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A Fortunate Life

By Mark Gibson on Mon, Aug 10, 2015

The following is my Icebreaker talk delivered at my maiden Toastmasters speech in June this year. I will comment on the value for salespeople in completing the 10 projects in Toastmasters "Competent Communicator" manual in another post.

The purpose of the "Icebreaker" in 4-6 minutes is to introduce yourself, begin to conquer the fear of speaking in front of your group and to provide a baseline of your current strengths and weaknesses.

Born in the Luck Country

I was fortunate to be born into an Anglo-Saxon, middle-class family in "the lucky country" - Australia. 

I only became aware of this good fortune 20 years later, when I began visiting foreign ports in the navy and saw how our neighbors in South East Asia lived.

I have 3 brothers and a sister. My mom just turned 90 and she is going strong. She is quite a character.

I'll never forget the time she drove me to school and our neighbor’s dogs chased our car, barking madly.

She slowed the car, rolled down the car window, stuck her head out and yelled; "get home you mongrels"... they stopped in their tracks, turned and ran home... she has a way with words.

Our decisions define our lives and our experience.

Fortunately I’ve made more good ones than bad ones.

I had an idyllic childhood. When I was 5 years old we moved to Mannum, a small town on the River Murray in the country in South Australia.

It was a safe place to grow up. With the river on our doorstep, summers were spent in the sun; fishing, swimming and messing about in boats. The Wind in the Willows, a novel by Kenneth Graham is a classic of English children's literature. It tells the story of three friends, a badger, a rat and a mole living on the riverbank and of their bucolic summer adventures. I choke up every time I watch this marvelous animated film, as I harken back to my own halcyon days.

In those days we had no awareness of the hazards of ultra-violet radiation. Imagine my surprise when my dermatologist called in 2003 with urgency in her voice and told me she'd been trying to reach me for 2 weeks.

The biopsy confirmed I had a melanoma.

I was fortunate that we caught it very early, but it wasn’t my last.

I was a bright kid at school and did well with teachers that I liked.

At the tender age of 16 I left home to join the Navy. The navy promised adventure - and a career in electronics and communications, and to this day the adventure continues in high-tech sales and marketing. That was a great decision.

The worst decision I ever made without a doubt was to marry my first love at the tender age of 19. It was OK at the start, but soon became tiresome and adversarial and after 13 years it was time to weigh-anchor.

The worst day of my life, a result of my worst decision, was the day I had my 9-year old daughter Danielle and 12-year old son Justin sitting in my lap and I told them that their mother and I were getting a divorce and that I was moving out. I know I crushed them and their lives are very different than they would have been otherwise. Good things come from bad decisions however and I’m proud to be a grandfather to Hudson.

The best decision I ever made was to marry my second wife, Robin.

I first saw her in a famous London jazz club, where I went swing dancing. I caught glimpses of her beautiful face in a shaft of light through the smoky cigarette haze and the whirling jitterbuggers. She was gorgeous, just across the dance floor - but a mile away.

Do you remember your first high-school social? Boys on one side of the hall, girls on the other and no-mans land - a mile of barbed wire, with land mines and snipers to cross over to ask for a dance. Refusal - a shot to the heart and the ultimate in adolescent humiliation.


I pointed her out to my friend and he urged me to ask her to dance, which I did.

We have been dancing ever since. We lived in the UK for 7 years and have visited many countries around the world since. I consider it fortunate that our daughter Olivia, now 20, was raised in Scotland and has a European world-view.

In December last year I had open-heart surgery to replace a failing heart valve.

The operation was a success, but the patient nearly died.

For 2 weeks after the operation, a slow hemorrhage filled my lung cavity and pericardium with blood that was now clotting. After two further surgeries and a month in hospital I lost 30 pounds, but gained new resolve.

We get our time once and we must choose wisely how we spend it.

I am now 100% recovered and physically fitter than I was 6 years ago.

I have a new lease on life and the adventure continues.

I have indeed, had a fortunate life.