|About the author: Alan Badmington, a retired police officer (from Wales in the UK), commenced stuttering in childhood. He is an active and highly successful public speaker, winning numerous awards (in competition with fluent speakers), as well as appearing as a finalist in the Association of Speakers Clubs UK national public speaking championships on two occasions. Alan regularly addresses diverse community organisations in an attempt to increase public awareness about stuttering, while his media involvement has further brought the subject to the fore. He has travelled extensively to fulfil speaking engagements on three different continents, including a keynote speech at the 2004 World Congress for People Who Stutter in Australia, where he also won the Oratory Contest. He has addressed SLP students in the USA, as well as undertaking presentations/workshops at NSA/BSA and ASHA conferences/events. His papers, articles and poems have been reproduced in numerous publications and on various international websites/forums. (firstname.lastname@example.org)|
In a recent online discussion, a member of one of the international forums suggested that older people are less likely to possess the motivation to address their stuttering.
That has certainly not been my personal experience. I was relatively “long in the tooth” when (in 2000) I decided to re-appraise my communication issues and explore a more expansive lifestyle.
MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE
I was initially motivated to take such a step after hearing a middle-aged Person who stutters (PWS) relate how he had successfully embraced public speaking. Until that moment, I truly believed that such a role lay outside the scope of someone who stuttered. His testimony provided evidence to the contrary – I wanted to follow his example.
However, in order for me to do so, I knew that it would be necessary to change the narrow way in which I viewed myself. I needed to challenge the limiting beliefs that had been holding me back for so many years.
I began by adopting a zero-tolerance policy towards all avoidance strategies, including word substitution (upon which I heavily relied). I also made the momentous decision to become more open about my stutter, by sharing (with friends, family members and even total strangers) how it impacted upon my everyday existence. After a lifetime of doing everything possible to conceal my oral struggles, I abandoned my attempts to portray myself as a fluent speaker. I hoped that such transparency would lead to a more authentic existence. Being honest with myself and my listeners, subsequently had a hugely desensitizing effect.
PLAN OF ACTION
I devised an extensive plan of action that would deliberately (and routinely) place me in challenging speaking situations. I became proactive in seeking out new experiences by scouring newspapers, notice boards and other sources in search of events that would enable me to interact with other people (particularly those I did not know). I simply wanted to broaden my horizons and experiment with life.
I suddenly became aware of the plethora of exciting workshops/seminars that are available within the community. In the past, the relevant advertisements/notices had failed to register with my conscious mind because my self-image rejected the thought of me participating in such activities. However, now that I had become receptive to these interests, the information “jumped out” at me from the pages. 🙂
I enrolled for numerous classes that were seemingly unrelated to stuttering. They embraced such subjects as assertiveness, self-esteem, confidence building, positive thinking, communication/counselling/listening skills, drama, singing and dancing.
Such exposure allowed me to discover parts of Alan Badmington that I simply did not know existed. A wide range of attributes, skills and qualities (that had been lying dormant and untapped for so many years) unexpectedly blossomed. As time progressed (and I became more comfortable in undertaking such tasks), my self-image widened appreciably to accommodate these new roles. In addition, I had regular opportunities to engage in conversation with persons drawn from diverse backgrounds – something that I enjoyed immensely. You can be assured that I did not shirk from making them aware of the sizeable challenges confronted by those who stutter. 🙂
Speaking in front of groups had always figured prominently among my list of fears. A catalogue of painful experiences, accumulated throughout my life, had fuelled my belief that I could never successfully perform that task. I knew that I had to silence the doubting voice that attempted to dissuade me from participating in such activities.
I plucked up the courage to join the Association of Speakers’ Clubs, a UK-based organisation that has its origins in Toastmasters International. My presentation and (overall) communication skills were considerably enhanced, together with my self-confidence. In addition, my internal critic became less vocal.
It wasn’t long before I accepted an invitation to give a talk to a local group, designed to increase public awareness and understanding of what it is like to be a person who stutters. During the 60 minutes presentation, I spoke (in considerable detail) about my personal experiences – including describing the intricate ploys that I used to shield me from shame and embarrassment. I was overwhelmed by the favourable response.
Following that introductory session, my speaking engagements escalated rapidly as news filtered along the community grapevine. The need for speakers is insatiable. Without virtually any promotion, I have now shared my life story with several hundred audiences.
Upon conclusion of each presentation, I conduct a Question and Answer session. Some enquiries relate to my own story, while others are of a general nature. My listeners also seek guidance as to how they should react in the presence of PWS. Many tell me that they were previously unaware of the extent to which stuttering can impact upon someone’s life. Having acquired a better understanding, they confide that they will now view stuttering in a different light.
Due to the enthusiastic manner in which my talks are received, my beliefs and perceptions (of what others think about me) are now extremely positive. It is evident from the feedback that I have gained recognition, respect (and even admiration) from those whom I address.
Once I had embarked upon a more expansive lifestyle, it didn’t take me long to discover that I was capable of achieving things I had always chosen to avoid. This gave me such a thrill.
Having sampled those delights, there was no holding me back. I had a burning desire to step even further outside my comfort zones and explore uncharted waters. Age was not a factor- I simply wanted to expand my self-imposed boundaries and enjoy the experience of fulfilling roles that I had previously considered difficult, or impossible.
Freeing myself from the gravitational pull of my previously limiting thinking, I felt a sense of liberation, as well as discovering that so many other exciting paths now lay within my compass. Such realization encouraged me to aim for new horizons and travel in many different directions.
As I reflect upon that exciting period in my life, I realize that I simply did whatever I wanted to do, without concerning myself about the outcome. I didn’t worry about succeeding – that wasn’t even a consideration. I just had a yearning to venture deeper into unknown territory and sample the fresh experiences.
Once I decided to embark upon a concerted plan of action, I didn’t require any further motivation. You see, I was fulfilling roles that I had always dreamed of undertaking; I was speaking in situations that I had principally avoided; and I was saying the things that I had always wanted to say. It was enlightening to discover that embracing uncertainty (and facing the unknown) can be so exhilarating.
We need to take risks if we are to advance in any walk of life (irrespective of our age) – not just in relation to our speech. Progress is achieved when we are willing to expose ourselves to uncertainty by treading the paths that generate fear. Unless we place ourselves in more demanding situations, we will remain ignorant of our true capabilities. Living a safe and predictable existence denies us the opportunities to discover just how courageous and extraordinary we are.
However, behaviours are not changed by retaining the status quo. We need to widen our self-concept to accommodate the new roles – otherwise our existing self-image will continue to impose its restrictions.
Personal development occurs when we venture beyond our existing comfort zones. It requires re-drawing our mental maps so that we increase the size of our safe and familiar areas. When we feel the discomfort, we know that we are confronting the fear. It confirms that we are taking risks. Like the turtle, you can only move forward when you stick your neck out. The only limitations are those that we impose upon ourselves.
The success we achieve will be proportionate to the risks we take – we become increasingly powerful as our lives expand to accommodate more experiences. As our power increases, so does our confidence in our own ability. We find it easier to continue the process of stretching our comfort zones, in spite of any fears that we may experience. I certainly found that I became more adventurous as time progressed, the magnitude of the risks expanding correspondingly.
When we achieve something that we, hitherto, regarded impossible, it causes us to reconsider our limiting beliefs. If we conquer something that has challenged our advancement, we grow in stature. When we overcome hurdles, it opens our eyes to possibilities that we could never have imagined. When we are stretched by a new experience, we likewise grow as human beings.
Many of us are totally unaware of the sleeping giant that lies within us. For so many years, I was convinced that public speaking was something I should avoid at all costs. In effect, I was imprisoned by the narrow self-concept that shaped my thinking and behaviours. When I challenged my disempowering beliefs and exposed myself to risks, I accessed my true potential (albeit at an advanced age). 🙂
After a lifetime of dreading public speaking, it is now an integral and exciting part of my daily existence. During recent years, I have had the pleasure of fulfilling a busy schedule of engagements on three different continents. In addition, I have extended my policy of greater openness by speaking about my stutter on radio and television.
It is sometimes difficult for me to recall the restrictive mindset that once so adversely affected my speech (and shaped my life). The things that I once routinely avoided (and which generated so much fear) have become readily accommodated within my enlarged self-image. I now feel totally at ease (and derive immense personal satisfaction) in undertaking those roles.
DISCOVERING LIFE’S PURPOSE
The Scottish theologian, William Barclay, wrote:
“There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.”
I feel confident in claiming that most people are aware (at a very early age) of the date on which they entered this world. 🙂 But it can take some of us a great deal longer to identify the path(s) that we would prefer to tread in life, particularly if we happen to stutter.
Sadly, many of us cling to the belief that we cannot fulfil a specific task, or undertake a particular role, because we may have experienced setbacks in the past. Many of us are held back by outdated beliefs, or another person’s adverse opinion. During recent years, I have refused to judge myself through someone else’s eyes. Neither am I dependent upon the approval of others. My self-worth emanates from within.
Also within us lies a desire waiting to be ignited. By listening to our inner voice, it is possible to uncover clues that allow us to identify the things that stimulate us, and cause us to feel most alive. When we discover our true purpose/vocation in life, it can unleash incredible potential, together with a passion that motivates us to pursue those exciting goals, follow our dreams, and scale inconceivable heights.
I truly believe that the lives of many PWS could be significantly enhanced if more of us are prepared to be true to ourselves and speak publicly about the subject. However, I fully appreciate that the very nature of stuttering is such that some may well feel reluctant, or unable, to discuss it with others. I sincerely hope that this year’s ISAD Online Conference will prove to be a turning point in the lives of many by encouraging them to embrace a policy of greater openness and self-acceptance.
It has been my experience that it is never too late to break free from the limited self-image that restricts our aspirations. After many years of frustration and under-achievement, I am finally showing myself differently to the world. I’m also thoroughly enjoying the highly favourable manner in which other people are reacting to me. We are never too old to become the person we’ve always wanted to be.
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