We recently met up with Juan Lopez, an MBA student (and soon to be graduate!) at the University of Nevada, Reno after hearing his TEDxUniversityofNevada talk on stuttering. Check out Juan’s interview below and visit his website to learn more about him.
National Stuttering Association: Tell us a little about yourself. Where do you live, and what do you do?
Juan: I live in Reno, NV. I’m a MBA student at the University of Nevada, Reno. I’ll be finishing my degree in a week. I do online marketing now as an entrepreneur helping small businesses with online sales, social media, and online development. I do that on my own, and I also do empowerment speaking. Last week, I did a speech in front of about 400 University of Nevada, Reno students who are finishing a degree soon. I spoke with them about the message I share about self-empowerment and understanding and embracing yourself. I do that often, speaking with high schoolers in the area, organizations, and businesses on self- empowerment and self-development.
I got started with that a year ago, and it was through a TEDx talk at the University of Nevada. I picked a similar sort of idea in that I used to really kind of limit my future and my mindset and my beliefs simply because of the way I spoke. I thought other people might have a similar way in how they view themselves – like a “smaller than” sort of perspective. In reality, it’s a part of who we are.
NSA: What is your experience with stuttering?
Juan: I’ve stuttered for as long as I’m able to remember. It was a lot more heightened in the past. So when I was a youth, it was hard because when you are different, people pick on you. I used to get ridiculed a lot for how I spoke. I didn’t know how to handle that as a kid, so I just handled it by not opening my mouth. If I was in class, I would literally hold my hand down even if I had the answer to a question simply because I didn’t want to talk. It was a hard time in my life because of not only the social pressure from my peers, but also in 2nd grade, I was also put into English Language Learner classes. English has always been my first language, so I didn’t have a problem with it – they just kind of categorized me here because I stuttered, and they didn’t understand what it was.
I went through a lot of speech therapy, and it was really difficult. I learned some small ways to help, but I would always revert to my old habits, and I felt horrible because I thought I had a problem. I did hours of speech therapy, but the harder I worked the more I failed. It was really hard, I’ll be honest. I hated to speak. I hated opening my mouth at all and who I was in a sense. I’m not sure how I got through all of that, but it was super overwhelming. I felt like such an outsider, and it was really, really, really hard. I only overcame this mentally maybe two years ago, so it hasn’t even been that long. I’m 26 years old right now, and I was only truly able to overcome all that stuff a few years ago.
NSA: How has stuttering affected your decision to start your own business?
Juan: As a youth, since I never wanted to talk, I really honed into my ability to write. I really loved my ability to write because I could say exactly what I thought. When I speak, I manipulate words for what’s easiest to say, but with writing, I can say exactly what I wanted. When I started college, I moved away from home about 500 miles from my home in Las Vegas and applied to a journalism program. I just kind of enrolled on a whim, and it all worked out because could focus in on how I wrote, which helped me really become an effective communicator. The journalism program helped me figure out how to engage somebody in a really good conversation. I used to write articles and blogs and receive awards for how I wrote.
I used all that stuff that I learned, and I moved into the marketing field after I received my bachelor’s degree. I had a marketing job for two years, and about a year ago, I quit my job and went off on my own as an independent contractor for a bunch of small businesses. I feel that honestly with the way I speak, I feel like I have to be on my game every single day – whether I’m meeting with a client, or doing a presentation, or talking on the phone. I don’t hold it against anyone, but I know that I need to be prepared for every single moment that I get. I think it’s a good thing because I have to be on all the time; because of how I speak, I need to be even more prepared. I feel like it has helped me in a very indirect way so I can maximize the opportunities that I have, and honestly it’s shaped the drive I’ve had my whole life to succeed above it.
NSA: What advice could you give to others who stutter?
Juan: I spent so much of my energy looking into how to fix who I was. I felt like I had a problem with me and the way I spoke. But at the end of the day, I have this still. I still speak the same as when I was younger, I just have a very different way of how I think. I would stress that you may or may not be able to fix your mouth, but you’re absolutely able to fix your mind. If you have a good perspective of who you are and you really embrace yourself, it will set you off into a whole new life.
You have to accept who you are. It’s a very philosophical sort of a way of thinking, but it’s a foundation for everything else you do. Even if you hide your stuttering for awhile, at a certain point, it hits at the forefront of everything you’re doing. If you haven’t fully accepted it yet, it will break you down. But if you are in a position where you’ve accepted that this is what makes you unique, all it will be is a small setback, not a failure or a massive ordeal. It’s easier to adjust to things when you accept that you are who you are. It may improve, it may not, but you can actively make a decision to shift your perspective right now.