I gave my first talk at my local Toastmasters in July this year.
It was the first time I'd actually chosen to stand up and speak in front of people. Up until then I had tried to avoid it. But when I couldn't avoid it, I always got very nervous and did very badly.
Hello Toastmaster, fellow members and welcome guest.
Do you know that you're special?
Last year I adopted the word 'awesome'. I wanted to use it in the sentence, "*I* am awesome." It was just before my 50th birthday and it'd taken me all that time for me to be able to say that about myself.
The turning point was when I met my husband 25 years ago. When you meet somebody who is good, kind, interesting, funny and super smart and they believe in you, you start listening to them and you stop listening to the daft things that people have said to you.
I was born in a white conservative town and, as a young teenager walking down the street, people would call me "paki" and "wog". A man once stopped me in the street and said "go back to your own country." I was confused, because I was born in Hammersmith.
But he was one of many and I soon learnt to look at the ground when I walked, as if to say "I know I don't belong here, I know you don't want me here, but I'm here now, please let me pass."
It wasn't until my thirties that I actually lifted my eyes and I met the gaze of those coming towards me as if to say "I have as much right as you to be here."
Racism was one of many reasons why I started putting on weight in my late teens. By the time I was 40, I was over 15 stone. I hated myself, I didn't like people looking at me and I wanted to be invisible.
But I wanted help. And so over the course of two decades I saw a nutritionist, a dietician, two psychiatrists and a psychologist. And one of the psychiatrists said to me "why do you want to lose weight? You've already got a boyfriend."
Two months ago I met two management consultants I'd met on LinkedIn, which is a social network for business; we were looking for job opportunities.
The first guy, within seconds of meeting me, said "man up, just dye your hair black and get a job." And an hour later, after his friend had arrived, actually given me good advice and left, the first guy seemed angry with me. So I asked him what the problem was. He said, "you move too much; you're doing my head in. Why can't you just be normal?"
Afterwards, I wish I'd said to him, "normal is for mediocrity. People don't hire me because I'm normal. People hire me because I'm brilliant. I don't want to be normal."
I've realised that when people say mean things to you, it's nothing to do with you but everything to do with them. They have a void that needs to be filled. And they need to fill it by taking a bit of you.
Don't give it to them.
We're all here because we've recognised that there is room for improvement and we're doing something about it. I think that is very brave. And I think that makes us special.
In fact, I think you're all awesome too.
Whether you like the awesome or you have another word for yourself, it'd make me very happy if you could write the word that you think describes you on the back of the feedback slips.