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Weathering the Storm

By on October 14, 2014

Everybody has story to tell – a story that venerates the significant, yet meaningful, moments of their lives which cultivate the ideals comprising the very essence of their moral fibers. I’m going to begin this piece by briefly recounting my story…not out of a sense of narcissism or conceitedness, but rather as a means to a noble end. If I haven’t already scared you off, then keep reading…I promise it’ll be worth your while.

I’ve had a very interesting childhood. I grew up in a typical Iranian-Jewish family consisting of 23 first-cousins, 5 uncles, 4 aunts, parents who were (and who still are) in a loving marriage, two goldfish named Tom and Jerry, and a younger sister who – for better or for worse – always considered me to be an ideal role model. However, my childhood was somewhat atypical: I was by no means a quiet kid…and, as a teenager, my occasional rowdiness continually gave rise to a myriad of after-school detentions and referrals to the principal’s office.

Despite my boisterousness, I always excelled in my schoolwork while also managing to make plenty of close friends. I earned straight ‘A’s in school; I was a starting forward on my middle-school basketball team; and I received flattering notes and prank calls from the occasional “secret admirer”. All of this essentially translated to a rather-seamless childhood, right?

Wrong. All throughout my early-youth, and well into my adolescence, I grew up with the worst possible speech disorder imaginable: I was a stutterer. The stutter wasn’t just something that reared its ugly head whenever I became “nervous” or “anxious”. Rather the overt signs of my speech impediment were as unremitting as monsoon rains of South Asia: they were characterized by nothing less than perpetual cycles of tense pauses and blocked speech. Needless to say, my stutter had a significant impact on my self-confidence for a variety of reasons – not the least of which was the fact that a widespread ignorance of my ordeal ultimately fed into peoples’ derisions and misconceptions of me. As such, I was always disinclined to participate in class discussions, or to otherwise approach my teachers with any pressing questions that I may have had.

The twist in my story is that I am now a practicing attorney who can’t keep from talking: I argue fact-intensive cases in open court, I negotiate complex settlement agreements and, if need be, I present my arguments before a panel of twelve jurors (and anybody else who happens to be sitting in the courtroom gallery). If, twenty years ago, I had been asked whether I would be an attorney who speaks publicly for a living, my answer would have been a resounding “NO.”

So…what ultimately led to my “transformation?” How did I end up talking for a living when, as a young man, I couldn’t even construct a coherent sentence? One word suffices for my answer: willpower.

What do Moses, Winston Churchill, King George VI, Nicole Kidman, and James Earl Jones have in common? They were all stutterers who prevailed over their hardships through an unparalleled determination and a strength of mind. The irony is that all of these figures were also involved in pursuits which required them to speak publicly.

Moses had initially resisted G-d’s commandment to approach Pharaoh: “Oh Lord, I am not a man of words, neither heretofore, nor since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant; for I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” Yet, he almost single-handedly unchained the Israelites from Egypt’s venomous control. Three-thousand years later, King George VI and Winston Churchill orated among the most awe-inspiring speeches at a time when the British suffered heavy losses at the hands of their German counterparts. On the entertainment front: James Earl Jones has either won, or has been nominated for, a total of eight primetime Emmy Awards, five Golden Globe awards, and two Oscars. Nicole Kidman, for her part, has won so many awards that there is an entire Wikipedia entry devoted exclusively to her list accolades.

Their stories aren’t simply quirks of fate: they had steep mountains climb; and while, on occasion, they subjectively felt as if they would lose their grips and thereby plummet into the depths of the violent river below them…they nonetheless hung on, pulled forward, and never allowed their personal tribulations to obstruct their paths toward definitive success.

Now, I happen to believe that movies are an indispensable means of gaining constructive insight into the human experience. By situating yourself into the shoes of the protagonists and antagonists of a well-crafted film, you can acquire a true sense of the human dispositions to which you would not otherwise be exposed. That said, the premise of this entire piece can be summed up by many inspirational films such as Rudy, A Knight’s Tale, Gladiator and The Karate Kid. However, one film in particular – GI Jane – does an exceptional job in conveying the morals of this piece.

GI Jane is a 1997 film that recounts the fictional story of a woman who experiences the rigors of U.S. Navy Seal Training. Jordan O’Neil, the main character of the film, sought to defy all odds in enduring the physical strains and the mental demands of Seal training. She was the only woman in a class of one-hundred male recruits who sought to successfully negotiate “the most intensive military training known to man.” Hence, she was not only required debunk the stereotypes of “physical weakness” commonly associated with women, but she also had to overcome the chauvinism that personified the temperaments of her male classmates. Her unsurpassed fortitude ultimately laid the groundwork for her successful induction into the U.S. Navy’s fictional Combined Reconnaissance Team. The message of the film is clear: when you surrender to your own shortcomings and to external pressures, you’ve cheated yourself out of the potentiality for greatness; but if you weather the storm, the possibilities for success are virtually limitless.

Confidence isn’t something that just magically sprouts into existence; it’s something that’s gradually developed after you learn how to face your fears and to cope with your hardships. Impoverished people have become wealthy CEOs; overweight people have become world-class athletes; stutters have become famous celebrities and politicians. All of them have one common characteristic: they’ve developed their confidence by standing firm in the face of adversity, and by always swinging their bats at all of the strange curveballs that life throws their way. Every person reading this article knows personal agony and misfortune; but what really attests to a person’s character is how they cope with their struggles. You can either hopelessly accept it without a challenge… or you can defy the odds, and prove to yourself that you can, indeed, climb that unclimbable mountain. The option is yours; but choose wisely…because regardless of what you decide, your children will almost certainly learn of your judgments with their own eyes, listen to your beliefs with their own ears, and grow up following your examples.


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