What do I want to do with the rest of my life? It wasn’t a choice to decide if I should go to college. It was a right of passage into adulthood in my family. My grandparents on my father’s side had immigrated from Russia. They stressed education and I always respected that. They made sure their 4 children graduated from college, even the two women. This was during a period where many women did not attend college. When my dad married my mom, my grandparents insisted my mother finish college. My mother’s parents who were born here also valued education. My grandfather on my mother’s side was one of the brightest people I knew. He read the dictionary and endless books. Ironically, he never finished high school.
I was fortunate to attend college at Hofstra University. I was a slightly above average accounting student in high school so I started to think about accounting as a career. However, most of my thoughts were spent with trying to lose weight, make my hair straight, meeting a nice boy and being petrified of speaking. After all, I stuttered and I didn’t want the world finding out. All of a sudden the questions came. What do you want to do after college? I was 18, legal, but so young. I honestly had no idea.
Having worked for my father and uncle at their pharmacy for many years, I was pushed into speaking situations, stuttering or not. I answered phones and had to help people in the store. In the same shopping center was a deli. I would order breakfast and lunch for everyone in my dad’s store. The memory of ordering sandwiches while being waited on by really cute guys was traumatic. Of course, I had to order coffee for my dad and uncle. That was impossible for me. How could I possibly say coffee black no sugar or coffee regular sweet and low without stuttering on every word? Truthfully, I would have rather run 20 lapse around the block than open my mouth and have silence come out. I mention my stuttering at this point because I believe it put a monkey wrench in my plans in deciding what to do. Planning my future was complicated enough, but to worry about the role talking would play in a career complicated the situation further. I ventured out at one point into the real world when I turned 18 to get a job at Sears. I wanted to prove to myself I could get a job on my own. Jumped in my car, filled out an application, took a math test and achieved the highest score. Ladies sportswear was my calling, as the call came in from human resources saying I was hired and again I was forced to answer phones and speak. However, this was the best thing that ever happened to me. It gave me confidence and was a stepping stone to the future and my present career.
Let me get back to my early accounting career. Accounting seemed like a good field. I had one of the highest averages in my high school class and was a bookkeeper for my dad’s pharmacy and mom’s organization she volunteered for. It was known to be a field where many jobs existed. I started college and declared my major in accounting. In some ways I liked working with numbers, but in other ways it was boring. Not to put down accounting, it is a great field if you like it. It just wasn’t for me. The problem was I kept taking business courses and not totally loving it. By the time I realized I didn’t want to be an accountant, I had completed over 50 business credits. I had thought of changing majors, first to social work, but the endless saga of hearing it didn’t pay well wasn’t encouraging. Also, the job involved talking and I was still scared of stuttering. Then I thought of being a statistician, but that quickly faded. To make a long story short I graduated with my bachelors in accounting and got a job right out of school. This was perfect right? I had a job, made decent money, had health insurance and didn’t have to talk much. What was the problem? Every time someone asked me if I liked my job, I would say “no, not really “. I didn’t feel wonderful about myself and honestly I was an average accountant. Not bad, but not great. Five years passed, a few jobs and I had enough. I kept thinking about speech therapy, inspired by my very good friend, Lisa, who stuttered and became a speech pathologist. She loved her job and I wanted to love what I do. Was it possible? I would have to leave my full time job and take an extra year to complete my pre-requisites for speech. Twenty one additional credits to just apply to grad school. Financially this was very tough. Could I do it? I decided to try.
I started my pre-requisite courses and not only did it ,but got straight A’s. I found my passion and loved learning about speech only to be told by my speech professors that my stuttering was so severe I would never be able to talk to parents or be accepted in the field. Luckily, I knew the field was started by Charles Van Riper,a speech pathologist who stuttered, so I knew it was possible. I had also watched my father become desensitized to speaking as a pharmacist. I forgot to mention he stuttered severely until his 3o’s too. This encouraged me even more.
Now that I had found my true calling, it was time to do something about my speech. I was fearful and scared so I took an intensive fluency course to work on my fluency. My journey had begun. I then met with Dr. Eisen, department chair at the time, at Hofstra University and told her my dream to become a speech pathologist. She was wonderful and told me many people in this field had speech disorders. She never once made me feel ashamed or incompetent. I graduated in 1992 with my Masters in Speech Pathology. Honesty, the road was difficult as I did encounter obstacles along the way, but I wasn’t giving up. Many speech pathologists I encountered did not believe a person who stuttered should be allowed in the field, but I was determined. My journey towards improved fluency continued and I kept practicing and working on my tools. I also was fortunate that in 1990 a tremendous need for speech pathologists existed and I was confident I would be hired out of graduate school. I was offered several jobs upon graduation and was able to accept the position I wanted. Ironically one of the reasons I was hired was because the administration wanted to spread stuttering awareness in the community and was excited to have me do it.
I have to say besides marrying my husband and giving birth to two beautiful daughters, Samantha and Leah, going back to school was the best decision I ever made. When people ask me now if I like my job, I emphatically say “yes”. I love the field and love helping others. I no longer fear speaking and am thrilled talking to parents and children on a daily basis.
If you don’t know at the age of 18 or 21, 24 or 30 what you want to do with the rest of your life, don’t panic. I was almost 27 by the time I figured it out. Better late than never. There is hope! Give yourself time, enjoy college, learn different subjects, and shadow as many people as you can. You never know when you will find what interests you most. Most importantly follow your passion and dreams!! A big thank you to my daughter Samantha and her friend for encouraging me to write this article and my daughter Leah who always seems to be so proud of her mom!!