Bouncing Back – Tom Scharstein

About the Author:

Tom Scharstein is a stutterer from Florida, USA. He has been involved in the stuttering support community for almost 23 years. Recently serving on the NSA Board of Directors, he had direct oversight of the Adult NSA Chapters. Tom is co-founder of the World Stuttering Network (WSN), with the vision of bringing together all the stuttering support group leaders of the world to share information and help each other reach next level in impact & effectiveness.

I wish I had an amazing story about my life. A story that would inspire everyone. But . . . the more people I meet in our stuttering community, the more I realize my story isn’t unique. 

During my youth, I resided in the shadows of life. Running away from any potential speaking situation became a way of life for me. Silence was safe. 

Then, something happened. My spirit awakened and unleashed my potential. Life choices began to involve speaking. Slowly but surely, I found my voice. Many others relate similar experiences. 

Our theme is “Bouncing Back.” Making a full recovery. And in some cases, better than before. 

I’m reminded of Jeff’s story. Jeff’s new boss told him that his stuttering was a hindrance in dealing with customers. It wasn’t “good for the company.” Jeff was devastated; his skill set exceeded what the job required. Did Jeff bounce back? He sure did. Picked up by his company’s competitor, Jeff  has expanded his new company’s market share exponentially as department head. 

Todd had a new sales manager that didn’t appreciate his talents and rapport with customers. After a conference call on a day when Todd’s speech wasn’t as smooth as usual, this new manager assessed stuttering as a lack of confidence in their product with a negative impact on sales. Although Todd wasn’t directly terminated for stuttering, it was obvious to him that this manager wanted him gone. Similar to Jeff, he was picked up by another company familiar with his value. This time, it was the manufacturing company represented by his former sales firm. With a smile, Todd told me of a high level meeting he led. He told his former sales manager to please get off his phone so they could start the meeting. 

Through my career, the people that make fun of me eventually worked for me. And this is not an uncommon experience for stutterers. 

To me, “bouncing back” means “staying in..” Stuttering may cause extra challenges in your career, but make sure you’re on point with everything else. Stuttering doesn’t affect whether you’re on time or not. Stuttering doesn’t make you take extra days off work. Always have a top-notch appearance when representing your company. Smile. Develop a solution-based attitude. Don’t get drawn into the gossip rabbit hole. Learn as much as you can. “Is there anything I can do to help?” is the attitude. These qualities will make you stand out as valuable. 

Of course, I’m not saying to stay in a toxic work environment. To figure out if you’re in a toxic work environment, ask yourself, “ Am I treated differently (worse) than everyone else? Or the same? Is more expected out of me? Why?” 

Also, instead of being a “job seeker,” be the valuable employee that every company wants. “Stay in” every day. Do more, especially when a unique opportunity or challenge appears. Your value will grow and be recognized. 

In personal life, I’ve found making myself do it works. Even if 99% of me wants to run and hide in the shadows, I ask myself, “Would I do this if I didn’t stutter?” If the answer is “yes,” then I absolutely push myself through it. This ties into a life mantra of mine, “If you fear it, do it.” As fear subsides, my confidence grows, and this is reflected in my speech. 

“Bouncing Back” means “Staying In” the game. However difficult. I’ve found that tomorrow will be less difficult than today. And the next day less difficult. It gets better. 

Stay in. 

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Comments

Bouncing Back – Tom Scharstein — 51 Comments

  1. Hi Tom.
    I love the “would I do this if I didn’t stutter”… Of the answer is yes the go for it. I will most definitely share this with Sam.

    Thank you

    • Hi Victoria!

      Yes, I try to make that my first thought when faced with a decision involving speaking. If the only reason I don’t want to do it is because I stutter, I force myself to do it. It has really helped me.

      Say hello to my buddy Sam!

  2. Hello and welcome to my paper!

    I look forward to meeting you and hearing your story about “Stayin IN!”

    Tom

    • Hello Tom,
      This was an amazing post that made me self reflect on issues I felt were defeating me, but really all I have to do is stay in the game because everyday is a new day and every day is a new chance to overcome. I love how you mentioned that just because you stutter and it already takes away from your true capabilities in the eyes of others, it is best to make sure everything else is on point like punctuality and appearance. The question you asked, “would I do this if I didn’t stutter?” really resonated with me in various ways because that can be applied to several situations in life when you feel discouraged from doing something that may mean a lot to you or make a difference.

  3. Hi Tom,

    Your message of “If you fear it, do it” is, for me, one of the most important things I have learned. It applies in my life to the experience of stuttering, as well to other aspects of my life, such as dealing with my social anxiety disorder. I don;t always manage to simply “do it”, but that’s ok, too. Step by step.

    Your paper is very valuable. Thank you.

    • My friend, that doesn’t mean that 99.9% of me wants to run for the door! I still have to force myself to raise my hand when I want to speak. I think I’m to the point that regret of not saying what I want is greater than stuttering.

      You are a powerful force in this world Hanan, and a blessing to those around you. Thank you!

  4. Tom OMG I love this part: “Stuttering may cause extra challenges in your career, but make sure you’re on point with everything else.”

    That is such an important point to make to take ACTION on the aspects of our career that we CAN CONTROL. I have to continue to remind myself that if I am operating at a high level in every other aspect of my career, that is what people will see because people care about results and value contribution.

    Fluency has nothing to do with that!

  5. “…if I am operating at a high level in every other aspect of my career, that is what people will see because people care about results and value contribution.

    Fluency has nothing to do with that!”

    My friend, you have it figured out 🙂

  6. Great paper Tom! I think that “Silence is Safe” is rich! I plan to steal this in my discussions with clients. Are you really safe if you are not advocating for yourself? Raising your hand when you know the answer? Silence may feel safe; however, as you pointed out–it is really limiting. I am impressed with the realistic picture you paint of stuttering. I feel that resilience cannot develop unless we are genuine. Thanks for your insights.

  7. Hi Rita,

    Glad you enjoyed it!

    Yes, although “silence is safe”, the spirit is sacrificed. This “safety” is a dark, lonely place. Can birth deep seated anger & resentment. When a “no limit” life is tasted–well, there’s no going back. Professionals like you help us get there. Thank you for all you do Rita! I have the utmost respect for you.

    • I love the exchange here – your words Tom are so poignant, Rita’s observations so valuable – and the exchange is so precious.
      Thank you for moving everything forward and being so generous along the way.
      (Both of you!)

  8. Great contribution Tom, thanks for sharing this. I think that we as people who stutter have reserves of resilience that we often don’t even know about. We remember lessons learned from childhood when we were knocked down about stuttering (and for many other things) and got back up.

    I too struggled with living in the shadows – hell, it wasn’t really even “living” if I’m honest. It was more like “lurking” – there but not there, always afraid of what would happen if I stuttered and someone actually heard me. So I pretended I was ok with lurking, hiding, being less than what I was capable of. I think my biggest fear was of rejection. I think that’s what it boils down to for many who stutter.

    When I was able to “walk through fear,” it was then that I learned that there is a lot to be learned from bouncing back. I came out OK on the other side and I’ve figured out how to be resilient in other areas of my life, like you have.

    Pam

    • Pam,

      If you would have spend your whole life in the shadows, the world would be less of a place for stutterers. Our world is better because of your efforts. Thank you.

      • Thank you so much Tom, like wise for you. I am glad I learned that you reached out to the NSA way back in the late 90’s and Annie B was the one who answered your call.

    • Thank you! I’m here mentally only because of the incredible worldwide stuttering community I hang out with. I appreciate all your hard work!

  9. Hello, Tom,
    Thank you for your insights about bouncing back being about “staying in.” I can see that being a person who stutters is not an excuse to not be on point with everything else as you build your career- showing that you have the mindset to learn and to do everything possible to be an asset to the company is what will set a person apart. Thank you and all good wishes to you!

    • Lisa,

      Yes, you got it! Fluency is such a small part of it. It’s that “winning” attitude; solution-based mindset; setting the tone with positivity. ‘Presence’ overrides fluency.

      My best to you!

  10. Hello Tom,
    I love the resilience and message to stick with it knowing that tomorrow will always be easier! I think it’s great that you are pushing individuals to know their worth and not let others determine what they can become. Thank you for sharing!

    • Yes; one thing I know for sure is that each day gets easier. Realistically, I might have a ‘step back’ day every once in a while–but overall, it gets better each and every day.

      Keep building your self value! 🙂

  11. Hi Tom,

    Great message! Your litmus test of “If I didn’t stutter, would I do it?” is pure gold! Also, “‘bouncing back’ means ‘staying in'” – that gem of wisdom is going to stick with me a while. Regarding the “safety” of silence – A counselor I once worked with regarded that brand of “safety” as being “safe as death” – a way of never really living one’s life. So, “If you fear it, do it” – I’ll be bucking up my courage. Best,

    Rob Dellinger

    • Hi Rob,

      Thank you sir!

      Some of these mantras took a lifetime to put together and into practice. I finally realized that fear will always be there until I started taking action. ‘Better’ isn’t easier; better is BETTER!

      Best to you!

  12. I love your writing, Tom! Thank you so much for sharing this and for what “bouncing back” means. I think I will, too, use this with therapy clients. You have even encouraged me to write “Bounce back” on a paper and put it on my wall, Tom. I needed to read this tonight. Thank you.

    • Steff,

      Thank you! You are a powerful example of resilience every day. Thoughts and prayers for you!

  13. Tom,
    I enjoyed your message, straight to the point! I am a current speech-language pathology graduate student in the midst of learning all things fluency. One thing that stood out when reading was your inner thought of, “Would I do this if I didn’t stutter?” This is super brave, as sometimes our inner thoughts convince us to walk the other way. I’m curious how your support system was growing up or if you attended speech therapy? Was there someone who made an impact on you or supported you along your journey? If you did attend speech therapy, was there a strategy your clinician utilized that you continue to carry?

    • Glad you enjoyed it!
      Yes, ‘speech therapy’ in the 70’s centered on reading aloud for 15-20 minutes to my therapist in her office. At the time it seemed convincing me that my speech mechanics worked was primary. My 7th grade SLP had an out-of-the-box idea. Put me in real life situations. This was a ‘disaster’…BUT I did it.
      I think it’s like public speaking. You can practice all you want in front of a mirror in your bedroom, but nothing will build skill like speaking in front of a group. That’s how you develop confidence.
      The person that impacted me the most was the owner of a company I worked for. Given the chance to move into management, one of our suppliers told him that his staff didn’t want to deal with me bc of my severe stutter. He said, “If you can’t work with Tom, you can’t work with us.” It was the first time anyone had shown confidence in me. That was my pivotal point.
      Given the time period of my early days (70’s), I think stuttering therapy was new and experimental. That 7th grade therapist MADE me give a speech in class and act in a play. Horrific at the time, BUT impacted me in a positive way. I survived! haha
      Anything that puts us in front of an audience seems to help our stutter.
      Thank you for your interest in us!

  14. Hi Tom!

    I am a speech-language pathology student and I loved hearing your story, thank you for sharing! “Staying in” is something that we all can learn to do, and this will be something that I will pass on! I really love to learn different peoples experiences so that I can try and empathize with future clients. Your story helped me learn some things. Thank you!

    • Awesome!
      For me, the realization that stuttering is probably lifelong and that I won’t magically wake up one day and be fluent, was a game changer.

      Thank you for wanting to help us.

      Best wishes!

  15. Tom, so much of this resonated with me. And no, our stories may not be all that unique but they are nonetheless special and definitely worth sharing, so thank you!
    Of all I’ve read, though, this stuck a chord with me:
    “Through my career, the people that make fun of me eventually worked for me. And this is not an uncommon experience for stutterers.”
    There’s definitely a great sense of healthy vindication from that. I haven’t experienced this first-hand but I certainly know stutterers who have been in this situation.
    I love your story, Tom, and what you do for the stuttering community.
    Thank you!

    • Hi Ryan,

      Glad you enjoyed it!

      It could be that stuttering makes us try harder in other areas that are neglected or overlooked, yet extremely valuable in the eyes of an employer. It’s an ‘I’ll show you!’ type of attitude. Something ignites deep down.

      Thank you for your comments!

  16. Hi Tom,
    Great article and thanks for your insights. You are right that so many of our narratives reflect this theme of bouncing back. I too just love your mantra, ” If I didn’t stutter, would I do this”. I am going to share it at our next NSA chapter meeting. Marybeth

    • Hi MaryBeth,

      Always a pleasure to hear from you!

      Yes, that was the game changer for me. It continues to be my go-to thought with any decision, even after all these years. “If I didn’t stutter, would I SAY this?” is the tough one and still the one I work on every day.

      Thank you for all the great work you do!

      Tom

  17. Hello Tom,
    What a great perspective you have given us in terms of stuttering and how to view life when you may face challenges. You provided us with a deeper meaning in terms of your personal life, the obstacles that you hold close to your heart, as well as what it means to push through and bounce back. I appreciate you sharing your side of things, as everyone has their own, unique story! You never know, you could change a life.
    Thanks again!

  18. Hello Tom,
    This was an amazing post that made me self reflect on issues I felt were defeating me, but really all I have to do is stay in the game because everyday is a new day and every day is a new chance to overcome. I love how you mentioned that just because you stutter and it already takes away from your true capabilities in the eyes of others, it is best to make sure everything else is on point like punctuality and appearance. The question you asked, “would I do this if I didn’t stutter?” really resonated with me in various ways because that can be applied to several situations in life when you feel discouraged from doing something that may mean a lot to you or make a difference.

    • Excellent!

      Yes, it’s a fill-in-the-blank kinda statement, “Would I do this if I didn’t/wasn’t ______?” Glad you found value in these words.

      On point with everything else. All day every day.

      Thank you for your comments and best wishes!

  19. Hi Tom,

    Thank you for this post! I really liked that you defined “bouncing back” as “staying in.” Often times, we prefer to take the easy route and leave a situation that makes us uncomfortable, or that requires us to work harder, but the truth is that the lesson is always within the situation. You also stated that some of the people who made fun of you ended up working for you. This is amazing and it shows that there is great victory in “staying in!”
    Thank you again for this encouraging post!

    • “…the truth is that the lesson is always within the situation…”

      Yes! My friend, I look forward to reading more of your thoughts some day.

      Glad you enjoyed the post and best wishes!

  20. Hello, Tom! I love the theme of “bouncing back” if something does not go the way you want it to. I also love that you do not view your stutter as a setback anymore.

    • Hi Sam,

      Stuttering allowed membership to one of the world’s greatest communities…the global stuttering community. A true blessing in disguise!

      My best to you!

  21. Wow, what a comeback story! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your work and getting to know a small piece of you. Even though I am not personally a person who stutters, I can still relate to and learn from your story. I am curious to know if you use the idea that “Bouncing Back” is “Staying In” in other difficult aspects of your life and, if so, how that has worked for you? Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Hi Natalie,

      Glad you enjoyed it!

      With other aspects of life, that gets a little ‘tricky.’ Balancing between not giving up easily and getting destroyed. And I haven’t run across anyone that has a simple test to figure that out. I picked up a statement years ago that seems to help keep a positive mindset through anything. “Something good will come out of it.” That’s the first think I say or think when faced with difficulty. Seems to work 🙂

      My best to you!

  22. Tom your advice is unique. It is what everyone needs no matter what point they are in their life. “Staying in” means more than just overcoming a challenge or what you fear. It is more than just being present in life or in a job. It explains that people need to go for opportunities even if it makes them uncomfortable and their growth will be recognized. I like that you also explained that this is not an overnight agenda, but a proccess in which it gets less difficult everyday in which many people need to hear and learn. Thank you for your story

  23. Hi Tom,

    I enjoyed reading your paper. I love that you stated “stay in” every day. Stuttering does not define someone as a whole, especially their work ethic. Although there are many people in the stuttering community, every person’s story is unique. Thank you for sharing your personal experience!

  24. Hello Tom,

    I really enjoyed your perspective on life as a stutterer. Bouncing back is an important concept for any adult of today’s society, not just that of PWS. However, it is especially important for any person that may have a stutter. Control the things that you can and this will be the important characteristics that an employer will seek.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • You got it! The fascinating thing about stuttering is that certain aspects of life are magnified because of it. Things that often are unnoticed or viewed as unimportant.

      My best to you!

  25. “Would I do this if I didn’t stutter?” Great question to ask oneself. I blamed way too much on my stutter. Once I realized that my stutter was not who I was, but simply something I do, and that everyone has some insecurity about something, I could focus on my skills and personality. You make people see their skills and superpowers, that are hidden behind the stutter and I applaud you for that.

    Stay safe and keep inspiring

    Anita Blom