Most of us have a bright memory of our first day at school.
It is such a unique experience: we take one of the first steps out of our comfort zone and leave the cozy world of our family to make new friends in the larger world.
The feeling I remember about that day, though, is that of being lost. Not fitting in.
The class that I joined had known each other from kindergarten, so when I entered the classroom, I was an outsider to an already integrated group.
Hania, a girl as shy as I, was the only one who offered me a seat at her desk. She pointed to the empty chair and in that moment, I knew I had one person to count on. I knew that school wasn’t going to be easy, but having that one friend always by my side meant the world to me. Hania’s welcoming attitude taught me the values of inclusion and loyalty.
That early experience decided for me to never be neutral towards a newcomer.
I know what it feels like to be new to an environment, how daunting it can feel to navigate the foreign. So, I always make sure that everyone feels welcome around me, more so the people who feel the nerves of newness when it comes to public speaking or conversation.
And when the people I work with call me back again and again, their continued commitment is something I deeply appreciate. It elevates them from clients to friends that I work with—a relationship based on clear communication, understanding and mutual respect.
Fot. Karol Makurat
Between peer pressure and shyness, my friendship with Hania was not enough to stop school from being a bit lonely. So, when I would come back home from school, I would seek company in cartoons. One such day, when I was 10, I remember stopping while flipping through the channels. The Polish version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” was on and there was Hubert Urbański, hosting the game show with amazing confidence, charm and ease. That was the day I found my childhood idol. I didn’t know it then, but that was when I discovered my calling. I aspired to have Hubert’s ability to be himself, whether in front of just one contestant or the millions who watched him every night, and affect the ambience with his presence.
The first thing I learned from Hubert was how to raise the eyebrow in his signature way. He would do this to build suspense in those moments when he would ask a contestant: “Is this your final answer?” It was a funny thing for a 10-year-old to mimic. Didn’t help me make new friends, but at least I gained my first skill as a presenter-to-be.
I started to create my own scripts, show concepts and staged elaborate shows for a grand audience of two—my encouraging parents who bought me my first ever handheld camera.
It may seem like no big deal as of today, but back in the Poland of late 90s, such a device cost as much as a month’s salary. And though I’m pretty sure my parents owned no Visa card, their gift started something priceless.
I remember how excited my guy friends used to get when it would be time for PE. But me? I would just be scared. Feeling like a failure at PE seemed inescapable to me.
At the beginning of every class, the cool kids would pick who they wanted on their team. I would always be the last pick. So, imagine this: the game hasn’t started yet, but everyone seems to know that you wouldn’t be of much help anyway.
I’ll never forget the anger in my guy friends’ voices when they’d scream at me for ruining their chance to score. If the athletic boys were the heroes of the class, I was definitely the anti-hero.
The teacher, Mr Jaroslaw, further exacerbated the feeling by calling me by my last name (a practice that’s considered to be in poor taste in Poland). “Kautz!” he would yell, “If you don’t shape yourself up, I’m going to give you another F.” Everybody had a good laugh, apart from me. I was there wishing that the teacher would give me a helping hand so I could catch up, instead of making fun of me. Unfortunately, that wasn’t his way.
Everyone has their own experience of feeling rejected or being made to feel like a failure. What happened to me in PE class was my first experience of those feelings and it taught me how harsh rejection is. Personally experiencing those feelings and growing past them, I would never let anyone feel like that. That’s why when I’m onstage, I remember to provide extra guidance and a special, warm welcome to the people who are not that comfortable being onstage. That’s why, when I host discussions, I make sure that everyone gets heard—the ones who speak up easily, as well as those who are quieter.
There are a lot of great insights and perspectives waiting untapped within an event and that is where I come in as the event host, to provide that extra encouragement to bring them to light.
Junior high school is when I first fell in love. At least I thought so back then. After hesitating, trying to collect my confidence for weeks, I finally decided to talk to Paulina, the girl I fancied. Just when I was about to ask her out, something horrifying happened to my voice. Instead of my usual confident voice, I heard a squeak coming out. Yup, that was me. I’m sorry. I better just go.
Yes, voice cracks happen to boys when they reach puberty. Yes, I ran away, not even finishing what I meant to say. Yes, I never talked to her again.
I guess that little but impactful moment stayed with me and till now helps me understand those who may feel onstage as I did in front of my childhood sweetheart. When hosting events, I go out of my way to make you and your team comfortable on your big day. I make sure that an event flows smoothly and that there are no awkward silences (I know how petrifying they may seem). I use my expertise to smoothen everybody’s interactions and will brighten things up with a dose of humor.
Going back to the story, my voice might have turned on me in that fateful moment, but I knew we would become friends in the long run. So, I found another place to channel my creativity and use my voice (and hopefully impress the girls): our school’s PA system. I was given only 3 minutes of air-time at the end of a class and I tried making the most of it. I filled the time with schoolyard news and music snippets.
Even though a part of me felt nervous, I started putting in effort to use this as a way to overcome my insecurities. I also started talking to people more and more. Later on, in my early twenties, I interned at local radio stations, reporting from the city, talking about the mundane and the meaningful of everyday life—a new road opening, the tram line getting modernized, music academy graduates putting up performances, etc. I soon discovered that people felt at ease with me, that they wanted to share their stories – and that I loved to listen to them.
I wanted to connect people to one another and what better way to do it than through television? Inspired by a sense of purpose and wanting to move beyond my early experiences of rejection, I wanted to be successful on the screen. I thought that if I could make it on national television, the world would be my oyster. Doors would open, people would admire me and I too would finally admire myself.
I started sending emails to TV executives, asking to be considered as the host of their game show or talk show. I called the few people with whom I had made contacts in the industry, sent holiday cards to keep in touch with, used all the available internship positions. But even though people enjoyed working with me, it became obvious to me that they didn’t see me as the right candidate for their TV shows.
It seemed that most of the executives and decision makers in the media industry were just not interested in people who were new to their world. I tried hard to shift from local to national media channels, but the gates seemed closed to me. I wish I could say that I was rejected at many auditions, but the truth was much harder to admit: I never got invited to even one audition.
The unsuccessful attempts at making a name for myself on national television made me channel my energy and focus. Instead of repeating what I was already doing, hoping somebody would pick me and place me somewhere within their desired show, I decided to build a career on my own terms.
I wanted to be intentional with my words and help others. I know how powerful words can be, that they can build up or tear people down. So, I chose to pursue a Masters in Law. I studied hard, which provided me the opportunity to study in Poland, Belgium and the US.
Fot. Erik Witsoe
One rainy morning while I was in Boone, North Carolina on a legal studies scholarship, I thought of pitching a radio show to the local radio station, WASU FM. The station director Dan Vallie Hill had just come in and wasn’t expecting anyone, let alone me. But there I was, asking if I could host a radio show with the international student community at the university! He probably found my confidence something to bet on and the idea interesting and agreed to give me and the show a try. Just like that, I got what I had hoped for and had to immediately start working on turning the idea into reality. I had to put everything together within a week because the first episode had to air by then.
That was my first radio talk show and it let me hear stories that all had a common denominator: the “common” person sharing their dreams, hopes, expectations and disappointments. The show helped me learn that in the long run, people don’t connect to success stories. Success isn’t as relatable as suffering. Instead, many times it actually takes us away from our sense of community. People truly empathize with those who have the courage to share their failures, vulnerabilities and insecurities. Being honest and straightforward isn’t easy, but it is very rewarding. When we share our darkest moments and feel the compassion and understanding coming from the one who listens, it makes us stronger. Turns out that showing our weaker parts is the most courageous act.
After returning to Poland, I started a radio show known as International Poznan. For it, I interviewed people from all around the world, but the stories I remember most are the ones that were most personal. I remember Kasun Perera from Sri Lanka talking about the tsunami that took the livelihoods of his and many other families, but also the hope and strength that people had when helping each other rebuild from that trauma. I remember when Harrison Cucunubá teared up while talking about his father whom the Colombian drug cartels took away from him, and I of course remember, among many others, Edward Britton, an American who came all the way to Poland to train F-16 pilots.
The countless hours I’ve spent talking to people on radio and television have taught me many lessons— the most important one being how to truly interact with another person and listen deeply. Those hours have also helped me dig deep into my purpose: to find the best in people and provide them the space to shine.
There is no repetition in events or mentoring—each moment is new and demanding, every interaction unique. That allows me to be how I want to be—kind, considerate and straightforward with every person I meet. Because I know what it feels like to be seen as not important, to know that you have something to offer to the world but everyone is too busy to listen, I turn up with respect and attention. Everyone matters and I want to hear what you have to say.
If you want to experience working with me, as an event host, strategist or a public speaking coach, you can reach out for a free consultation. I know that we can create something great together!
Fot. Arek Stankiewicz (Czarna Offca).