the International Speaking Champion of the World.

I say this in a completely humble way, having worked hard through practice to earn it: leading up to the beginning of this year, I made it to the District level four years in a row (I won at the Division level four years in a row). As far as my results at the challenging District level, in 2013 I didn’t place in the top three. In 2014, I won first place and ended up going to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to compete in the semifinals. In 2015 and 2016, I got third place.

Note: In 2014, I did not advance past the semifinal level, but it was a wonderful experience.

An Unexpected Result at the Area Level

Now back to where we started: I’m competing in 2017. I won at the club level, which was great. At the area level, I then competed against six other speakers. The speakers were all great, but I expected to win as I had won first place at the area level for the last four years in a row.

I ended up getting 2nd place. I lost.

From the bottom of my heart, I was a good sport about it. I was very disappointed, but I didn’t show that to anyone at the event. I congratulated the winner and took it like a man.

Driving home from the event, in the silence of my car, I started to beat myself up. This is not a side of myself I’d show to my fellow Toastmasters, as I would never want to come across as a sore sport. But it hurt. I had my eyes set on possibly winning District, and I hadn’t even considered the possibility of losing at the area level. I felt that I should have won first place. One guy came up to me after the contest and said to me, “Jeff, I thought you won that contest, hands down.” I started to doubt myself and my abilities, and I was letting the loss get to me in an unhealthy way.

That night, I went to bed upset. I simply couldn’t believe the result, and I was having a hard time accepting it. My frustration came from the fact that I was overly attached to the result.

Letting Go

The next morning, through the power of self-awareness, reflection, and my resolve, I made a firm inner decision to let it go. In the past, I told myself that I was letting certain things go, but I never really did it. In the past, in the quiet of my heart, I wasn’t letting go — I was secretly holding onto the pain. For the first time in my life, I actually let go of what was bothering me.

I won Division four years in a row. I had my time in the sun. This is not my year, and I accept that.

I went back to the drawing board and took this as a sign from the universe that I was meant to focus on the book I was working on.

An Unexpected Email

The contest was no longer on my mind. I truly had let it go. Not too long before the Division contest, I received an email from the Division Director saying that I was eligible to compete in the Division contest.

I told him that this must be some kind of mistake, as I had lost at the area level. He responded by saying that it was no mistake — I was in an area with four clubs or fewer, and because I was in an area with so few clubs the top two contestants from the area level could move onto the next round. At the Division level, though, only the first place winner could move on to the District level.

I was shocked, and I felt a feeling of excitement and joy surge inside me. It was an authentic feeling of gratitude for the opportunity to compete after I thought for sure that I was eliminated.

I trashed the speech I did at the area level. It was a good speech, but I knew if I was going to beat the guy who beat me at area I was going to have to take my game to another level. I created a new speech, based on an epic travel experience I had in Morocco in December of 2015. On that trip I spontaneously met my good friend Ev Schmidt.

Not expecting to win at Division, knowing the competition was fierce, I showed up with a good attitude and did my best. This time around, I wasn’t as attached to the outcome of the contest, and I was more free-flowing in my approach. Yes, I still thoroughly prepared my speech, but I wasn’t tied to the idea that I had to win. Whatever was meant to be, was meant to be.

I won first place. I then went onto the District level and won first place there. I’m now headed to Vancouver, Canada to compete in the semifinals of the World Championship of Public Speaking for the 2nd time in my life.

Incredible, right? I’m privileged to have the opportunity to compete at such a high level, and it came from my willingness to let go of the outcome.

I know if I hadn’t let go, I still would have received the email. But regardless of the objective reality, I believe there was spiritual meaning behind these events. I believe life gave me a second chance at the contest because I finally learned to let go. Here’s the main message of this post:

The things we let go of have a way of coming back to us. It’s when we hold on tighter and tighter than we create more problems for ourselves. Sometimes the best solution is to let go. Always do your best, but stay detached from the outcome. Remember that the outcome of any contest, event, goal, etc. does not determine your self-worth. Your self-worth is infinite, and it’s independent of results.

We all want to win. We all want to do well. That’s a good, normal, and positive thing. Where we get into trouble — I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone — is when we rigidly attach ourselves to the need for a certain outcome or result. Maintain the desire and passion that drives you to success. And while you are staying determined, remind yourself that you can lighten up about the outcome. When you let go of the need for a particular outcome, you allow life to take its natural course. You have more fun and feel more free. You may “win” or you may “lose”, but when you aren’t married to your expectations you walk away a winner no matter what. Instead, shift your focus to what you can learn and how you’re growing as a person.

Today is July 11th, 2017, and the semifinal contest happens near the end of August. What will happen at the next level of this contest? I have no idea. Yes, I’m preparing for the contest, but I’m also staying detached from the outcome. I have the desire to do well, but I also know that the result of the contest does not define me. I’m having fun with the process. Whatever is meant to be, is meant to be.

The video below is my 2017 District-winning speech, if you’re interested in checking it out.

Jeff Davis is an award-winning author, world traveler, and authentic leadership expert. To learn more about him, check out his website and consider signing up for his newsletter.