Asif Khan tells us how changing the way he looks at his stammer led to success in his apprenticeship.
Stammering can be hard. Not just because you feel you’re always in a shadow, but because others don’t see it as that big an issue, when it is. They think it’s like having the flu; it’ll come and go. It’s not, it’s here long term but I think it gets better once you learn to accept it.
As far as I can remember I’ve always stammered. I come from a Pakistani family and grew up without knowing my dad. Living with just one sister and mum, I was always a shy kid. I started to become aware of my stammer when Mum would stop me mid-sentence to say, “Stop, take a deep breath and say it again slowly”. Quite the common thing for a parent to do, as they think it helps. Speech therapy only helped me so much, and I realised it was something I was going to have to deal with on my own.
I sat at the back to avoid the spotlight.
My stammer really affected me at school, as everyone saw me as the quiet one. I wish schools were more aware; my English teacher didn’t know why I refused to speak during presentations and my French teacher wondered why I wasn’t learning the language. I remember starting a new school year as a class was about to begin. I sat at the back to avoid the spotlight. There’s me thinking I’m hidden and safe, when the teacher asks us to say our names, going from front to back. Imagine the suspense, hearing my heartbeat as my turn came closer. When it did I said, “……………..Aaa-Asif K-K-Khan”. My teacher replied, “Thought you didn’t know your name for a second there”. People don’t know how damaging comments like that can be. School was filled with blocks like these. I hated them and stayed very quiet, lacking confidence and avoiding social interactions.
College and beyond
College was a lot better because my cousin looked out for me. He had it all: friends, a social life and he was dating. My confidence increased as I got to taste all those things. Deep down though I realised I hadn’t really accepted my stammer - I was just trying to hide it.
As college ended, everyone went their own way and I was back at the start, alone and stuck with my stammer. I overthought things, so when it came to studying Aeronautical Engineering at University, I chose not to go simply because of the presentations I would’ve had to do. I was so scared about choosing a career path as I just wasn’t used to talking to people, and chose roles that wouldn’t involve speaking. I wished I had more support from family - they thought I wouldn’t do well in any professional environment.
Deep down I just wanted to be in a successful company, have great working relationships and be good at what I did. I started researching and watching TED talks and YouTube videos to see how others handled their stammer and for famous stammerers to look up to.
I got jobs as a delivery driver, trackman (railway engineering) and an auditor. These roles, even though not customer facing, still helped with communicating and working with others. Conversations were hard but I found techniques like replacing words and trying to relax when I spoke.
I grew really confident and realised the problem was with how I saw my stammer.
I decided I wanted to talk to customers for experience, so when I reached 20 I started a job at the O2 as a security officer. The only way you’ll be confident is when you put yourself out of your comfort zone. I had so much fun working there talking to customers and watching shows; I had good relationships with the managers so they put me in the best spots for concerts. I grew really confident and realised the problem was with how I saw my stammer. Perspective is key.
A few people were inspirational: Owais Khan, a TV star and comedian, showed confidence without caring what others thought. My Uncle stammered and had the same experiences as me. He’s now a successful entrepreneur and multi-millionaire. The King’s Speech and my prophet Musa (Moses), who had a speech impediment, also inspired me. From a normal person to a king to a prophet - if they could have confidence, why couldn’t I?
Fast forward to today, I can happily say I’m in a successful apprenticeship in a professional environment in London, where I love meeting people and developing my communication skills. There can be nervous moments with my stammer but I don’t let them hold me back. I’m also happily married, living with my amazing wife who’s always been understanding and supportive. I’ve had the chance to volunteer at BSA too, which means a lot to me. I hope this message is helpful to readers and gives them the confidence to live a good life.
Since writing this article, Asif has been shortlisted as a finalist for the Asian Apprentice of the year awards 2019. Read more here.