Secrets to Fulfilled Life, Part 2

I wrote previously about Oliver Burkeman’s piece in the Guardian. Today I wanted to expand on another point he’s made:

When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness.

The idea, according to Burkeman, is that we don’t ultimately know what will make us happy — so we should be choosing the approach that favor growth. In my mind, with growth comes new opportunities, and then maybe one among those will provide us with happiness.

About ten years ago, I was two years into a job with Jacobs Engineering in Omaha, NE. By this time I had gotten to know everybody in the office, at our client’s corporate headquarters, and at several plants. My speech was steady and fine. I wasn’t overly confident about just throwing myself out there, but I was less worried about what others thought.

An opportunity then came up to go overseas and work for Jacobs in Saudi.

What would this mean? The stress of packing up our house and moving. Moving to a foreign country. New laws, new politics. New coworkers, a client relationship that wasn’t very old.

Basically leaving all the comforts of home for a lot of unknowns.

It would have been so easy to stay at home, but I knew in speaking with my boss that I needed international experience to move up in the company. And I had that drive to do so.

So I chose growth.

I went into that adventure with the mindset of, “ok, I’m going to make this work.” And it did. Very well. I knew ahead of time that my speech might be rough at the beginning. It was. But then it smoothed out considerably, and I started feeling more confident about what I was doing, and why I was there. I started writing more, and cranked out this blog. I went to the NSA conference.

The chance to go overseas could have been seen as “maybe” happiness. Maybe things will work out. Maybe I’ll enjoy the sun and the sand. If I had made the decision purely based on potential happiness, I would not have gone. But instead I looked around as often as I could while there and took stock of a lot more of the world and what it had to offer.

Life changed a lot in those 5.5 years, but there was certainly no shortage of opportunities.

Secrets to Fulfilled Life, Part 1

I recently read this great article from Oliver Burkeman regarding secrets to a fulfilled life. I wanted to comment on each item over the next few days and how I think they relate to what I’ve experienced with regards to stuttering.

My thoughts have some overlap between them, but here we go … these aren’t in any particular order from the original article.

The advice you don’t want to hear is usually the advice you need.

He goes on to say about this, “so the advice that could really help is likely to make you uncomfortable.”

When I think back to my younger years in school, what would have made me very, very, very uncomfortable would have been having someone say, “you should call this person up on the phone, just to try to talk to them.”

Or, “you should go up to that person and try to have a conversation.”

Or, “you should attend an NSA conference and be surrounded by other people who stutter.”

Or … so many things.

But nobody ever did. Since I was covert, and since I didn’t like to talk about my stuttering, my friends never brought it up. So they could never challenge me to get out of my comfort zone.

He goes on to say:

“One good question to ask is what kind of practices strike you as intolerably cheesy or self-indulgent: gratitude journals, mindfulness meditation, seeing a therapist? That might mean they are worth pursuing.”

I spent a few years journaling about stuttering. I’d put down my thoughts from when I first started stuttering through college. While I was doing that, I realized a lot of things about myself, my reactions, and what motivated a lot of my decisions. Nobody specifically asked me to try it, but I certainly wish someone would have done it earlier.

Through all that writing, I had plenty of things to blog about here which went really well. And then all that introspection finally gave me the strength to sign up for my first NSA Conference. And that changed everything for me.

So I would strongly support what Burkeman suggested — getting advice you need is definitely uncomfortable. But it’s also completely worth it to help with your stuttering journey.

No more nightmares

The other day I took my daughter to the pediatrician for her annual checkup. (All is good). During the visit I asked about something specific, and about getting a referral. So before leaving, I was handed a paper, the referral. I asked the person at the front desk what I should do with it (I don’t do this often). So she said to call the number on the top, and they’d be able to help me. Seems reasonable.

The next day I called the number and asked about the specific service I needed. There was some confusion. And then some transferring. And then a bit more confusion. Then I was told that I should call the doctor’s office back, and that they should make the referral call. So I called the doctor’s office back, and … nobody picked up. So I left a message with all the details. After a bit, they called me back and explained to me how what I was told at the front desk was wrong, that they’d handle all the calls, and then call me once it’s all done.

Which made more sense.

Basically I made a bunch of phone calls that I didn’t have to. And I gave a bunch of information that I stuttered hard on that I didn’t have to. And I was a bit confused which I also didn’t have to be.

That evening I told the story to my wife, and she said, “they made you call which they didn’t know was your worst nightmare.”

And I thought about this for a while afterward. (My wife knows all about my stuttering and the journey I’ve been on. She knows my feelings toward the phone and its challenges. She’s been very supportive throughout.)

I thought about how a few years ago, yes, it was a nightmare. Calling on the phone was something I would completely avoid at all costs. I’d put things off due to having to call. I’d e-mail or text or whatever else.

When I had to make the calls to the doctor, I knew I’d stutter. Maybe on my name, my date of birth, whatever. I always do. But I’m finally well past the point that it bothers me. Or brings me down before and after the call. Right now it’s just an annoyance more than anything. I want to get on with the call, get on with giving information, and get back to doing what I want to do.

Years ago after calls like that I’d be mentally wiped out. I’d feel like garbage, and get really down on myself. I’d sink back into a hole and avoid the phone all over again. I’d let it cloud my thoughts for hours and hours.

These days I make calls when I need to make calls. I’ll stutter. I sure will. Sometimes I advertise it, sometimes I don’t.

But the nightmares are over.

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