I almost started my speaking career not long after I graduated from high school, but life sometimes has a way of sending you on a long detour before you get on the right path.
The first big speaking gig I did was at a country club that was doing as a fundraiser for Seattle Children’s Hospital. They wanted me to come out and share my experiences there as a patient, saying how great they were. I was happy to do it, because they were great, and I would know – I spent a lot of time there as a child.
There were around 50 people in the audience. It was really intense for me, being thrown into the fire since I hadn’t done anything like that before. I was so nervous that I don’t even know what I said, but fortunately someone was videotaping the event, and the video become one of the first things I posted to my YouTube channel. I guess I just shared a little about my life story, and what it was like getting surgeries and spending time recovering at Children’s. Actually, what I remember most was that they had the singer Kelly Clarkston tune in via video, and give her own message as well. I don’t remember her story, but she was obviously a big supporter of Seattle Children’s.
WSU College of Education
The same year, my sister was in Pullman, WA attending WSU to become a teacher. When she chose her final major I was thinking to myself “wow, ok” and I was really proud of her. She was so driven, always pushing toward the goals she had. S
My sister knew I wanted to do public speaking, and she arranged for me to speak to one of her classes, asking me to share my thoughts about how teachers could handle kids coming to their classes who were disabled. I spoke exactly on that.
I shared that in my experience, some teachers panic a little bit, not knowing what to do or how to handle things. I told them that in reality, it really isn’t a big deal: just treat them like other students; but then again, if that student also has learning disabilities, they’d need a para because they would need more time than other students.
I’m not sure how deeply the college students listened to me that day, and one kid fell asleep which actually reminded me of myself in school. In fact, I didn’t know that still went on in college! But the main problem was there wasn’t a lot of time for questions before the class period ended. It’s usually the main bummer about speaking gigs – when there’s limited time for questions.
Youth Investment Center
Another place where I spoke around that time was at the Puyallup Youth Investment Center where I used to go when I was in Jr High. Downtown kids in Puyallup could go there, hang out with each other, and kind-of get away from home life. Basically, it was an after-school activity center.
They invited me to speak to the new crop of kids attending the center, wanting me to give my life story and tales from back in the day. I just told them about me, and a few stories about what would happen when I would hang out there. I also talked about bullying, and one of the kids asked about it, but I’m not sure he liked the answers, but that’s me: telling it as I see it, not what I think people want to hear.
One of the kids thought I was really amazing and inspiring. That felt good. In fact, everywhere I spoke seemed to go great, like people were really into it, and I thought to myself, “Maybe I found my calling.” So every day, I would expect more invitations. Little did I know, pursuing a speaking career takes a lot of work. People aren’t just going to come to you if they don’t know you’re out there.
I was starting to live the dream, but then for reasons I didn’t understand at the time, everything stopped. I think summer came, schools let out, no one else called to invite me to speak. I really got depressed because I didn’t know how to keep it going. Not getting any more offers to speak made me feel so defeated – something I now know is a fundamental self-esteem problem I have.
I said to myself, “you know, maybe this isn’t something I’m going to be able to do.” I sat around and became more and more bored, more isolated, and started going out to the bars a lot, found people to talk to and hang out with. A lot of them were great, and some of them were bad influences involved with along with heavy drinking, and that became my life for the next few years.
I also started having problems with my back, and so I went to a pain clinic, and it was only 10 minutes from my house. I guess there’s no reason they wouldn’t have prescribed those pain meds to me since the pain and scoliosis were real. Now I was addicted to pain meds along with alcohol. Anything would set me off, full of anger.
Thoughts of suicide started coming, not hurting myself or others, but just going to sleep and not waking up. I didn’t want to be here, no meaning or purpose, like I was wasting my time being alive. I don’t think my family even realizes how dark and close to the edge I was at the time.
Back On Track
I’m going to save the story of those dark years for a future post on addiction and recovery, but suffice it to say for now that a huge part of me getting sober was so that I wouldn’t put my family through anything like those times again. As my caregiver, I put my mom through a lot of hell, and I’ll never be able to take those years back, no matter what I do moving forward.
What I am going to do moving forward is stay on track working to realize my dreams. That includes public speaking. I guess it was all the videos that I started publishing to YouTube, and the encouragement I received from people who were inspired by what I said, that helped me remember this original dream.
It took some work over the last couple of years to figure out how to launch my public speaking career, and we’ll see how well it goes now that I’m putting it out there! In association with the schedule I set up for monthly topical gatherings online, I’m working on a series of slideshows that focus on all the topics I like to speak about. Here’s what I’ve come up with, and I’m looking forward to hearing from people who want to hear what I have to say:
Speaking Topics Scheduled for Release
- January 2022 – Matt’s Inspirational Life Story
- February 2022 – Mental Health, Addiction & Recovery
- March 2022 – Neighborhood Issues Affecting Us
- April 2022 – Getting Healthy Outdoors
- May 2022 – Manifesting Your Dreams
- June 2022 – Accessible Travel, Getting Out & Having Fun
- July 2022 – Inspiring Heroes & Celebrities of TV, Video Games and the Movies
- August 2022 – Bullying, Peer Pressure & Learning Disabilities
- September 2022 – Are You Really Any Different?
- October 2022 – Finding Unity in Divisive Times
- November 2022 – Being Single with/out Kids & Family
- December 2022 – Surviving the Holidays and Thriving in the New Year
- January 2023 – Music That Gets Us Through
- February 2023 – Hobbies We Love
- March 2023 – Animals Who Saved Us