A Blog by James Hayden

I’m a strong believer in having goals, no matter how big or small they are. I think goals help us grow to become the best version of ourselves. For a while, one of my goals was to do a Facebook Live video. I know that sounds and weird out of context, but allow me to explain.

Up until about two years ago, I hated watching and listening to myself stutter. Whenever I saw or heard myself on video, I would cringe and go into another room out of embarrassment. If I was embarrassed by this, then surely my audience was internally cringing and embarrassed for me as well, right? Or so I thought. I remember the first time I watched my TEDx talk recording; I almost exited the video numerous times because of how hard it was for me to watch. When I shared it with my family members, I left the room because I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. I was more than comfortable stuttering my butt off on the TEDx stage to a room of strangers but couldn’t bear to watch it with those who love and care about me. It was at that moment that my new goal became getting comfortable with watching and hearing myself stutter. I didn’t know how to achieve this goal, but I knew baby steps would be the best way to start.

The initial baby step occurred a few months later, in October of 2019. I had the opportunity to appear on the My Stuttering Life podcast. This wasn’t the first time I was a podcast guest, but it was the first time I listened to the episode. I didn’t listen to the previous ones because of the aforementioned hatred of hearing myself stutter. I knew if I were to grow and accomplish my goal, I’d have to feel comfortable hearing the uncomfortable. And I’m not going to lie; it was uncomfortable. Hearing back every intimate and nuanced detail of my stutter was an experience. Knowing that every intimate detail of my biggest vulnerability, my stutter, was now recorded for posterity was a different experience. I wanted to exit the episode every five seconds of the 45-minute interview, but I was determined to get through it. After the episode was done, I thought, “that wasn’t too bad.” Listening to my episode helped me further accept and embrace my biggest vulnerability. I was now comfortable with hearing my recorded voice. The podcast audience couldn’t see the intimate mechanics of my stutter, but they could at least hear them, and I was ok with that. I knew this was a good step, but I had more steps on my journey to accomplish my goal. I figured it would take me a couple of years to accomplish this goal, but life had other plans.

2020 happened. Social distancing entered our vernacular, Tiger King took the internet by storm, and “Zoom” no longer referred to a show that aired on PBS back in the day. Like the rest of the world, every organization I’m a part of shifted to virtual meetings. As a result, I had to use Zoom way more than I ever planned. During my numerous Zoom meetings, I watched myself stutter. Hearing myself stutter is one thing, but to see it is a different beast. There were many times I was so uncomfortable with watching my vulnerability in action that I wanted to turn my camera off and participate as little as possible. Yet, in those moments, I had to remind myself that my audience cared about my message and not its delivery. Although I used Zoom numerous times, I still wasn’t comfortable watching myself stutter. That changed over the summer due to a fateful Twitter direct message.

The person who sent me the message asked if I wanted to play an online game based on the CBS show Survivor. I agreed, because … why not? Since fellow contestants and I played this virtually and not on a Fijian island, the game took place over Skype calls. This meant that I had to watch myself stutter daily. I also recorded and uploaded confessionals to YouTube. These were done to let the host and fellow players, postgame, know my thoughts on the game. Putting my confessionals on YouTube was not that big of a deal because only a select few, who all knew I stutter, have access to it. After a few Skype calls and confessionals, I became somewhat comfortable watching and hearing myself stutter. It got to the point that I didn’t think about it that much and was comfortable with it. The only thing that was uncomfortable was how overconfident I was in my game. Although I didn’t come close to winning the game, I became comfortable watching and hearing myself stutter. For me, that was winning and inspired me to take my next step on this journey.        

Shortly after the game ended, I saw a Facebook post advertising the Australian Speak Easy Association’s (ASAE) virtual conference. I clicked on the link and saw that they were taking applications for presenters. I applied because … why not? My proposal was accepted, and with it being virtual, I had to record and upload my presentation to YouTube. I wasn’t uncomfortable watching myself stutter while I recorded my twenty-minute presentation. The fact it was on YouTube didn’t bother me because only a select few had access to it, and the attendees have a vested interest in stuttering, so that was a non-issue. Had this been in late 2019, and not late 2020, I can honestly say I would not have applied to present at the ASAE conference. My insecurities over hearing myself stutter, watching myself stutter, and being on YouTube would’ve easily defeated my desire to present at the conference. Because of all I experienced in the past year, none of that mattered. In fact, I shared a screenshot of my presentation on social media profiles.

These experiences made me feel ready to tackle my ultimate goal: a Facebook Live video. My original plan was to do one for National Stuttering Awareness Week in May. But as what usually happens, life had other plans. 

In late January, I received a Facebook message from Uri Schneider of Schneider Stuttering and the host of the Transcending Stuttering podcast. I instantly accepted and then realized what I got myself into: I would do a Facebook Live video. Not the short 5-minute video I planned on, but an hour-long video. Unlike most podcasts, Transcending Stuttering is live streamed on Facebook first and then released as a podcast and posted publicly to YouTube. I was excited and a bit nervous about this. My excitement was caused by a podcast on my podcast bucket list that reached out to me, and not me to them. I was nervous because this was being live streamed. There was no microphone or unlisted YouTube link to hide behind. Everyone with internet access could see and hear my most authentic self in real-time or watch the recording.  And I was, and am, ok with that. That’s something James, at the beginning of 2020, would not be able to say.

The past thirteen months have been rough, to put it nicely. Yet, I was able to accomplish a goal I thought would take me years to complete. Now, I’m comfortable with watching and hearing myself stutter. If anything, that nugget is one of the good things to come out of all of this. I think it’s important to focus on and find the good in all things. Also, being comfortable with hearing myself stutter once again allows me to be the person I needed when I was younger. At 26, I was not comfortable with this aspect of stuttering and held back from participating in online events and meetings because of it. At 28, it’s no big deal to me and doesn’t hold me back from participating in online events and meetings.

Posted April 16, 2021