Everyone stutters ; I just do it when I speak
I’ve had a severe stutter my whole life, and in a way…you have too (more about that later).
The basic act of speaking that 99% of the population takes for granted was mission impossible to me. I avoided speaking every time that I could. Think about a field of mines. If you knew there were mines, wouldn’t you naturally avoid it altogether? Well, that field was my life. The mines represented every stutter. Everytime I stepped on these metaphorical “mines”, my sense of self-confidence, self-love and self-esteem were utterly shattered.
I decided not to speak. It was the safest option. In the short term.
I chose comfort. Why engage the world when I could hide in the isolating yet comforting cocoon of my silence? I’m sure most (if not all) of you can think of a few instances in your lives, on campus, in class or in social or professional settings, where short-term comfort was chosen at the expense of long-term fulfillment and success. When you wish to speak up in class and yet you remain quiet, that’s your stutter. When you think about getting involved with a student club and yet fear holds you back, that’s your stutter.
In my second year of college, my social anxiety resulting from being “different” had gotten so severe that I asked my university professor to exempt me from all presentations and in-class participation requirements. Once again, I chose comfort.
Even though I had learned an effective breathing technique to control my stutter, for many years, I was reluctant to speak. Speaking meant stuttering, and stuttering meant feeling different, weird and inadequate. I avoided everything & everyone. Once again, I chose comfort.
Then, everything changed.
I started to understand that comfort is like a drug. It numbs us. Comfort looks different for different people – for some it might mean binge watching on Netflix, for others it means staying in a relationship, major or career path that is wrong for them but that is comfortable or predictable, and for others it means avoiding uncomfortable yet growth-inducing situations as a way to protect themselves from the fear of judgment. Ironically, that illusory protection is ultimately what erodes our potential the most ; it robs our future self from countless opportunities. Let me elaborate.
That time you did not speak up in class, you might have shared a truly insightful idea that would have positively impacted or inspired your classmates or professors. That student club you never joined might have led to some of your deepest friendships in college (and beyond).That person you never introduced yourself to at that event (virtual or in-person, depending on the current regulations in your area) might have led to a leadership position or to your dream job opportunity in a few years or hey, to your soulmate! When we do the things that we fear while realizing that it’s OK to be different and owning what makes us unique (a big part of what Diversity and Inclusion is all about), our potential grows exponentially! Then, we truly can become the makers of our destiny.
The truth is, comfort and growth are mutually exclusive. Think about it. Comfort implies a state of “sameness” ; growth however implies positive change. So, what did I do?
I stopped waiting for that “magical breakthrough” and I started changing my relationship with fear and discomfort through millions of micro-moments of bravery. In the past four years, I’ve gone from dreading the mere act of uttering one sentence out of a terrifying fear of being different and feeling uncomfortable all the way to being featured on TED, Forbes, winning multiple public speaking competitions (receiving the award of Inspirational Speaker of the Year), speaking at organizations like Tesla and Della as well as and doing stand-up comedy in 3 continents and 3 languages – I stutter in 6 of them!
While comfort and growth are mutually exclusive, Fear and Action aren’t. Fear and Action can co-exist. Let us diss comfort and continuously challenge ourselves by regularly entering the discomfort zone instead. It’s where all of life’s rewards can be found. Ready, set, go 🙂