There’s an expression, “the elephant in the room,” that alludes to the thing everybody knows, but nobody is willing to talk about. “The elephant in the room” can be mighty awkward for all involved. After all, what could be more odd than sitting in a room with a group of family members or close friends, while there’s a metaphorical, 7 ton, angry elephant stomping around, roaring and taking elephant sized poops?
AND nobody’s talking about it.
I’m thinking about this because there have been plenty of elephants in the room of my life that I haven’t liked talking about with myself or anyone else.
As I think about this, the elephant that immediately comes to mind is the sound of my voice. For most of my life, I didn’t want to acknowledge my speech impediment, I’d rather pretend I didn’t have a speech impediment.
Have you ever wanted to pretend that some part of you just didn’t exist?
The greatest pain of having a speech impediment is not being understood. I constantly have to think up other words or gestures on the fly that can be substituted if the person I’m talking to is having difficulty understanding me.
This particular elephant began ransacking my room because:
1. I thought it SHOULDN’T BE A PART OF MY LIFE.
2. I hated that it MADE ME DIFFERENT FROM OTHER PEOPLE.
3. I was frustrated THAT I HAD TO WORK HARDER to be understood than most.
4. I felt it was SO DEEPLY UNFAIR.
5. I was burdened with GUILT, SHAME, AND MISERY about it.
I invite you to reread my list but instead of me, think about if any of the items describe the way you feel about anything in your life.
Once you do that, here are a few more questions to contemplate:
Are there any elephants currently in the room of your life?
If so, are they only slightly messing things up a little bit?
OR are they stampeding and creating elephant-sized chaos?
Over the last decade, I’ve given voice to the elephant in my room as I’ve spoken to audiences in many forms and many parts of the country. I’m can now make lighthearted jokes about my speech impediment:
“Hi, I’m Jason Freeman.
I’m originally from Sioux Falls, South Dakota
but what you’re hearing is not a Midwestern accent.
It’s what’s called a speech impediment….”
Or this zinger:
“When I was born my umbilical cord
became kinked like a garden hose
which makes it hard for me to say the word, ‘umbilical,’ once-
let alone three times fast.”
Granted these jokes aren’t the height of comedy genius, but once I began routinely cracking jokes about the elephant my room, it began to seem so much less significant to me.
As I began talking to other people about the insecurities surrounding my voice, one of my greatest surprises was that NO ONE else thought my speech impediment was the big deal that I made it out to be. Said another way, where I heard my voice and felt a raging, hysterically-mad elephant about to trample me, other people listened to my voice and simply heard a nice person whom they liked.
The way I healed my insecurities with my speech impediment was, ironically, by talking about my insecurities with my speech impediment, on stage, in front of the same type of people I once tried so very hard to hide them from.
We can be so deeply and painfully critical of ourselves.
What I’ve learned from my experience of profoundly misunderstanding what my speech impediment meant for so many years is that-
A circumstance you find unwanted
doesn’t have the power
to disable you.
Only your response
to the circumstance
can truly disable you.
Saying this, it can be one heck a vicious learning curve figuring out how to relate to the elephants in our lives in such a way that they are of service to us, instead of wrecking havoc on us and stinking up the joint.
I wish you much patience and perseverance as you make friends with the elephants in your room.
JASON FREEMAN is a Professional Speaker and the proud owner of a Speech Impediment. He is also the author of “Awkwardly Awesome: Embracing My Imperfect Best” and a Perseverance Coach.
He excites and encourages his audience to break through the barriers of their own limitations using a method he created, called “doing your Imperfect Best ™”.
His Imperfect TEDx Talk can be viewed here.