How My Speech Impediment Birthed My Startup

A young boy by Olisa Nwoye

I was probably 9 years old when SugarBabes released a song titled ‘ugly’. That was the first time I came close to believing in myself, finding out about motivational songs as well as knowing that there wasn't anything wrong with me. Whenever I got laughed at, attacked or insulted for stammering, I’ll reply with my favorite lyrics from the song—‘people are all the same, and we only get judged by what we do. Personality reflects name, and if I’m ugly then so are you’. I never stammered when singing, it was the only time I felt bold enough to reply bullies, and that song did it right for me.

The first time I ever noticed I stammered, I was 5 years old. It was difficult to speak with anyone without constantly repeating a word or even a letter; let alone pronounce my name. My first name is Stephanie but my Nigerian family call me Chizoba (It's an Igbo name that means God should save). Pronouncing Chizoba had to be the worst part of my day. The ‘ch’ sound was the end of me. I dreaded answering the question ‘what’s your name?’ My mother would get so upset at me for stammering that I ended up growing up a quiet child. My father would try to pray it out of me because he believed it was done by a village witch. None of it made sense to me and it was all so uncomfortable. I had no self-confidence.

Then one day, I read something really wonderful (I think) in the newspaper and couldn't wait for my father to come home from work so we could talk about it. But I thought about how the conversation might go. I'd start trying to explain the story by speaking at barely four words per minute. He’ll get irritated and eventually uninterested. I’ll be so hurt and end up walking away crying, wondering why I couldn't speak as everyone expected me to. So, I picked up a diary at home and wrote down everything I wanted to say. I described in detail all a 9-year-old child could describe.

I wrote it beautifully well, my father will later say. He showed it to my mum who was indeed shocked at how expressive and brilliant my writing was. And there it all began. I stumbled upon my career, passion and greatest skill yet. A completely terrible speech problem led me to find out the power my written words had. So, when I wanted to become a writer, my parents weren’t upset or shocked. It was expected. All my life, its the one thing that has been a steady source of income. I have worked as a content writer, editor, and now a manager. I have worked in a bank, publishing companies, technological companies; I have also freelanced. Finally, I have written a novel, which I did in just two weeks (will write about this soon).

People used to, and still laugh at me for stammering. But every time I remember what it has done for me, I quickly get over it. I am grateful for my life as a writer. I still stammer today, though not as bad as I did when I was five, I still do. I still get anxiety giving speeches or speaking to a large group of people. I often pray that my stammer doesn't ruin the moment. However, I have also become an author of two published books and have written over 100 other pieces —short stories, poems, articles, and news stories alike.

Looking back at it now I wonder; If I had perfect speech expected of me and was speaking properly, I’d never have attempted writing, I’d never have ventured into that. I probably would have just gone ahead and fulfilled my dream of being the next Beyoncé.

Novelist, poet, and editor. Academic in the making. Purchase my books here—http://stephanieodili.com/books/

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