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To 'Stop' Stuttering, I Had to Start Talking

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Living life as a person who stutters can be an exercise in failure.

Studies show the average person speaks about 16,000 words a day. At a minimum, that’s 16,000 opportunities for a stutterer to fail every day and well over 5.8 million opportunities to fail in a year.

Every person who stutters has a journey, and it begins by knowing they will risk failure thousands and thousands of times every day.

For some of us, this journey ends in childhood when we simply grow out of stuttering. For others, this journey is a lifelong adventure.

The journey I’m on began at age 4 and it continues today.

Along my journey, I, like many other people who stutter, experienced a turning point.

My turning point made me realize avoidance isn’t the answer; it’s the problem. In other words, I realized that to stop stuttering, I had to start talking.

Before I could reach my turning point, I had to endure a breaking point.

Let me explain…

Twenty-five years ago I graduated from college. My stutter was wicked good then. I failed thousands and thousands of times a day when talking. I failed so much at talking that no company wanted to hire me. I interviewed with countless companies but never got the job.

My parents had long supported me on my journey. They hugged me after I endured days of hurtful teasing from naïve children. They spent time, money, and love to get me professional help for my stuttering throughout my childhood and adolescence. They went out of their way to encourage me to talk when talking was the last thing I wanted to do. They had countless closed door conversations about what they could do next to help me. Clearly, they worried for me.

However, by the time I was a young adult, my parents were no longer worried. They were terrified. Terrified at the compromised life their over-educated and underemployed son would live when he couldn’t string together three spoken words without stuttering.

So one night in 1993, my parents approached me and made me an offer they felt I couldn’t refuse. The offer was to send me to a month-long intensive therapy program to fix my stuttering problem so my future life wouldn’t be as compromised as my past life had been.

The offer was made, but I declined.

My parents couldn’t understand why I turned down what they saw as my last chance to live a more fluent (and thereby, more affluent) life. My parents were astonished and deeply anguished over my refusal to get help.

At that time I was a boomerang child working part-time at a clothing store and living in my old childhood room. I had essentially given up on finding employment worthy of a college degree. My friends all had jobs and were making waves in the real world while my life was at low tide. I was at a standstill in life. No momentum. No hope. Nothing except my stutter.

It was just my stutter and me.

My stutter hadn’t abandoned me as my childhood friends did in high school. My stutter never laughed at me. My stutter was tethered to me… for life.

This is when my breaking point became my turning point.

It was at this moment in time when I realized I didn’t want to live my life without my stutter.

Stuttering had shaped me into being me; I couldn’t imagine my life without it.

I can look back at that dark moment in my life and realize that was my turning point when at age 23, I accepted myself as a person who stutters. I had become comfortable with the fact I was going to live my life as a person who stutters.

Accepting myself as a person who stutters brought me a newfound comfort level with my stuttering.

From that day and to this day, I’ve found the best way for me to manage my stuttering is by talking.

My turning point taught me that to stop stuttering, I had to start talking.

I made the deliberate decision to not let my stuttering discourage me from talking. Using every method I picked up from my years of speech therapy combined with my acceptance of being a stutterer, I found a more fluent voice.

I am now 47 years old and after a marketing career spent at Starbucks and Whole Foods, I make my living talking as a keynote conference speaker. Yes… I get paid to talk. (The irony is incredible, isn’t it?)

I deliver presentations at conferences all over the world. It’s a highly unlikely profession that never would have taken shape if I were still waiting for my turning point to happen.

A few years ago I gave the most difficult keynote presentation in my life. I was at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi to give a talk about business lessons learned during my days at Starbucks. I’ve given hundreds of presentations before but this one made me incredibly nervous because my father was in the audience.

My father had never seen me give a keynote presentation. I can imagine he was also nervous. My stutter reverts back to failure-filled childhood days when I’m around my father. I can’t explain it. I just know I stutter so much more around my father than I do around anyone else. I’m certain my father believed he was about to witness his son struggle through a stutter-filled sixty-minute presentation.

The talk went off just fine. Like all the other talks I give today, I hardly stuttered. After my presentation I shook hands and chatted with attendees. The small crowd around me left, leaving my father in full view. He was crying. As tears rolled down his face, he said, “Son, what I just witnessed was a miracle.”

To my dad, it was a miracle. To me, it was just one more day in which I lived knowing that to stop stuttering, I have to keep talking.

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Originally published: July 9, 2017
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