Facing the dragon

The article's author Roberta Volpe, and a collage of some of her artwork

16th February 2021

After plucking up the courage to phone a radio station one night, Roberta Volpe made a vow to herself. It's a vow that helped her realise her dreams of moving abroad and teaching art and design.

I have stammered since I was six, and I let the fear of facing this dragon win until I was twenty five. 

I lived in Milan, my hometown. One night I was at home, organising an exhibition about human rights and peace. I had contacted the local school and the local council, and the only thing left to do was find a volunteer guide to explain the exhibition to the public. I tried encouraging my friends to do it but as the old saying goes, 'if you want something doing, do it yourself otherwise nothing will happen!' And that's how it was. I had really wanted to be the guide all along but was terrified I would stammer, freeze and not be able to speak.

That night, while I was having this thought, I was also listening to a radio station. There's this one programme in particular that I loved because they talked about books and the topics were always fascinating. The DJ said, "Call in and tell us what you think...". I actually did have something to say, but I was too terrified to speak on the phone. Suddenly, at that moment I realised that I had the same fear as I had for the exhibition. Not only that, it became clear in my mind that I was unconsciously avoiding facing this fear of stammering. I was living my life choosing to take the long road when in fact there was a much quicker bridge in front of me which I could take at any time. But I never chose to cross it. And now was the time, because I felt I had enough.

I was living my life choosing to take the long road when in fact there was a much quicker bridge in front of me which I could take at any time. But I never chose to cross it.

I picked up the phone and made the call. My heart was pumping, I could hear it in my ears. I said to myself, "It's not live, it's being recorded so don't worry. You have made a bold move, well done." "Hello, Radio R101," the voice on the other end said. "Who is speaking?". I remember I felt like I was walking in the fog. I shared what I wanted to say and spoke fluently even though my voice was trembling; I was live on air on a national radio station! 

A man sitting facing the camera, with the title Share Your Story

The DJ thanked me and I put the phone down. And then I saw it. I saw clearly how our fear is always bigger in our mind; our dragon is so scary and huge but when we face it, we realise that it is only in our mind. I felt deep joy and I made a vow: I will be the guide for the exhibition. And I was. Most importantly, I decided that I would never again permit my fear to stop me. I determined that from then on I will only ask myself one question: Do I want to do it? For the question of how, I will find a way.

The decision to make that call completely changed my life. I even ended up working on that radio station for two years as an author (long story)! I realised that the more I faced my fear of stammering, the less power it had.

Dreams coming true

Not letting that fear win enabled me to make my dreams come true: I moved to London, learned English and got a job working in a theatre as a set designer. Last May I realised another dream when I made the first step in teaching art and design. During my secondary school placement, I started to stammer more and one day, due to a technical problem with the projector, I stammered so much that I seriously started to reconsider my decision to become a teacher. The article's author Roberta Volpe working on a sculpture of a horse's head
For the first time in my life I sought professional help and had an appointment with a speech and language therapist. It was amazing. I felt understood for the first time. I shared my doubts and he suggested, "Why not tell the pupils that you stammer?" So I did. 

I felt so emotional and overwhelmed. I saw clearly that it was time to let go; to let go and stop fighting this. 

Last week I had my first online lesson and said, "I have a stammer. It's a part of my speech and it could happen at any time". Then I introduced the learning objective and asked if someone would like to read it. One pupil volunteered and when he started reading I realised he stammered too. After the lesson, my mentor told me she was amazed! The boy had never volunteered to read in front of the class before. I felt so emotional and overwhelmed. I saw clearly that it was time to let go; let go and stop fighting this. 

The article's author Roberta Volpe beside one of her sculptures

Facing my fear has helped me to live my dream and not be defeated. I also realised how much I hated and felt ashamed about this part of me until that moment. This is me. This is a part of me, and I don't want to hide it anymore. Especially now that, as a future teacher, by being myself I can teach a much bigger lesson to the pupils, without even knowing.

You can see more of my art at robertavolpe.com (for my set design) and robertavolpeart.com (for my paintings).

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The article's author Roberta Volpe painting a picture
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