Deep, dark fog swallows the sky around me. A soft drizzle makes the twisting tree trunks blend into the distance. The distant mountain has dissolved into the sky, and the leaves shine with the color of sage while the bright red Adirondack chairs by the firepit stand out against the blurred background. It’s another chilly morning here in Austin on the long back porch under the metal roof, here at the old homestead. Well rested, I’m ready to conquer the fog and go exploring.
I’m always exploring. I’m curious. I’m trying to get to know other people and their stories. A fellow artist introduced himself, clearly and confidently, during the seminar I attended last week. Yet according to him, clarity and confidence were not always the case for him because he grew up with a severe stutter that never left him.
Like a Leper
In school, his fellow students treated him like a leper, leaving him with no friends just because he could not get a sentence out easily. His own parents treated him differently than his siblings, as though he were flawed mentally, when his only problem was the ability to get words out of his mouth.
His hopes of growing out of the stutter never came true, and my new friend became an adult and was drafted to Vietnam, where he was in the infantry, on the front lines and in combat. He was treated as though he was expendable, always pushed into the most dangerous assignments. It was difficult for him to defend himself from his fellow soldiers because talking was so hard.
Upon exiting Vietnam, a feat unto itself, he was faced with finding employment, but every job interview resulted in a no. No one wanted a stutterer. One day he applied for a job as a stockbroker, and that interview changed his life. The man interviewing him told him that to make a living, he would have to learn to overcome his stutter in order to make sales calls. The interviewer said he didn’t think he could overcome it, but was willing to let him try.
His first and second and third sales calls went badly. People hung up before he could complete his introduction. He could not even make a reservation for dinner — how was he going to make a living on the phone?
Hearing the Bad Was Good
With the encouragement of his wife, he came to believe he could overcome the stutter, but he didn’t know how. Then one day a co-worker slammed him verbally, told him he had no business doing this job, that he was a complete loser who needed to get a job as a janitor somewhere. That did the trick. He got so mad, he became determined to overcome his stutter. And he did. It took all of his will power, but he got on the phone and got through that first call, and made a sale. Then another call, and another. Simply talking was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life.
A Vast Change
Soon, he became so successful that he became the number one stockbroker in the firm, partly because he started a radio show about stocks and did that show for several years. Imagine a stutterer with a radio show. Yet no one knew.
His story got out, and one day he was invited to speak at a national convention for stutterers. Before he spoke, he saw people wearing T-shirts that read “A Stutterer and Proud.”
When he got up in front of all those people, he said, “I’m a stutterer and I’m not proud, and you should not be either.” He said, “I saw the shirts about being proud. Instead of being proud, you should get mad and overcome it. Don’t let yourself off the hook. If I could do it, you can do it. You need to hear the hard truth. You need to get mad enough to make a change in your life. You need to get so angry that you stand up to others and prove them wrong. Don’t accept it, change it.”
The room was dead silent. Then one single person began to applaud, and then another, until the room broke out in applause and a standing ovation. He told them what they did not want to hear, and didn’t tell them what everyone else had always said. They loved him.
This man made a life as a successful stockbroker against great odds. He did something everyone said was impossible, yet his mind overcame his affliction. His anger drove his resolve.
“My own parents did not believe in me,” he said, “but my wife believed, and my anger made me believe. Anyone can overcome anything if they don’t give themselves excuses and pity themselves. “
What about you?
What excuses are getting in your way?
Maybe you have no affliction, but you’re telling yourself a story and you’re allowing it to limit you.
I’m not a big fan of anger and I don’t like myself when I get angry, but sometimes enough is enough. There is a point at which anger results in getting sick enough of something that you’re willing to make a change. Sometimes you’ll put up with something for years till you just get sick enough of it that it’s like flicking a switch, and you can no longer accept the way things have been.
Do you need to get angry?
Are you putting up with something that is stealing your happiness or success?
Most of us spend our lives avoiding pain. I’m the king of avoiding conflict or pain. No one likes pain, inconvenience, or difficult times. I’m sure my friend had no idea how he was going to overcome stuttering, and knew it would be easier not to overcome it. But his anger drove him.
You may have disadvantages, you may have problems, you may have things in your head that are holding you back. Just know, you can overcome them. We’ve all seen stories of soldiers who lost limbs and are living amazing, adventurous lives, while others are telling themselves they have to live bad lives. I can’t relate to their mindset, but I can tell you that some can overcome almost anything by getting sick enough or angry enough.
In reality, most of us don’t have severe problems, most of us are not confined to a bed or a chair, yet many of us are holding back on life because of something that is stuck in our heads that is causing a success roadblock. Yet your mind can get you through it. It requires mental toughness, determination, big dreams, and action. Every big success starts with one small step. You can do this. But taking action, that first step, makes up half of the goal.
You have a fresh year, and something inside of you that is dying to come out. Get angry. Scream loudly and let it out. The beast inside needs to be released so you can live the best possible life. Get angry and let it free.
PS: I’m noticing a change. People around me are getting fed up. People are realizing that no matter which political party we identify with, we are all being manipulated and polarized. They have turned us all against one another, which gives them control. People are noticing, finally grasping it, and starting to refuse to play the game any longer. We all deserve our voice, our opinions, and though we may never change them, we need to be willing to respect the opinions of friends and others. People are so sick of it that they are cutting people out of their lives, not because they disagree, but because they are being baited with social media posts that polarize people. I for one am done with all of it. If you’re on my social media account posting ANY political content, pro or con, you’re unfriended. Not because I don’t love you, but because I’m sick of seeing friends being manipulated and friends polarizing others. Let’s make 2020 a return to civilized behavior. Social media has brought out the worst in many of us. Let’s all make a commitment to only bring out the best by lifting others up, not tearing them down.
Dear Mr Rhoads,
Great article. My youngest brother stuttered and was a bed wetter up until the age of 9. I think it started after my parents divorced. My Dad had custody of the boys and I went with my Mother. Baby brother didn’t stammer so much except when he was around our mom. Guess there’s something to be said about a dominating mother.
I’m also on board with you in the PS about politics.
I don’t own a television. I stopped watching during the OJ Simpson trials. I felt it was the first reality TV show to hit the airways. Since then I will get just enough political pablum on my computer to be informed, but tune out after a few minutes of the same old propaganda. I’ve always considered it force-fed trivial fare. There is definitely an Evolution going on and one day we will reach a tipping point.
Dear Mr Rhoads,
I was a speech pathologist for forty years and working with stutterers was one of the most difficult and interesting things I did. Your friend was right about the anger, but not every person who stutters can get to the level of this man’s resolution of the problem. The point is that if your goal is fluency rather than clear direct communication, you may not be successful. So many people who stutter experience such shame that colors every aspect of their lives. I don’t pretend that speech therapy is necessary or good for every person who stutters. However a good therapist—just like a great teacher of drawing and painting—can point the way. And yes, ultimately it is up to the individual to accept and to change. The wisest man I ever knew was my boss, another speech pathologist whose stuttering persisted. He spoke anyway; he achieved anyway; he expressed anger, compassion, love, and humor anyway. The important point was that he overcame the struggle behavior, the shame, and the self loathing to achieve acceptance of self and others and he went on to do good in the world.
Hi Eric and thank you for a great article.
Replace, deafness, for stutterer, the problems are very similar. I am learning to lipread and already it has made a difference. Just tell people you are lipreading and it puts them at their ease.
Eric, your 91 year old friend here. Thank you for adding the P.S. You expressed my sentiment exactly, and perhaps more of us need to speak up. How did we get here? The whole world is angry and power hungry. We’re lost our way and it shouldn’t have happened in America. A compulsory course in creativity might be the only way to relocate the path to happiness. Agree?
First of all, I love all you do and look so forward to your newsletter, podcasts,etc!! I pray I can come one day to your invitationals and meet you in person! I disagree with what you said about persons getting into the media’s game. To me no dialogue is exactly how they gain control! Our Country is very important to me! Our freedoms are paramount! We need more rational dialogue. Where did real debating go? I was on the debate team. I’m sure I was very liberal! Wish I had my notes!! Lol. But I based everything on facts that I could back up. Our Constitution is so wise and I have found I need to go back to basics. I love history! I guess it could be in my top 5. But with all the chatter on social media one must be careful to look at the facts. Stop being so emotional. In a way to see what is real. Check things out! Our younglings need our wisdom. Please reconsider. If someone gets on a tangent and you don’t agree let them know and why. If that doesn’t work then make the decision not to be their friend. I hope we stay friends. But just because we are an Artist doesn’t mean we should be silent. We have learned a lot through our experience. Yes I agree the hostility is bad! But don’t allow the squeaky wheel to win. We need to all be brave! Socialism stinks!! I am a proud American and got even more proud going out of the Country. I wish more people had the opportunity to see Communism and socialism first hand. That saying that it will make you kiss the American soil is the truth! I will not be silent! I will praise God, love Our flag, follow the 10 commandments at my Best and obey our laws. I appreciate and thankful to our founders for our constitution and our freedoms. Thanks again Eric and I hope you reconsider
Your PS is so terribly true. I rarely even look at social media. My cell phone keeps giving me “notices” which I quickly erase. It seems one can not get away from all the nonsense. Predictions are that it will only get worse. Sad statement for our country. Let’s go and paint or draw or pot or do some art.
Inspiring article, and I must say your P. S. was well spoken.
Yet another beautifully written work! Winston Churchill, with the help of his father, spent hour upon hour, day after day, month after month walking outdoors orating (out loud) until he overcame stuttering. Viewing the movie, My Left Foot was another great example of overcoming physical limitations. Being born to a mother that took questionable fertility medications during the early 60’s, I was plagued with mysterious, undiagnosable illnesses and allergies to rubber, Caine mix and numerous sensitivities to all kinds of man-made chemicals. It wasn’t until my 40’s, repercussions from a chemically laden diet and the loss of half my colon, that I realized I was my own best physician. I had to get angry. I needed to realize that there was no quick fix or magic pill but my own due diligence and fortitude to overcome living in a toxic world. Interestingly, it was not surprising to me that The Oxford Dictionary chose TOXIC as 2018 word of the year. Be smart my friends. Let us walk through life with discernment and make use of the beautiful brains we were gifted; And by all means… Get pissed off if that’s what it takes to move forward.
I don’t do social media because there’s nothing social about it! It doesn’t aid in relationships and it seems to only validate the person stating the opinion. If you want a conversation then talk in person to someone..a friend …a work mate etc…in person and be polite! The only thing social media does is manipulate society around big techs opinion. Just look at our elections.. and journalistic bias.. how’s that for a negative opinion. Truly, I’m not usually negative but Ive found it is becoming more difficult to remain on an even keel and not let the distractions i.e. social media to unduly influence me.
You are right! We need to stop playing the game. I’m going to stop with the political pros and cons. There are better things to share.
I’m with you regarding your P.S. Months ago I got back to listening to more music and less “breaking news” More reading, dabbling in sketching and began work on an online class. If you listen to TED talk, any topic, it is apparent how little news we get from cable or the major networks and how much that doesn’t get covered, there is so much to learn and enjoy.
I love morning coffee, too.
Thank you again this is so important. I love morning coffee.
BEST EVER!!! I couldn’t agree more and my own personal FB account NEVER contains ANYTHING of a political nature. Some of my very dear painter friends have posted extremely inflammatory, often vulgar images (of their own artwork) that just instill complete disdain revealing the RAGE within their hearts. Those people are so totally UNhappy I just don’t want to be around them . . . but I DO pray for them!
Thank you Eric. I too am sick of it. I follow fellow artists on Instagram so that I can see their art, not their political viewpoints. We must be strong and accept our differences. But art should prevail as the common thread that binds us.
Awesome article, both about overcoming and about politics !!!!!!
Your P.S. Comment really hit home this morning! I live in a small city in California that is having a contentious battle about a redevelopment plan for the downtown. It has become very ugly with a vote coming in March. One side has now started name calling labeling the other side NIMBYS. I find it not only offensive but so sad that if you have a different opinion on something you are a bad person. They even went so far as to make a cartoon strip and put it in our local paper of a mother trying to explain to her child about how some people just don’t want to help those less fortunate! Truth be told, I am an artist with an artist’s brain and when I saw both artist’s renderings of the two plans side by side, I liked the ‘other’ plan better! After reading your comment it hit me that this is what is happening throughout our country. Used to be, you have a battle pre election, you vote, you either win or lose, and then you get on with life until the next election. I have lived a long time and had wins and loses, but I have never seen anything like this before in our country.
Thank you Eric! I have quit listening to politics so much on my way to work. It jacks me up and puts me in an agitated state of mind, not a good state to be in for teaching art. I also unfollow people who insist on putting political or over the top religious messages on social media because they are exclusive and off-putting.
Very powerful post Eric. One of your best ever. I can’t tolerate so many of the posts on Facebook that I barely look at it anymore. In many ways, I believe social media has damaged our society more than improved it, unfortunately. This post really speaks to the bullying in schools and life that too many people endure. This man, your new friend, should give motivational talks in schools! And so should you! Thank you.
Thanks Eric! Well said!!!
THANK YOU SO MUCH. I always enjoy your column Eric but today you really hit the nail on the head. We have been a great country for a long time not because we always agreed but because we listened to each other and considered alternatives. We respected each other and made our own choices. I am so ready to get over the nastiness and negativity and start solving our problems. Appreciated the column as always great, needed messge, but was really moved by the post script. Who knows maybe the Plein Air movement will also start clearing the air!
Eric, Thank you for this powerful post. As an eternal optimist, I love your messages of hope and self empowerment. Each one of us has the power to make choices (from what we think to how we react) everyday that can change our world for the better. i am so grateful that you use this forum to create these thought-provoking, inspirational posts on a weekly basis.
Thanks for your Sunday commentary! Amen to your inspirational idea to find a way to get over the media’s manipulation and polarization! It is so easy to get caught up in the negativity! There is so much more of far greater importance and enjoyment to get involved in.
Your message needs to be heard, loud and clear Eric.
I was part of an art group. The people had differing opinions, politically. It became so unbearable that the group finally broke up.
People need to respect one another.
I thought we would be painting and discussing art, totally enjoyable subjects.
People, please step back and live and let live.
Your message about going for your art or getting past something holding you back is also a great message.
I always look forward to your Sunday coffee emails.
This is a keeper, thank you, I’m saving for inspiration as the year goes on. I gave myself permission to leave Facebook for awhile in mid December, to get back to the things I love. And guess what? I have read SIX books of varying genres since then. One of them went on my all-time favorites list. And I am so much more at peace. I refused to post politically driven ideas, and avoided those who posted manipulative ideas as well. I may have thrown out the baby with the bath water, but that’s okay! It was a good trade-off.
Hear! Hear! Another excellent post! The story and the end comment. Thank you so much for saying that! I hope people get these messages. Stop wearing your issues like they’re badges of honor and do something about changing your life to be happier! Stop letting yourself be manipulated by the media.
I tried to put my website, but it asked for a URL. I don’t get it.
Excellent post, Eric! I completely agree with your postscript. Let’s all see the manipulation for what it is and agree to treat each other with love and respect whatever our views.
Epic post….in depth, range and hopefully, timelessness.
Sick and tired of being sick and tired, I reversed my diet, got it clean and lost 22 pounds. Will never go back to the S.A.D. again!
Determined to reinvent myself after a successful career in education, I am now an emerging full time artist breaking the rules. Not following the social moray for those “over a certain age” I ride and train a beautiful, spicy red mare. I repurpose, innovate and create every day. Why? Because the alternative is slowly spiraling down the cultural drain into numbing, meaningless and unrewarding existence.
Bravo, shout it from the back porch and from the front page….no one has to live less than their God given potential! And that my friend, is unlimited!
Thanks for another great post, Eric. And thanks for your encouragement to return to civility on social media.
AMEN, Eric! Reading this as I’m finishing breakfast before heading to church – and this has been a great “pre”sermon! Thank you for your words that challenge me to get out of my deep-seeded confidence problems and excuse – and move forward!