How I Stopped Letting My Stutter Make Life Decisions – Sarah Ralph

About the Author:

Sarah Ralph has had a stutter since she could remember. Growing up in the outskirts of Pittsburgh, PA with little resources to help her understand and manage her stutter, she developed her own tactics to cope with the complex spiderweb that is her stutter. 

After two decades of feeling trapped in her own vocal cords, Sarah experienced a change in her attitude towards her stutter when she stopped giving it all the credit for her downfalls, and gave her hardworking approach to life all the credit for her successes.

After a long stint as a corporate businesses woman, climbing the ranks thanks to a little elbow grease and the confidence to speak up and be present, Sarah is pursuing her dream of writing. She hopes to one day face her fear of reading excerpts of her book at a book signing.

This 7-minute video is my story of how I went from letting my stutter make all my life decisions to using it to become a strong independent person who no longer runs away from opportunity.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

How I Stopped Letting My Stutter Make Life Decisions – Sarah Ralph — 33 Comments

  1. Welcome to ISAD 2020! I hope you enjoy my contribution to the conference and feel free to leave any comments. I will be checking this regularly and look forward to interacting with everyone. Thank you! Sarah

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. It was very inspirational and showed that you can say exactly what you want and order the type of coffee you want without letting stuttering hold you back. I think it’s very powerful to show that example of embracing and accepting. So thank you.

    • I appreciate your kind words, Lisa! While I was able to record this video probably a good 50 times to get it as seamless as possible, a coffee order just doesn’t quite give me that luxury. My sister was recording the video as I sat in the car and ordered that coffee, and surrounding myself with people that love me and understand me makes that quick stammer just a blimp in the sky. Onwards and upwards!

  3. Sarah you are such a heartfelt and authentic woman as I can see how incredibly emotionally intelligent you are as a result of your stutter.

    The thing that stuck out to me is just the utter honesty in which you speak as we forget that this idea of “human connection” comes from being able to speak from the heart with others.

    I don’t know you but can tell you are an amazing woman from those 7 minutes!

    • Hi Kunal,
      Thank you so much. I completely agree. As someone with a stutter, human connection is part of the struggle, often feeling left out of the conversation because you simply don’t know how to get into the conversation. What took me a long time to realize is you just need to get into the conversation and connect, and those worth connecting with won’t see your stutter.

  4. Hi, Sarah!
    It truly is an inspirational story going from avoiding class altogether to deciding to not let your stutter control your life anymore. I liked how you made it a point to say you shouldn’t have to overcompensate for your stutter because you’re right, you shouldn’t! I love that as your confidence grew, your stutter had less of an impact on your day to day life. Something you said really stuck with me, “it’s okay to not be okay with it all the time but I’m just not going to let it impact me where it counts”. It’s truly amazing what accepting yourself can do for growth! Thank you for sharing your story!

    • Hi there!
      Thank you for taking the time to watch my video and comment. I can honestly say it took me such a long time to come to the realization that I don’t have to overcompensate for my stutter. Even while I was working hard in my early to mid-20’s, I still viewed it as having to make up for this ‘problem’ I have. And I’d like to say that it just naturally dawned on me one day, but it took a lot of people having confidence in me that led to me having confidence in myself. But boy oh boy, when I got the confidence in myself, it was a game changer for me.
      Thank you for your comments and have a wonderful day!
      Sarah

  5. Hi Sarah,

    I really enjoyed your story and I think it’s crazy how much self doubt can completely change us as people. I relate in a little bit of a different way. I have severe anxiety that impacts similar things you mentioned, jobs, classes I take, where I go, what I say, what to order, etc. It really stuck out when you said “it’s just coffee”. There is no need to stress about the small things in life like ordering coffee…I know it’s easier said than done! I admire your confidence. I also love how your named your son Liam, a name that is more difficult for you to say. What sounds or letters do you struggle with most? Do you ever find yourself in environments that make your stutter worse, if so do you have any tactics to use in the moment to help control it? Do you have advice to people who struggle with things such as a stutter or anxiety to be more confident? I look forward to hearing from you. Have a great day and thanks for sharing your story!

    • Hi Claudia,
      Thank you for taking the time to watch my video. I can relate with you, because the prominence of my stutter is heightened when I am in a high-anxiety situation. But the anxiety comes when I start thinking I’m going to stutter, so the stutter creates the anxiety which, in turn, makes me stutter. It’s a crazy circle that unfortunately just feeds into itself if you let it.

      These are great questions, thank you for asking. Unfortunately for me, I struggle with S’s. It makes my name a little hard to power through when meeting new people, haha. I actually have 3 siblings and all their names start with a J, which is so easy for me. So I always joke with my mom, why didn’t she keep the J theme going and name me Jill. I think I have a hard time with words that have very different sounds from syllable to syllable. So Liam is (LEE) where my mouth kind of opens into a grin, and then (UM) where my mouth would close and make the sound almost from the back of my throat. I don’t know why, but I just can’t transition it seamlessly.

      New environments are difficult for me. Introductions to people can feel like my worse nightmare. It gives me so much anxiety because I know at some point I’ll have to say my name. Or any situation where I can’t use different words to describe what I need to say. Like, my name is Sarah. There is no other name I go by. Where, if I’m trying to say the word ‘beautiful’ and I know I can’t say it, I can use ‘pretty’, ‘striking’, etc. To handle those situations, I try to control the situation. If I’m leading the conversation, then I can choose how information is presented, when it’s said, etc. The more control and freedom I have in these situations, the easier it is for me to get out what I need to say.

      My advice goes hand in hand with the above, the more control I have in a situation, the better the outcome. Sometimes you just can’t get the control, like ordering a coffee. It’s a fast paced situation, the barista controls what’s happening. She wants me to spit out my order and move on. I can’t control that, and I stutter pretty much every. single. time. But, I can control my situation in business meetings if I take the lead, at a party with new people if I’m the one walking up and introducing myself, etc. Because here’s what I found when I started taking the lead in situations, almost no one wants to take the lead, anxiety, stutter, or none of the above. In business meetings, it is hard to find leaders. People are so grateful when you step up and take the lead, because they are just as scared as you are. They are afraid to make decisions, afraid to pipe up and say something is a good idea or a bad idea, it’s crazy. So by taking the lead, you are putting yourself in a situation where 1.) you have control and 2.) people respect you. They aren’t going to scoff if you fumble over a word, they’re just happy they aren’t the ones talking! And the more control you have in your life, the easier it is to curate situations exactly as you need them to be successful.

      I hope you found this helpful and thank you again for the thoughtful questions.
      Sarah

  6. Kudos to you for not letting stuttering stop you from doing what you want to do, Sarah. I love your attitude, putting yourself in the center, instead of your stutter. There’s one thing that struck me though. As a PWS myself, I used to exchange words when I felt I couldn’t say them. But that increased my fear of speaking. I was even a major issue when we had to choose a name for our daughter, as I didn’t want it to be a name I would stutter on. What makes you say exchanging words is a good thing, other than that it extends ones vocabulary?

    Stay safe and keep talking

    Anita

    • Hi Anita,
      Thank you for taking the time to watch my video and respond here. You pose a great question, as I know people have differing opinions on this topic. If a person is in full belief to face their stutter head on, exchanging words could seem like an avoidance tactic. If a person is looking to manage their stutter on a daily basis by applying tactics that are healthy, exchanging words could seem like a helpful tactic. I happen to fall in that second bucket. In my career, I started taking on positions that required more and more speaking, and I really enjoy speaking, I’d say it’s a passion of mine. As I grew in my career, I found that I was having to speak to large groups, sometimes in the 100’s, or to a small but high ranking team of executives. If I didn’t exchange my words, I knew I would stutter and had fear that it would derail the purpose of what I was trying to say. So it’s been incredibly helpful for me because it silenced the stutter when I needed it to be silenced.

      I have a same problem with names. I have such a hard time saying my son’s name, but knowing him now, it’s the only name for him. I find I speak his name clearly when I’m yelling at him 😉 LOL

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
      Sarah

    • Thank you! No book yet, just lots and lots and…. lots of drafts. Hoping to accomplish it one day!

      Sarah

  7. Hi Sarah,
    Your story was inspirational in many ways. Making the decision to put yourself first instead of letting your stutter limit what you do is amazing! I am sorry for the troubles you experienced during school due to your stutter, but I love that you have embraced it and chose to not let it get in the way of your goals in life. I was curious to know if you find that you stutter more in situations around unfamiliar people versus family and friends?

    Thank you for sharing your story!
    -Lyndsey

    • Hi Lyndsey,
      Thanks for watching my video! I’m glad I came full circle in my life with accepting my stutter, because the way I was going about it from childhood into young adulthood was not working well for me.

      Great question, and yes, absolutely! I mean, right from the get go, I have to introduce myself which is a whole problem because my name is very difficult for me to say. But even after the name is out of the way, I really struggle with all those ‘surface level’ questions you need to get out of the way, like what I do for work, where do I live, do I have any siblings. I don’t know why, but it’s so hard for me to get those answers out. Maybe because it’s been so practiced and so obvious to me, that I feel there is only one way to answer those questions. And the answer is unfortunately riddled with stutter. That’s why I like to lead the conversation, because I can sometimes answer those questions without being asked. Like, I’ll ask “Do you have any siblings?” and if that person says “Yes, I have a sister.” I can go “Me too! And two brothers.” It’s a weird way to lead the person into answering my questions by asking them.

      Thanks for your comments and have a great day!
      Sarah

  8. Hi, Sarah, your video is a great blueprint for how to accept yourself and live life on your own terms. That’s easier said than done for people who stutter because they constantly face the fear of how others will react. Thanks for sharing the avoidance tactics you used in school over the years. I’m a speech-language pathology student, and your story helped me understand the burden people who stutter feel and the effort they expend to keep it hidden. It sounds exhausting! Most people who stutter don’t know others who stutter when they’re growing up so it’s also so isolating. Was that true for you? It’s great that all your hard work paid off, you have a position you love, and you’ve stopped pressuring yourself to overcompensate.

    • Hi Meagan,
      Thanks for taking the time to watch my video. And yes, that was true for me. With only 1% of the population having a stutter, it’s hard to run across someone else who has one. Every once in a while, I’ll meet someone with a stutter and it’s a strange and powerful connection because we both know exactly what the other has had to battle over their life.

      I was at a marketing conference a couple years ago and the key note speaker was a man with a stutter. He wasn’t there to talk about his stutter, his topic was about marketing, but he did announce in the beginning of his speech that he had a stutter, so if/when he stuttered up on stage, he just wanted everyone to know what was happening and to have no fear, they were in for a great speech. And it was just so…. refreshing! It kind of eliminated one of the biggest fears people with a stutter have when public speaking – what other people are going to think of you. It gave me the courage to come up to him afterwards and tell him that I, too, have a stutter. It was actually the catalyst to get me to check out NSA and start to get more involved with people who stutter.

      Good luck on your degree!
      Sarah

  9. Hi Sarah,

    I loved listening to your story! Your personal growth with your stutter and your life is very inspirational. I think it is so important for everyone in life to find and gain that kind of confidence, so you never regret missing out on an opportunity to grow and push yourself to be the best that you can be.

    I am a speech-language pathology graduate student right now, and I am currently working with a 17-year-old boy who stutters. During the therapy sessions, I try to build his confidence by teaching him modifications and practicing scenarios. I am going to have him watch your video to see how he reflects on your story. Do you have any advice for him on how to help him to overcome the fear of stuttering?

    • Hi Steph,
      Thanks for reaching out! I love how your program has you working real life scenarios, what better way to prepare you for your career. 17 is such a tough age, regardless if you have a stutter. You’re trying to find your identity, you don’t understand the world quite yet, even though you think you do, and for someone with a stutter, it can feel never ending. I remember it so vividly myself, thinking my stutter was my defining and primary characteristic.

      My honest advice for him is this: He’s at an age where his peers are not fully mature yet. If his fear is coming from a place of judgment, a fear that people will make fun of him, that will stop. People grow up, at least, most people grow up. And as you move into adulthood, you have more choices in how you live your life and who you interact with. As we get older, we all have to face our own problems, and while his is a stutter, the people he’ll interact with day in and day out have their own problems and fears they need to deal with. Someone might have a fear of talking to a crowd, a fear of their appearance, their status in life, literally a million things. We all live in a glass houses, and as we mature, most of us realize that and it’s incredible how accepting everyone is. It’s not going to hold him back, it truly isn’t. And I recommend to him, as he faces his fears by practicing real life scenarios like ordering food or introducing himself to someone, to watch their reaction, or more so, their non-reaction.

      I hope that is helpful, and good luck in school!
      Sarah

  10. Hello Sarah,
    I loved this inspirational video. I reminds me of all the times that I avoided situations due to fear and how small I felt after those instances of avoidance. Thank you for this message. I reminds me of all the work I need to do, to grow and succeed internally. Fear has this way of crimpling a healthy individual. I will carry this with me as a speech-language pathology graduate student, to empower any/all of my future clients.

    • Thank you for the kind words. It certainly made me feel small for a long time, but the more I push myself into hard situations, the more I realize how much for a force I can be.

      Good luck in school!
      Sarah

  11. Hi Sarah!
    I loved the message of your video! When you spoke about self-doubt, this really stood out to me. Even in moments when we have every reason to be confident in our own abilities, those moments of self doubt creep in and can be pretty crippling at times. I feel like your words are applicable to absolutely everyone! We all have some things about us that we can’t change but by focusing on our strengths, our character, and the things that truly matter most, the other things fall to the wayside. From just 7 minutes of hearing you speak, I really am inspired. Inspired to step out of my comfort zone and not let my insecurities determine any aspect of my success. Thank you for sharing your story and for being unapologetically who you are!

    • Hi Bailee,
      Thanks so much! Self doubt is such a sneaky thing, isn’t it? For me, it appears in the most unexpected of times. I’m glad to hear you grabbed some inspiration from my video, that was my biggest hope when I set out to record it. Let’s all be our best versions of ourselves, like you said: unapologetically.

      Thanks!
      Sarah

  12. Hi Sarah,

    I enjoyed your story and found it very inspirational. I love that you embraced your stutter and that you’re not letting it make your life decisions. One thing that resonated with me in your video was about the coffee. I have definitely stressed about ordering coffee or even food before due to my anxiety. You are right, “it’s just coffee.” You should be able to get your coffee or food the way you want it, not because of how your stutter allows you to say it. Additionally, I am also a speech-language pathology graduate student. I appreciate you sharing some avoidance tactics you used during school. Being aware of the various tactics someone may use to avoid stuttering will help me when working with my future clients.

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    • Hi Kaleigh,
      Thank you for watching my video. I’m happy you found information in it that will help you in the future while working with clients. Good luck on your journey!
      Sarah

  13. Hi Sarah,
    Thank you for posting your story! As a speech therapy student, my ideas about stuttering have been expanded to understand people who don’t want therapy, people who don’t like the way their voice sounds after therapy, and people who use the avoidance behaviors you mentioned. It was a big eye-opener to hear that someone can live their lives “in the middle” as you say and be thriving. Thank you for shedding light on a new way to think about PWS.
    Sincerely,
    Rachel

    • Hi Rachel,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have never heard of someone not liking their voice after speech therapy, so interesting. I mean, I can totally see why, maybe they feel like they changed a part of them that was such a big part of them for so long, or maybe they feel like swapped one difficult way to talk for another. Interesting though, thanks for sharing!
      Sarah

  14. Hi Sarah!

    I really enjoyed listening to you share your story! I love that you talked us through your ‘transformation’ so to speak, and learning to accept your stutter and not let it take control of your life. You mentioned how you avoided many situations, and I think that sometimes we over analyze a situation before going into it when the outcome is usually much better than we ever expected. I know I do that a lot. I sometimes avoid speaking up in class because I get worried of what others think, so it’s interesting to see that connection. I’m also curious to know what you would say to encourage young adults who stutter to take a chance and shift their mindset in order to reach their full potential? I know it is a lot easier said than done, but I’ve learned that you can really grow and overcome if you put yourself out there!

    Again, thank you for sharing your story and for being a true inspiration!

    • Hi Macy,
      You are totally right, it’s easier said than done, especially when you’re young. I would encourage them to try to envision how their younger years would be if they didn’t have a stutter. Initially, they’d probably think it’d be perfect and if it wasn’t for this darn stutter, they’d be living the perfect life. But that’s not true, far from it. Consider what you said yourself, you avoid speaking up in class sometimes because of what others think. Fear of speaking runs through most people, regardless if they have a stutter. So all these people walking around them, without a stutter, are going through very similar issues, they just aren’t forced to wear it on their sleeve. They can mask their problems better, but they are still there, and it’s still impacting them and how they interact every day. So if you can realize that the stutter is completely separate from your potential, you’ve taken a great first step towards growth.
      Thanks!
      Sarah

  15. Hi Sarah,
    Thank you for your story sharing! As a student of speech therapy, my thoughts on stuttering have been extended to consider individuals who do not want therapy, individuals who do not like the way their voice sounds after therapy, and individuals who use the avoidance behaviors you described. Hearing that anyone can live their life in the centre as you say and be flourishing was incredibly touching. Thanks for throwing light on how to think about PWS in a new way.

  16. Hi Sarah,
    Thank you for sharing. Your story was very inspiring and motivating. It is essential to put yourself first, and your growth with you stutter is amazing! I love how you did not let your stutter determine your life decision, and you did not let you stutter hinder you. Your story is powerful and will impact others not to let their stutter determine their life decisions. Thank you!

    • Hello there,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to watch my video and provide your comments. I definitely hope it helps people with a stutter, if even in the smallest way.

      Have a great day!
      Sarah