Sarah Brooks didn't think she had the attributes needed to get a job. Here she writes about growing in confidence at university and starting up a business, with all the challenges it involves.
I'm Sarah, I'm 31 years old and I have stammered since I was about six, with it running in the family (my mum stammers). I am the eldest of three, I'm single and am lucky enough to have supportive, loving family and friends.
As a child I struggled saying my name, and would refuse to speak to anyone. Things were at their worst as a teenager. I had quite a severe stammer during my teens and was bullied at secondary school, which I eventually became wise to and toughened up. During that time, my parents referred me to a speech therapist through the GP, who I saw over a period of two years. This gave me a better understanding of myself and stammering, and engaged my younger siblings with activities I was doing.
Therapy gave me a better understanding of myself and stammering,
After leaving school I went on to college for two years and enjoyed it. Whilst there I started to interact more with friends. After college I tried my hand at job hunting, which I knew would be difficult; I was learning to drive, had no previous experience and had poor communication skills, or so I thought back then, which I didn't see as ideal attributes for any job. Having fallen flat on the job front, just managing to get part-time weekend work, I decided to apply to university.
Going to university scared me more than anything, as it was a huge step. The course I chose was 99% presentation-based assignments and projects. This was my absolute worst nightmare. During my first year there I had serious doubts, mainly due to my stammer and lack of confidence. My tutors and lecturers were thankfully very understanding, as were the other students. However, student welfare and the disability team were quite frankly useless, and did not have any experience or understanding, even when the course leader intervened, so I suffered in silence at the beginning.
I started the course nearly mute but graduated with a 2:2, bags of confidence and as a transformed individual.
But as my degree progressed, I did become a little more confident presenting my work, and I got through it purely by determination that I was not going to let the negative thoughts about my stammer win. My confidence continued to grow over the three years at university. I started the course nearly mute but graduated with a 2:2, bags of confidence and as a transformed individual. Personally, university changed me as a person not only maturity-wise, but it made me believe in myself, which is what I badly needed. I am so glad I stuck with it, as nowadays I am not overly bothered about what people think anymore.
Self-employment – present day
In September 2010 I decided to become a sole trader in garden design and maintenance, which is what I was qualified in. I am still continuing with my self-employment to date. The most difficult part of being my own boss is finding more clients and marketing myself, as I'm a very reserved individual, not at all pushy as it's not in my personality.
I am so glad I stuck with it, as nowadays I am not overly bothered about what people think anymore.
Having a stammer and being self-employed can feel rather lonely; however, I am lucky enough to enjoy what I do for a living. The hardest hurdle I have had to overcome with clients is making that initial contact, especially when I am asked to call them back. I have never had a good relationship with the phone, and it can be difficult for new clients to understand me, although the vast majority are quite obliging. One-to-one, my clients are very accepting of my stammer, as most say it's hardly noticeable, which helps.
I've been doing my job for over ten years now and I am looking into a potential new career change; I just feel now is the time for a change of direction. I have had a couple of interviews for garden centre jobs but my lack of retail experience and customer interaction is letting me down currently.
Summarising my Stammer
Growing up, I saw my stammer as a hindrance that quite frankly I hated, but could do nothing to change it. Now I've lived with it for about 25 years or so, I have watched myself grow from this extremely shy, reserved youngster, into a reserved and quiet but confident, more outgoing adult with a mild/occasional stammer.
I cannot imagine my life without my stammer; it has made me who I am today. Thank you for reading, and I hope my experience may help someone else who stammers too.
There is help out there at university if you stammer. See our Colleges & University page and the Stammerers Through University Consultancy for more information. For help with employment and job-hunting, see our At Work section.
If you'd like to write something for the site, visit our Share Your Story page to find out how.