My View from Number Two

My View from Number Two

We're all winners when we grow and improve.

By Rory Vaden

Photo Caption: Rory Vaden (left) is congratulated by Toastmasters' then-International President Chris Ford on his 2nd-place finish at the 2007 World Championship of Public Speaking. 

If you’ve ever lost a contest or an election, or been turned down for a job or even a date, then you understand the agony that comes from ending up on the short end of the subjective stick. In 2007, I finished 2nd at the World Championship of Public Speaking. I was the first runner-up, the Number One loser in the Toastmasters world. I’m now 27, and the two years leading up to that moment and the three years following it have been a wild ride.

Vikas Jhingran won that year’s World Championship, and he was very deserving of the title. But what about the rest of us participants in the International Speech Contest? Were we all “losers”? To all those who have ever entered a contest and come up short, and to anyone who has ever put their heart and soul into a cause and lost, I have a message: Success is never owned, it’s only rented; and whether you win or lose, the rent is still due every day.

Whether you are one of the amazing World Champions of Public Speaking or one of the thousands like me who never quite won the big one, all of us are still on the journey to real success. Success is not about a trophy, a title or a finish line. Success is, as the great teenage philosopher Hannah Montana says, “all about the climb.”

We often convince ourselves that if we reach a certain pinnacle, then we can officially be designated as “successful” forever. It doesn’t work that way, however, not even for those who do become “champions.” While the saying “no one remembers who came in second” is true, it’s also true that after enough time, no one remembers who came in first, either.

For example, can you name the last five winners of the Academy Awards for Best Actor? How about the last five gold medalists in the Olympics 400-meter run? Or the last five Nobel Peace Prize recipients?

I doubt that most people could answer these questions. These were not runners-up – they were the very best, yet how quickly the world forgets about them. Competitions are truly not about whether you win or lose, but about the person you become in the process. 

Things We Can’t Control
Frustration and despair set in when we’re focused and concerned about things that are beyond our control. Subjective judgment in a competition is always outside the control of the competitors. We have no say in which individuals are selected to judge, where they sit or how they’re feeling that day. While judges determine who goes home with the trophy, they don’t determine who goes home a success.

If we as competitors allow the subjective opinions of others to determine whether or not our journey has been a success, then we have failed. If we allow circumstances outside of our control to dictate the result of our pursuits, then we have failed. But if we press on toward our goals in spite of what may happen, then we’re a success. If, whether we win or we lose, we recognize the growth that is still available and we choose to persist; then we win. As Toastmasters who carry the flame of success and inspiration out into the world, we must understand this principle. We win when we realize that success is never owned, it is only rented, and the rent is due every day.

Things We Can Control
We do have control over the amount of time and effort we invest into bettering our skills and our organization. When we put our self-esteem into our work habits, the success we experience is not based on the results of any one event. We can lose almost any battle and still continue to win the war.

One of the best lessons I learned was from Darren LaCroix, Toastmasters 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking. He said, “Stage time is what matters – not age time.” Since the 2007 World Championship, I’ve been fortunate as a professional speaker to speak with and for people like Zig Ziglar, John Maxwell and Dave Ramsey. I’ve been able to build a highly successful international speaking and training company, Southwestern Consulting, and I’m currently raising thousands of dollars for charity by climbing the 10 tallest buildings in the world. Because of some of these successes, many people think, “Wow, this kid’s lucky he was born with so much natural talent.” I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I’ve been blessed with a great deal. But I wasn’t just born a great speaker or great leader. It’s the “stage time” that has made the difference.

From the day I decided to pursue the World Championship of Public Speaking – October 27, 2005 – until the day I earned that second-place finish – August 18, 2007 – I spoke on stage 304 times. The 11 trophies I won along the way did not make me a great speaker, but the stage time did. So I may be fairly young in age time but not in stage time, not in experience. 

Getting Past the Discouragement
Today, people see my polished performance as a keynote speaker in front of 1,000 people and think, “Goodness, he’s such a great speaker and he’s only 27 years old.” What they didn’t see, though, was when I bombed at comedy clubs, got heckled in high schools, or performed my speech in front of two people at the back of a Denny’s restaurant. What people also didn’t see was how distraught I really was the night I came in second at the International Speech Contest.

It’s a characteristic of all successful champions, though, that they are made “after hours,” “behind the scenes,” “off-camera,” and in “training camp.” Successful people know they have to pay a price to get better. They know they have total control over how much they work. And they know if they work hard enough for long enough, they’ll eventually look back and realize that somewhere along the way they’ve become successful.

If I can attribute my success to one element, it is discipline and getting myself to do things I don’t feel like doing. Whether I win or I lose, I know that tomorrow I must get up and recommit to paying my dues. Can you bring yourself to relentlessly pursue the goals that matter most to you? 

In the End
Toastmasters is not about contests, but about the preparation that we are all going through to become better communicators and leaders. It’s about the people you help, the people who help you, and those people who selflessly serve to keep the clubs and our organization running week in and week out.

So to the tens of thousands of my fellow “losers” and also to our winners, I say: What sweet victory we can achieve through Toastmasters. Whether you finished first, second or dead last in any race, contest or vote, there is no one ruling that will destine you for success or failure. Success is our choice and one that we must make each and every day. The real question is, Are you willing to pay the rent again tomorrow?

So how’s the view from Number Two? For people like you and me, it can still be very sweet. 

Rory Vaden, MBA, is a motivational speaker, author and co-founder of Southwestern Consulting. He will present an education session at the Toastmasters International Convention in August. For more information about Rory, visit