So here’s a fact about me that you might not know: I stutter. Not a whole lot, not enough to have gone through speech therapy or anything like that, but a little bit. I stutter when I get nervous, and usually that isn’t when I’m meeting someone for the first time, but it is when I’m trying to impress someone: a potential or current employer, a teacher who knows me through my essays and hasn’t heard me speak before, an attractive person. Usually, it’s only over a word or two, but for some people, it has been enough to be noticeable.
I have been told by people that they can tell I’m uncomfortable, even when I’m not really uncomfortable. In fact, I’m a pretty average level of uncomfortable: a little nervous, sure, but just as much as anyone would be around someone they’re trying to impress. Or, at least, I was at a pretty average level of uncomfortable until they told me that, thank you very much.
I have been told by people that if I want to do well at something, I cannot stutter because stuttering is perceived as weakness, and if I’m weak people will walk all over me. Except I wouldn’t really describe myself as a weak person. I tend to think of myself as a fairly strong person, in fact, and I don’t really think that the fact that my brain sometimes works faster than my tongue should really be an indicator of my strength.
And as much as I doubt that anyone who made comments such as these meant any harm by it, they have in fact made socializing harder for me. Because my stutter doesn’t indicate anything about my character besides the fact that I respond to being nervous a little bit awkwardly, but I know that other people are judging me because of it. They look at me and see someone who doesn’t respond well to situations. They look at me and see someone socially awkward, someone who can’t talk to people.
And maybe it’s a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy: they (indirectly) tell me that I’m can’t talk to people, which makes me feel like I can’t talk to people, which makes it hard for me to talk to people. I become more awkward because they perceive me as awkward.
As much as my mom always told me that my stutter was fine, that all that it proved was that I cared, at the same time – come on, that’s my mom. It’s practically her job to tell me things like that.
No, the comment that really changed my mind about my stutter and my awkwardness was one day when I went to a workshop where I really wanted to impress people, where I needed to impress people. I put a lot of pressure on myself that day, which, of course, made me nervous, which, of course, made me stutter. But no one mentioned it. In fact, people seemed to actually like me. I made a lot of friends that day, got along with a lot of different people, and at the end of the day, after I finished stuttering a bit around someone who I really, really wanted to impress, one girl turned to that someone and said “isn’t she so cute?”
And that’s when I realized: they liked me at least partly because I stuttered. They weren’t annoyed by it, they didn’t think it made me weak; they thought it made me cute. Like my mom said, it proved to them that I cared.
I still think about that day a lot, especially when someone makes a negative comment about my stutter, because I think that that day taught me something important about being an awkward person, and that is that being an awkward person is fine.
Having a hard time making eye contact is fine.
Frequently misunderstanding what someone else is saying is fine.
Stuttering is fine.
In fact, being an awkward person is a lot like being any other kind of person: some people are going to dislike you for it, and other people are going to actively like you for it. It all depends on what they’re looking at in terms of who you are. If they’re looking to find a weak person, then they’re going to find a weak person (sometimes whether you’re awkward or not). If they’re looking to find someone who cares, then they’re going to find someone who cares. Really, the way they see you is more a reflection of them than it is of you.
Being awkward is not who you are. It has nothing to do with who you are. It’s just a reaction to certain emotions, certain environments, certain people, whatever the case may be. You can be awkward and strong. You can be awkward and social. But every single one of us are going to face unfair judgements based off of superficial things at one time or another, and you need to remember that that’s all this is. They don’t know you, so don’t ever let them tell you who you are.