photo: Emilio Labrador on flikr

If I told you I used to work as a rodeo clown, would you believe me?

If you said Yes, you’re in the majority. Most of the people to whom I’ve told this crazy story have believed me.

Notice the past tense. Told.

My days as a fake former-rodeo-clown are over.

I used to think it was funny. I’d meet someone and tell them that my past included a stint as a rodeo clown. Not only that, but I’d even tell this little ditty to people I’d known for a while.

I found it hilarious that people believed me. Both the people I’d just met and the people I’d known for a while. I have a large portion of spastic, dorky clown in me. I could see why people might buy my little ruse.

There was one person I couldn’t fool, however. She was my supervisor at the first job I landed after graduate school. I told her and a group of co-workers about my fictional free-wheeling past, and she said she didn’t buy it.

She said she didn’t think I was brave enough.

Ouch.

The thing is, she’s right. One of the things I loved about my little story is that it included the presumption that I would be gutsy enough to get in the ring with a storming hunk of bull.

photo: Casey Brown on flikr

I mean, really. Can you see me taking a jaunt around the ring with a beast like this? No way.

But I liked perpetuating the idea that I had this kind of chutzpah. This kind of crazy, nervy courage.

Even though I don’t.

And then it came, the day I pushed it too far. It was only a matter of time, really. It’s amazing I got away with it for so long.

My rodeo clown ruse ended at a Toastmaster meeting.

I’ve been attending Toastmasters meetings for almost a year now. Toastmasters is a fabulous organization that helps people all over the world build their speaking and leadership skills. I’ve found this group to be invaluable on many levels and I am continually impressed with the depth and breadth of this organization. Suffice it to say: I love Toastmasters.

photo: Dave Taylor on flikr

One of the activities in any given Toastmasters meeting is something called Table Topics. In Table Topics, you are given one to two minutes to speak extemporaneously on an assigned topic. On the day my hoax came to an end, my Table Topics assignment was to speak on anything I wanted. 

Imagine that. Anything I wanted!  This was a group to whom I had given talks on the power of visualization and the importance of perseverance. I had shared hard-won anecdotes about overcoming adversity and trusting the wisdom of intuition. And now?

And now I was going to regale them with a lie.

Usually my little rodeo clown fib consisted of a single sentence. I didn’t take it any further than that. But in this case, I had one to two minutes. The instant I jumped into my Table Topics session, I could see I was in trouble. Not only was I presenting this fiction to an entire group of people, as opposed to my usual one-to-one con, but this time I had to back it up with details.

I watched the words come out of my mouth. I described my teenage years spent on a local farm, learning the tricks of the trade. I bragged about the ease with which I acquired my skills. I expounded on my trials and tribulations in the ring.

photo: "G" jewels on flikr

I scanned the faces of my fellow Toastmasters. They were listening with rapt attention. Clearly, they believed me. Why wouldn’t they? I had never lied to them before, why would they think I was lying now?

But that’s what it was. A lie. No matter what it had been in the past – a gag, a whim, a humorous illusion – it was now a deception. And I couldn’t do it anymore.

In the middle of my speech, I outed myself. I exposed my rodeo clown story for what it was – a little joke I liked to play on people. But it wasn’t funny anymore. 

At the end of the meeting, people teased me. They said they wondered if anything I’d ever told them was true. They were just kidding, but I felt the sting. I’d compromised their trust. I’d compromised my own sense of honor.

I’ve  learned a lot about public speaking since I’ve been in Toastmasters, and that day was no exception. Certain assumptions and responsibilities go along with speaking to a group of people, and one of them is that you tell the truth. Indeed, people will assume you’re being honest unless you give them reason to think otherwise.

It can be scary to stand up in front of others and share who you are. But fabrication is not the answer.

I learned that the hard way. The rodeo-clown way.

photo: David Jones on flikr

In the end, the essence of my lie stayed with me. I realized I have to be brave. Brave enough to be who I am. And who I’m not.

I’m not facing down any angry bulls, but I am facing down my fears and telling the truth. And that’s good enough for me.

What about you? What’s your experience with lying? And coming clean? Tell the truth!

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