"There's always going to be another mountain, I'm always gonna want to make it move, always gonna be an uphill battle, sometimes I'm going to have to lose, it ain't about how fast you get there, it ain't about what it's waiting on the other side, it's the climb."
The above lyrics I just quoted are from the song "The Climb" by Miley Cyrus. There are probably some people who are going to disown me for listening to that, let alone quoting it in my blog. But I have always believed that we can define ourselves by a quote from a line featured in a song or movie. It doesn't matter whether it was profiled in your high school yearbook or if it's printed on a piece of paper that hangs over your desk somewhere. But the last few days, that song has been reverberating in my head for good reason-and this is the story of how it came to be.
In February, I had a very big interview, quite possibly the biggest one of my life. Although I am not out of work, I am currently looking for a full-time professional position. The past few years I have been working behind the counter at a franchise cafe which makes sandwiches, salads, and smoothies. I do not think this job is "beneath me" at all, in fact, I know that in this economy, I am very thankful to have a job and I enjoy working hard and contributing to the sales of our store. I was invited to interview with NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) at their headquarters in Houston. As I was intensely reviewing my notes on the plane, I was also focusing on how my stuttering was going to be. The challenges of being a person who stutters, and I have mentioned this often, is not knowing whether you'll have a good speech day or a bad one. Regardless, I took some solace in knowing that they already knew I stuttered. Now it was just up to me to make a good impression.
One of the things I take the most pride in on my interviews is showcasing my work with the National Stuttering Association. Yes, I am a chapter leader, but even more so than that, I like to think of myself as an ADVOCATE. I love to write and when I was at NASA, I did mention the story of the NSA Nation as well as showcasing my writing background. I met with five different people during the course of my day, and at the end of the day when I left to go back to the hotel, I had that feeling. You know the feeling very well: it's the same one you get when you ace a test, or an interview. You just know when you know. For the first time in a long while, I could visually see the so-called pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I distinctly remember that day it was raw, windy, and in the fifties, yet to me, it might have been a sun-kissed sky over the Great Wide Open.
Every day I kept checking my email, and the caller ID on my phone, anticipating the crowning moment. This was it, I told myself. My life would be officially starting now. Then, last week, I got an email and turned deathly silent. I begin to skim and didn't have to finish the email to see the message. "Everyone enjoyed meeting you, but we aren't able to define where your skills might fit in......." and the mirror shattered. I just stared at the computer screen. Ten minutes later, I went into my room and cried. I let my emotional dam burst everywhere. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and make no apologies for it. I'm human. I'm not The Terminator. I knew what my parents would say, and my relationship with them is estranged at best: "It just wasn't meant to be."
The day after that interview, I went out for a drive...just to be anywhere. As I was headed toward the beach, I heard "The Climb" come on the radio and slowed down, just to take in all the thoughts echoed. I began to reflect on what I had learned, what I had achieved. I had come so close, and I wondered if I'd ever get there again. But I WILL. Most importantly, I had shown that despite not achieving the ultimate goal, I proved that I rose to the occasion then, and can be counted on to do so again. I also provided hope and inspiration to my fellow members (and future ones) for the National Stuttering Association that we are very capable and will make good employees for organizations that want to hire us. We may stutter, but we have no problem communicating. There are many members who are in career transition who feel the pain every time they are turned down for a position because of something they can't control.
Yet every victory is celebrated immensely, because we all live through each other. When a member of the NSA became an attorney, and aims to go into lobbying, we all erupt in joy. When another member is honored for her work as an educator, we cheer loudly. Just maybe, I got several victories after all.
"These are the moments I'm gonna remember most, I just have to keep reaching."
I'm never going to stop climbing.....and neither should you.
My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.