I grew up with a humiliating stutter. I was asthmatic and puny. I saw myself as pretty worthless. I had a friend, a psychologist, who used to say that everyone has their “core of rot.” We all have some aspect of ourselves that we consider worthless and unworthy. Thank God I believed I was smart. It balanced my “core of rot,” or I may never have survived the anguish of being so socially inept.
But you know the old saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I remember the day in high school I decided that fears be damned, I was going to ask Brenda to go to a movie with me. This was a conscious and very intentional decision. Anyway, I studied all the movies that were out and picked the one I thought she would be most likely to want to see. Surprisingly, it worked! She said okay! Of course, it was the movie I had selected, not any interest in me, that got her to agree. Years later, I ran into her, and we talked about that evening. She said she couldn’t believe how shy I was and how I ran out of her house when she tried to kiss me. My core of rot could not accept that she was at all interested in me. Sad.
As flawed as my reasoning was, in my mind, that evening was an unqualified success. There was no way that my core rot could conceive that she was really interested in me. Still, I had taken a first successful step into going for something big. (Brenda was one of the cutest girls around!)
The message here is focus on what you want, not whatever impediments you think might be your way. I wanted a date with Brenda. I wanted to be a successful organization psychologist despite being a black man who stuttered.
Eventually, I even got straight about my stuttering. I was working with a small group and started to stutter screw up my face to get my words out when I blurted out instead, “God I hate that I stutter.” Someone in the group said, but that’s one of the things we admire about you. You don’t let it get in your way. Someone said I didn’t even think of you as stuttering. I thought you just stumbled over a word now and then, like everyone does. Amazing! Seems like I’m the only one who thought my stuttering was so terrible. My core of rot, my sense of worthlessness, was/is a fiction that was never true.
Focus on Where You Want to Go, Not Where You’ve Been
We all have negative judgments about ourselves about which we beat ourselves up and are ashamed, believing that others are judging us as we are judging ourselves. Focus and move toward the goals you have set for yourself. Your confidence has nothing to do with the ability to get to where you want to go. Here’s another example of that.
A student once asked me what it was like as a black man doing the work I do in white organizations. It thought about it, then responded, “I focus on doing the best I can do, not on whatever racism might be lurking around.” Racism is something that only white folks can do something about. Black folks like myself just need to stay focused on our own empowerment so that I can take full advantage of whatever opportunity the present is offering me. No need to distract myself with other people’s biases!