Minding the Gap

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the gap. There’s that space for all of us who stutter — between who we are now and who we think we should be. It covers everything — our job, our spouse, our friends, our relationships, our outlook on life. There’s a gap to be found in them all. How would life be different if I didn’t stutter? If I had been more confident during that interview for the job I didn’t get? If I had asked about a different neighborhood or apartment when I moved into a new town? If I had spoken with my guidance counselor or friends of parents about career choices?

Even people who don’t stutter have these gaps as well. They’re constantly comparing themselves to this that or the other.

Career-wise, I’ve been very good about not ever doing this. It wasn’t terribly hard. My friends who I grew up with basically didn’t have the same college degree as me, nor did they have the same kind of job. They didn’t have the same upbringing, and didn’t have the same goals. We are different, and that’s fine.

But things always change. You find out someone at work is the same age as you, someone who is more charismatic, outgoing, talkative, and ambitious. And you start to wonder. You think that you’ve got all the same tools, all the same opportunities. The same amount of experiences in similar projects, and are now in the same office. So you start to wonder. Is he slightly ahead of me because I’m not more outgoing? Because he can talk a good game? Because people find it easier to talk to him?

This has thrown me off lately because it’s entirely new. I’m trying to handle it by breaking it down into smaller pieces and rationalizing my way out of it. Asking myself, well, sure we’re here in Saudi, and it’s easy for him, but I want to move back to the States sooner than later. And maybe doing the sales thing instead of engineering isn’t really my thing. Maybe a technical job again would be nice.

And even bigger than all of that is how much importance I’ve placed on work. Is that really necessary? Sure, there’s going up and doing a good job and all that, but there’s also extracurriculars to focus on — like this blog, more writing, and doing more stuttering-related things when I get back. It’s all been helping. The gap is getting smaller. I’m going back to, his goals are different than mine. We want different things out of life.

Stuttering at the Races Part 2

The second part of my “stuttering awareness” at the Bahrain GP this past weekend has to do with photography. When I was growing up, I’d get F1 magazine and spend hours going through its pages, particularly the photos in the front by Darren Heath. They’d include all the exposure information. And they weren’t just shots of cars — they were art. Early morning, late evening shots, practice, during races, the whole bit.

I was getting into photography in college, and I thought that sports photography was something that I could do. I could eventually take those kinds of photos!

But like the engineering for a team, it didn’t come to pass. The stuttering really held back any networking or asking or trying to intern someplace. Or even asking professionals who were at the college sporting events that I did shoot at. I thought I knew what I was doing, so why ask them? But just tagging along for a baseball game or whatever else would have been invaluable.

The thing about stuttering — and being covert — is that it really confines you to your tiny slice of life. You’re afraid to venture out, to ask around, to take big risks. You’ll have to talk and expose yourself! So the regrets are even bigger.

At the race I saw some of the professionals toting around their giant lenses. While I don’t have one myself, I have been able to get a decent camera and lens thanks to the job here. So I got a few decent shots off. But nothing even close to being Darren Heath-esque.

Like I said yesterday, it’s always tricky about reflecting and wondering what could have been. Those photographers also travel a good bit and put in very long hours. How long could I really have done that?

Now, the thing about this post and yesterday’s isn’t to say “woe is me, I stuttered, and my life turned out terribly.” Not at all. My life has turned out fine. I’m able to do a lot of the things that I want. The point is for the younger people out there who stutter. You should recognize how stuttering is subconsciously holding you back from exploring your dreams. Not necessarily pursuing, but hey, at least ask about it and try it out a little to see if you like.

Otherwise you’ll be sitting on the other side in 20 years wondering what if.

Stuttering at the Races Part 1

Missed a few days, but hey, still stuttering even though I might not have posted!

This past weekend (starting Thursday, really) there was the Bahrain Grand Prix — Formula One — over in Bahrain. I’ve been a fan of F1 for 20 years, and this was my first race … finally!

On Thursday they had an open paddock walk for about an hour. It was for three-day ticket holders. I took the camera, took a bunch of photos, and loved every minute of it. Not all the teams were out, and only a few drivers showed up, but hey, still worth it.

Friday was practice, Saturday qualifying and Sunday the race.

Since everything was so well organized, there wasn’t a need to ask around for directions or information. And thus, not a lot of stuttering. But I couldn’t stop thinking about my stuttering the entire weekend. My explanation will come in two parts — today and tomorrow.

The first part is that I’ve got a degree in mechanical engineering. When I was in college, I was an F1 fan. I knew the deal — you had to start small and work your way up (F1 being at the peak). The internet was new in those days, but I managed to find a listing of “minor league” teams in the States. I think back in those days they had CART, IRL and then the smaller series where the talent was coming from.

I’m not sure if I e-mailed the guy, or just cold called him, but I remember distinctly talking to a team manager on the phone. He was out in California, and he said, yeah, sure, there’s something here, but you’d have to help do everything. I wasn’t a great communicator back then. So I didn’t talk about this opportunity with my parents — who could have supported me. Or friends who might be headed out there. I should have also called around to more teams — but again, more phone time.

Based on my success now at my current job (and having progressed through various roles) I think I would have done well in the racing industry. I think those of us who stutter probably have more regrets than most — fluent people make a decision just because; we make one because we can’t say what we want.

On the other hand, I did move to Saudi because my Stateside job at the time required a healthy amount of travel. And being on a racing team is mostly travel for the majority of the year. So who knows how that could have turned out.

It’s just something I was thinking about a lot as I watched the various mechanics working over the weekend.

Thankful for Stuttering – Part 2

Alright, alright. It’s been a few days. Holidays! Turkey! International travel!

But now we’re back at it.

Firstly, here’s a post regarding being thankful for stuttering.

And of course I’m thankful for stuttering because of what it’s made me:

It’s made me more patient: There’s the old saying of treat others how you wish to be treated. Well, when it takes me a while to talk, I would like some patience. So everybody else gets it as well. My thoughts aren’t always well formed (maybe because I’m being covert and substituting like crazy) so I understand when other people are searching for the right way to express their thoughts.

It’s made me more ambitious. There’s two ways of looking at this. Either I’m more ambitious because I’m trying to run away from my stutter — and make people associate my name with my title or success — or that everytime I get a promotion or better job I’ve won the battle against stuttering. I’ve shown that it’s not going to hold me back.

It’s made me a better listener. I like to ask questions. Then I like to listen. The better the questions, the longer the answers might be. And that means I’m not talking as much. Which of course means I’m not stuttering, either.

It’s made me a better writer. I could call someone up and bumble over a question or two or three, or I could write a clear and concise e-mail. I’m pretty good at those now.

It’s made me a voracious reader. This has been true from the start — when I was in elementary school. Maybe it’s because if I read the book I would know all the answers and have more confidence? Maybe if I read the book I would know all the answers and not have to raise my hand to ask a question? Maybe because it didn’t involve talking to other people? The other side to this is a book club — would something like that have put me off with regards to reading? If I had to talk about books from a young age? Probably so …

It’s made me start this blog!

Stuttering and My Job

Alright, so here’s the last thing to say about jobs and stuttering (for the moment).

I talked about what my own situation is — and whether I’m one to even talk about these things.

Thirdly, am I one to talk? I will readily admit that my stutter probably pushed me into engineering. Maybe not fully, but it had something to do with it. Well, the thing is, I didn’t just sit and stay in the first job that I had. I saw my boss and his job. I saw how much he talked, and how he carried himself with others and in meetings. And despite the fact that I didn’t think that would be possible, I kept working at it anyway.

The question is, if I had to do it all over again knowing more about stuttering, getting help and being more open, would I have made the same choices? I don’t know. Engineering isn’t too bad. I don’t think I knew enough about it to think that, ‘hey, here’s a great job where I can sit in a cubicle for 40 years and never have to talk to anybody.’

I think maybe some of the changes I would have made (if engineering was locked in as a major) would be regards to job-searching and networking. What were my peers doing? Could someone tell me what I’m supposed to be doing at a job fair? Drop off my resume, or … talk?

But again, it’s hard to say — I graduated 30 days before 9/11. The job market got a little soft, and there was a lot of uncertainty. So having a family contact for my first job was probably the only answer.

Was ignorance maybe better? What if I had someone who knew more about certain jobs? And then assume that I had the courage to ask them about speaking and stuttering in those jobs. Wouldn’t that have scared me off? Would I have known to seek alternate opinions?

The other thing of course is that everybody’s stutter is different. I usually don’t stutter on every single word, but hey, it’s happened. If I’m talking to familiar people it’s not too bad. If I have to make a presentation, it’s hit and miss. So many variables.

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