Juan V Lopez blogs about how he went from hating his speech impediment to embracing it, and using it to his advantage
“He can’t read!” kids would say when I was asked to read out loud.
“You don’t know the plays?” coaches would yell at me when I couldn’t call a play in a huddle.
“You don’t know your own name?” people said while laughing after introducing themselves.
I still hear these insults so clearly in my mind…
I’m 27 years old and for every conscious moment in my life, I’ve stuttered. At the randomest times, I’ll have the hardest time saying the simplest sounds. It’s totally unpredictable. And it sucks.
Being a kid is already difficult enough when you don’t look like, act like or sound like the rest of the kids around you. So me, with my rambling and hesitation and hard breathing, I was an easy target. When I was called on in class to read out loud or present a project, I could feel my body going into shock. I could literally hear my heart pounding, my palms would get sweaty. All I could think was, “Please let this fire alarm go off…”
“I hated talking. I hated opening my mouth. And I was starting to hate myself.”
But, eventually, I’d have to talk. And it usually went awful. I’d struggle so much to the point where some teachers would run out of patience and ask me to sit down. And then came the laughter, the ridicule, the teasing, the pointing…
“He can’t read!” “He doesn’t know his own name!” “Dumbass can’t even talk!”
I hated talking. I hated opening my mouth. And I was starting to hate myself. And the worst part about this, is that I couldn’t “fix” it. Trust me, I tried.
Throughout my childhood, and even in college, I went through speech therapy. I was taught to speak softer…I was taught to take deep breaths before I talked so I wouldn’t be gasping for air at the end of my sentences. For the most part, these strategies helped a bit. I would apply them in a conversation…but then I’d start to stumble and everything would go to waste.
No one understood my problem, so their initial reaction when I stumbled on a word was to chuckle. I was in a constant cycle of trying to fix something, only to be ridiculed for it. I was miserable and frustrated. But as I got older and was exhausted of being dragged through the mud, I had a simple reflection – I realized that 100% of what I had been taught about my stutter was wrong. I was taught to view my stutter as a wall I had to climb over in order to have any kind of happy life. I was taught to see this as something that was wrong with me. But over time, I’ve realized that stuttering was not my problem. The way I viewed my stutter – that was my problem.
I always thought the biggest reason why my stutter was a problem was because other people didn’t understand it. “If they knew what I was going through, maybe they’d show mercy,” I would say to myself.
But now I know that my biggest problem was that I didn’t understand it.
I was taught anything and everything to help me overcome my stutter…except to understand, accept and embrace it. So, I made a mindful choice to do just that. I changed my perspective on it and it changed my world.
Nowadays, instead of getting mad at my slow speech, I’m grateful for it, and I appreciate the opportunities it’s given me. My stutter has given me the opportunity to speak slower and think quicker. My stutter has given me the opportunity to understand others without judgment. And my stutter has given me the opportunity to share my story with thousands of people inflicted with a handicap and inspire them.
Today, I’m an empowerment speaker (I speak at schools, businesses, colleges and events), I have a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Nevada, I am an entrepreneur digital marketer, and I’m the CEO of a non-profit organization. I could have never imagined any of this when I was crying in front of the mirror throughout my teenage years because I had zero self-confidence as a result of my stutter.
“I was taught anything and everything to help me overcome my stutter…except to understand, accept and embrace it.”
Here’s what I learned that changed me forever – and this is what I want you to take away:
The more you know about yourself, the less anyone else thinks they know about you matters.
The people that bully you may or may not have a revelation one day and decide to leave you alone. But that doesn’t matter. When you put your emotions and mental condition in the hands of others, you have zero control. They dictate how you feel and what you feel.
But when you choose to embrace yourself for everything that makes you unique, you are in control. You decide how you feel. What the people that bully you think of you doesn’t matter. What you think of yourself does.
If you’re reading this, know that I still stutter. Heck, look at my TEDx talk from January 2015 and you’ll see my stutter in full form:
Today when people chuckle at the sound of me saying “Uhhhh” when they ask for my name, I smile and firmly respond, “I have a speech impediment.” They quickly apologise. Nothing has changed. I still get laughed at from time to time.
“What the people that bully you think of you doesn’t matter. What you think of yourself does.”
And yet, everything has changed. Because I know who I am – I love who I am – and I do not waver. Everything changed for the better when I stopped feeling sorry for myself and took control. And I challenge you to do the same. Whatever is holding you back today, whatever people might be making fun of you for, you have a choice:
You can continue to allow it to overshadow your life…
Or you can choose to learn so much about yourself that you’re unfazed by people’s negative thoughts. You can choose to take control of your life and stop feeling sorry for your circumstances. And you can choose to understand, accept and embrace everything about you. Then, you might be able to create a life you’re truly happy to be alive for.
Either way, the choice is yours.