I’ve been stuttering for 25 years and it’s the reason I became an entrepreneur

My first memory of stuttering was in kindergarten a short time before starting in school. I was assigned a speech therapist, to try to cure it. Around 80% just stutter as kids, but grow out of it. A speech therapist is important to improve the chances of becoming stutter-free.

In my case, the stuttering continued and for the last 25 years, it’s been a part of my life. My stuttering is not permanently severe, but it varies from periods where I feel almost no challenge speaking to periods where I have difficulties constructing just one sentence or even saying my own name without stuttering.

This post is difficult for me to write because stuttering has always been a problem I’ve kept to myself and not talked to anybody about. I’ve been embarrassed and it has just built up in my head over the years, just making it even more difficult to discuss with others.

The last few years I’ve slowly come to terms with stuttering been part of my life. I’ve slowly opened more up and started talking more and more about it with my girlfriend and I’ve been lucky to speak at big international conferences, like World Travel Market in Sao Paulo and The August Fest in India. On Refuga trips I’ve met people stuttering way more than me, who was outgoing and proactive, which has been a huge inspiration.

For me, this blog post — being so open about something I’ve kept for myself for so many years — marks a new start and the end of being embarrassed and keeping everything in my head. Going forward I won’t let stuttering be a mental block for me.

I became an entrepreneur because of stuttering

In school, it was a nightmare to stutter. I remember 10 years of always worrying about it, feeling socially awkward and being frightened that the teacher would ask you something the next time. While some kids undoubtedly would have handled it better than me, it was at times very difficult for me.

Going to school (at least in Denmark) most kids just want to fit in. Stuttering also a played a part in me falling behind in some classes. The result was that it was obvious for me, that I wasn’t as good as the other kids. I would not have the same opportunities. When you’re a kid who has problems saying your own name, you grow increasingly aware of the limitations and the older I grew the more I started worrying about high school, university and how the hell I could manage a normal job?

66% of people who stutter says that stuttering has kept them from pursuing certain goals or career ways. I think that’s terrible and so sad, but I really understand why.

I slowly understood that I could probably also have success and do something with my life, but it has to be in another way than the typical career.

When I was 17 years old, I was at an event with a lot of different entrepreneurs and that was a life-changing day for me. I had never known about entrepreneurship before and suddenly there was this group of people, who did very different kind of things and were extremely passionate about it.

For me, it was a revelation. I learned that in entrepreneurship, there are very few rules and you can create whatever kind of business you want in the way you want it. There was no right or wrong, no typical way of doing it, but I could decide myself. It was the purest form of freedom and here I finally saw a place where I could fit in, do something and become somebody. Shortly after that day, I got my first official company registration in Denmark and I’ve called myself and entrepreneur ever since.

Entrepreneurship is for me, just like art. It’s a playground where you can do and create what is right for you. It’s a perfect playground for all misfits or us, who don’t feel we can unfold in other, more traditional systems.

Maybe stuttering has been the best thing that has happened to me

While stuttering for many years has been something I’ve hated and been angry about, coming to terms with it has also made it clear for me, how big a positive impact it has had on my life.

First of all, it’s the reason I became an entrepreneur and entrepreneurship is what have created the life I have now. I’m not rich in money, but I’m so fortunate to live the life I do and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

Secondly, I’ve learned that everyone you meet has their own problems and battles. One of mine has been stuttering, but when I’ve met people who stuttered way more than me, it put all my thoughts in my head into perspective. What about people with way bigger problems? I’ve come to understand that everyone has something they are battling, something in life there is out of their control. I’m one of the lucky ones.

A third lesson is that stuttering has learned me about the power of enthusiasm. When you’re stuttering it’s normal to feel anxious and nervous, but I’ve learned there is some kind of energy in those feelings that you can use. When you want to do something that you fear, like speaking in front of 1000 people, it’s very difficult to transform the fear to being relaxed, because there is an energy in fear. Instead, it’s much easier to transform the fear to the enthusiasm and a positive energy. When someone recommends you to relax when you’re nervous about something, try building up that energy to excitement instead of trying to calm down. This has helped me tremendously.

One simple advice for people battling with something

For many years I kept my thoughts and challenge with stuttering for myself. I was to give any advice to anyone battling with something, it’s: Don’t do as I did.

Just slowly opening more up for my girlfriend and talking about stuttering has helped me a lot. I don’t things problems gets any better by just being in your head. People around you want to talk with you and help you, and just sharing your thoughts and challenges can help.

Thanks for reading this post. I’m not sure if there are so many lessons for you to be learned here. Maybe this post will make it more difficult for me to be invited to conferences to speak, but for me, it’s been a major step being open about stuttering and sharing it here.

The picture in the top of the post is me speaking at one of Asia’s biggest startup conferences, one of the events that were a small game changer for me.


Originally published at Nikolaj Astrup.

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