Stuttering is Courageous

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Several years ago I volunteered to speak on a panel about my experiences in the workplace with a hidden disability. The event was held by company executives in honor of national disability awareness month.

There were three other panelists who shared their stories of adjusting to physical disabilities derived from health ailments.

I spoke last. I opened with the worn-out cliche of being eviscerated by a senior manager when I stuttered on my name during introductions at a new employee seminar. I struggled mightily, revealing my not-so-hidden disability. It allowed me to show the–dare I say–overcoming experience of stuttering in that I shed the stigma and turned the story arch towards how stuttering doesn’t have to be a disabling experience. These are all of the things I can do while openly stuttering and not fear reprisal. When I finished, I couldn’t believe I had been so candid and vulnerable given that those in the audience could influence the trajectory of my career.

Then, it happened. A panelist who sat next to me, and had braved and beat cancer, slid a folded index card to me that read, “Courage: You, sir, have it abundantly!

Did I?

Courage wasn’t an attribute that I had considered to describe myself as a person who stutters, but, in that fleeting moment, I felt it. A cancer survivor believed I was courageous…and made it a point to tell me.

I knew courage when I saw it, and I could name courageous people, but stuttering had just been my burden. After all, everyone has or had something that shaped who they have become, right?

It has been a few years since I posted the index card on my refrigerator as a daily reminder. However, when I started reading Stoic savant Ryan Holiday‘s latest book, Courage is Calling: Fortune Favors the Brave, it sparked my memory to delve back into the question–is stuttering courageous?

Holiday states that courage is risk, sacrifice, commitment, perseverance, truth, and determination. Essentially, that defines what it takes to face down stuttering once and for all. The lightbulb flickered on, though, when I read that it is not courage unless we brave something or someone.

Braving is the key to courage.

Brave fittingly means bold, and to brave is to endure unpleasant conditions or behavior without showing fear. Courage, then, as Holiday establishes, is the management of and triumph over fear.

Stuttering is not what I brave. Again, stuttering was never what I braved.

I braved fear. Fear fuels struggled stuttering. When I stuttered, I used to think: How will I survive? What will others do, say, or think? Will she dump me? It was a life slowed by a thousand hesitations.

For what? Why was I so comfortable living in self-preservation mode? I chose fear because it became my natural state. Since I was a child, I could endure any amount of anxiety, shame, dissociation, exhaustion, guilt, regret, judgment, failure, and pity because it was all I knew. Not stuttering was my only option for over 25 years.

Holiday’s perspective on fear changed mine forever. It took ten years of choosing, managing, and overcoming fear until I no longer had to brave it. When I stutter boldly, I manage and triumph over (overcome) fear which is courageous whether I always recognize that or not. The hesitations gradually transformed into individual acts of courage that forged a whole new approach to stuttering, and to life itself. I became free to stutter whenever, wherever, and however often I chose.

It has taken some getting used to because I still feel the fear and its side effects yet I move through them without hesitation. To feel the tinge of self-preservation, as Holiday describes it, before I choose to stutter is now an indicator of success instead of a signal to remain silent. Doing what tinges made openly stuttering just what I do.

I became courageous by stuttering.

I don’t walk around with my chest puffed out feeling courageous. But, I do know what I have braved to live with less fear. And, before anything else, every open stutter is an act of courage.

Stuttering is courageous. Stuttering is courageous. Stuttering is courageous.

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