Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Good evening everyone,

I have to begin this entry of the blog by saying that I believe. I believe in my teammates at the National Stuttering Association more than anything else. I believe that the world, despite everything that goes on it, is still a welcoming place where all opinions are accepted and values for what they are. I don't care if anyone thinks I am naive when I say that, and I hope when you read this you'll understand why. Most importantly of all, I believe we all have the power to make a difference, and we all have the two most important qualities needed to do so: "Passion" and "Drive."

These two qualities, which are not in short supply anymore, were evident at a special event that I was truly honored to be a part of. Last night, my NSA co-chapter leader was honored as a member of the Long Island community making a difference. For those of you who are unaware, the Long Island Press (http://www.longislandpress.com) is a major media outlet in the world of alternative publications. Every week, the "Fortune 52" column (named after the associate publisher of the newspaper) profiles a woman who is truly creating a significant contribution to our region. I, along with several others, nominated Lori to be profiled. I was delighted to receive a call from the associate publisher, who met with her and was blown away by her accomplishments. There were so many honorees, from a woman who is the head of an organization for head injuries, to a pastor of a church that works to help youth in her community become more involved with appreciation for the arts. The event was held at the Tilles Center, on the campus of Long Island University, my alma mater.

My co-chapter leader was the first one recognized, and she was very humble when she was interviewed. Like many NSA teammates, she has faced many professional challenges. An original accountant, she struggled with her speech and eventually decided to pursue her Master's degree as an SLP practitioner. One school actually told her she'd never make it because of her speech. Not only does she have her own practice, and she's running (along with another of my teammates) the TWST (Teens Who Stutter) chapter, she lectures at schools. But that's just only a measure of the true impact she has.

I never felt in my life that I wanted to volunteer for anything...after all, I used to subscribe to the theory that "You just can't fight City Hall." But it was my co-chapter leader, along two other teammates, who challenged me to be a chapter leader. They saw the fire and desire in my eyes. It's because of them that I went from just "speaking" to "speaking with passion." There IS a difference between communicating and speaking. But now I know that we all have the power to make a difference. I firmly believe that I've been given a special gift, to help my teammates who stutter in any way possible. I absolutely love my meetings the third Thursday of the month when we all come together.

The biggest thrill, though, was yet to come. Two women approached Lori, one of which had a 14-year old son who stutters. She began to get so emotional talking about it, and just to sit back and watch her speak to the mother was truly inspirational. I was there merely as a supporter, for this was her night to shine. I always end my blog with "Stand up and be counted, make your voice heard." I guarantee you, her voice was heard loud and clear that night, and she received a tremendous amount of congratulatory accolades.

Before I left, though, I had the pleasure to chat with the publisher of The Long Island Press, who is very civically active and has had active interests not just in radio, but print media and making the Island a better place to live. I was discussing with him how I got started in journalism, and how I grew disillusioned that everything now is about money when it comes to media, and how writing used to be about calling out others for their wrongdoings. I doubt I will ever go back to journalism again, but to be honest, maybe my writing skills haven't faded. Especially with this blog, I never run out of things to say. And if you're an NSA teammate, you will never run out of things to say.

It's nights like these that make me celebrate the greatest power anyone can have: To stand in front of the mirror, or anywhere, and say: "I WILL make a difference today."

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person that stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Do you want an NSA teammate to lose respect for you? Then say these words...

Good evening everyone,

As we turn the page to fall, I must say I love this time of the year. Not because it's the calm before the raw winter nights with crisp air that pierce our senses, not because it's kickoff for the NFL and fall festivals, but because there's something about September that gets me all revved up-the feeling of knowing that there is so much more to accomplish in life and for the cause of stuttering as well.

I wanted to use this edition of my blog to talk about an action that has a dire consequence. One of the very first lessons I learned as a teammate who was getting involved with the NSA was to respect myself-and respecting yourself means others. We've all had situations at jobs where there may be a colleague that we just can't stand, who has annoying habits that drive us up the wall-maybe it's playing the music loud, or taking credit for something we might have contributed to making the workplace productive. I love my teammates, and I also know that are times we can get on each other's nerves. But there's one phrase that will guarantee that an NSA teammate will lose all respect for you, and you'll never get it back. Just say these words, and here they are:

"You threw me under the bus."

This phrase has probably been uttered countless times in the sports locker rooms, but it doesn't have more of an impact than it does today. Being a teammate and a leader in the NSA means accepting that we need to come together for the sake of greater glory. Watch what happens when it's reported that someone complains that another is being paid more, and then it is blown up in the media, because things like that should be kept in-house. Too many times in high school and college I was teased and rather than stand up for myself, I would run to the principal to make the problem go away. The more appropriate thing to do would have been to stand up for myself and approach the person face-to-face and try to work the problem out. Instead, I threw him under the bus. And along with that, I lost my self-respect in the process.

When I think of the phrase "to throw someone under the bus," I think about NHL star forward Dany Heatley. A good scorer, yes, but a very poor teammate. If you don't know his story, Heatley was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers and suffered through a very emotionally trying experience: he was charged with vehicular homicide when he drove too fast and killed his teammate. The family of the teammate who died (Dan Snyder) could have told him to go to hell, and they would have been justified in saying so. But the Thrashers team and community supported him, even saying nothing would be gained by imprisoning him. And how did Heatley respond? He asked to be traded. He moved to the Ottawa Senators, and complained about how he was being treated. The coach found it "hard to accept," and he was again dealt-a reputation follows you everywhere. If you care about yourself and your fellow teammates, don't ever throw one under the bus. My relationships with my NSA teammates mean everything to me. They are a very important part of my life, and need to be cherished. So do your relationships.

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My teammates and I don't know what it means to second-guess!

Good evening everyone,

It's so amazing to me how you can have such an insightful conversation with anyone wherever you are. You could be on line at the local cafe, waiting to buy that new must-have electronic device at the local department store, or just stopping to chat with a passerby walking their dog. Yesterday, I happened to have one of those conversations. Wednesday night is my late night because after work, I have speech therapy at 8 p.m. There's a gap of three hours between the time I leave work, and that's because rather than drive one hour in the opposite direction, I'll go get dinner and spend the rest of my time walking by the marina to get my daily exercise.

Well, I stopped off at a local place called Vinny's Mulberry Street. The food there happens to be great, but it's a place I love because my speech therapist's brother-in-law owns it, and he treats me well. (No, I don't get free food LOL). This was a weeknight and for the most part it was all quiet, just me coming in and the waitresses chatting in the back amongst themselves. The server (her name was "Jessica") came up to greet me and about half an hour later, while I was in the midst enjoying a date with a dish of baked ziti and a side of meatballs, she asked how everything was, and we struck up a conversation. It turns out that she was a recent college graduate, and like many others, was struggling to find work in this economy. She was looking to move to New York City and begin her career in fashion marketing/advertising. She was waiting while she was looking for work, and said she was proud that she was making an honest living. But toward the end, she made a comment about the circumstance she found herself in. She said "I took a year off because of some things I had to take care of. Everyone else I know has jobs. Maybe if I continued my studies, I would have found something by now."

We often second-guess ourselves because that's human nature. In fact, there's a term that someone I know uses to describe that practice: "overanalysis paralysis." We watch "It's A Wonderful Life" and wonder what would have happened if we weren't born. We think about the paths we took....and who we dated and fell in love with, thinking about what may have happened if it was another person. But the truth be told, second-guessing doesn't give us any real comfort. The only thing we can do is move forward and let our future be written by ourselves.

I too have had two major decisions in my life, and one of them I do admit I second-guessed for a long time until I realized that the moment I thought about the past was the moment I start to live in it. Although I am a native Long Islander, I once lived out of state in Maryland in a rural community. It was really unlike anything I'd known, I moved down there to accept a job offer. I distinctly remember driving through Dover, Del., and once you go through there, you cross the Mason-Dixon line, which officially separates the north from the south, and boy, did things change....NASCAR signs, biblical signs, I wondered what did I get myself into. It didn't work out down there, but I learned a great deal about myself-people down there work hard for a living just like you and I do, but it's done in different ways. Maybe they don't wear business attire, but they are up early with farmer's hours. I have great respect for that. I learned that country music does rock. In fact, I do get it when someone thinks a tractor is sexy.

I remember my parents for the longest time second-guessed my trip to Long Beach for the NSA conference that forever changed my life in so many ways. I don't have room in my life for second-guessing, and neither should you. We all make mistakes, we're human. And we do learn from experience. I learned that second-guessing should not be a part of the way you act and what you do.

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person that stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Farewell to the summer of 2009, thank you for showing me how amazing it is to fall in love!

Good evening all my teammates,

The mercury climbed to 80 degrees here on Long Island, with not a cloud to be seen for miles, and golden sunshine splashing faces from Manhattan to the Hamptons and far as the eye can see. For some, there were barbecues to attend, beaches to bike to, or that last margarita which would taste so very sweet and last a whole year until it was time to open the bottle again. Labor Day often brings sadness because it means the summer has come to an end, and we will now return to the transtional stages of life-back to your school, the return to more crisp and raw weather, the snot rockets flying around. I too, like many others, used to feel that way. But this Labor Day, as I say goodbye to the summer of 2009, I also have to say thank you-because for the first time in my life, I am in love. I mean real love...with the National Stuttering Association.

In the course of life, we often search for some things that we know money will never buy. In those cases, it seems like the harder we look, the more elusive it becomes. Yet we often realize that sometimes the one thing we're looking for the most is the one that is right in front of us, and we fail to realize it. This past summer, my time in Arizona has led me to find the sheer joy of love-love of myself, love of the challenges I can face, and love of the most amazing teammates in the world.

One thing that I can say emphatically that I have found is the ability to BE. I was reading an article in The Sporting News called "Kids at Play" and there was a section dedicated to Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and it was discussing the situation of how he handled the responsibility of being the captain of an NHL team at 20. I love being able to relate to hockey because that sport, above many others, demonstrate passion and teamwork because of multiple lines all working as one. Think about this quote: "A leader isn't a position, it's something you become." I tried to analyze it because you can apply it in so many ways. How does one become a leader? Well, you become one by relating to teammates. You continually reach out to your teammates time and again and emphasize the mission that needs to be completed. My mission, like other teammates, is to share the NSA with the world. Of course, some may tune me out, and if they do, I don't care. You will find out about the NSA and I, along with my teammates, will be the one to share it.

When I first attended my inuaugural conference in Long Beach, I never ever could have seen myself growing into a leader. But now, because of my journeys with the NSA, I am in love. I am in love with the workshops that are given. I am in love with seeing teammates undergo the metmorphisis, how they come in so anxious and leave with nothing but the bright confidence that will never go out.

May your summer have shown you what it is like to fall in love, and may the next seasons now and forever give you those feelings to keep your fire lit!!!

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.