I invite you all to entertain the following scenario: You know exactly what you have to say, your listener is waiting patiently to hear you speak, but you simply cannot … Get. The. Words. Out.

As someone with a severe stutter, this is what I face every waking moment of every day. It is a battle I take pride in. It is an obstacle that has taught me things about myself I would otherwise never have discovered. Much of what I have to share with the world would be unknown to me if I had been born a smooth and fluid speaker.

There are three distinct traits that stuttering has taught me, traits that I feel would add value to anyone’s life, stutterer or not. Let me share them with you, along with a couple of lessons gleaned from the Torah’s description of holy figures who portray some of these characteristics.

Lesson 1: Listening

Stuttering has given me the great ability to listen to the person with whom I am conversing. I know exactly how it feels to be speaking to someone who is looking directly at me, their attention aimed at me, and yet they are not listening; their minds are somewhere else. People get distracted by my speech, or lack of it. Whether they are too disturbed by my stutter or by anticipating the word that won’t come out (“helping me” by saying it), they’re not fully present to me and what I have to say. Interruptions and loss of eye contact ensue. The conversation has been disrupted.

In order to be a good listener, one has to listen unequivocally.

Here are some pointers:

  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Do not interrupt or try to anticipate the speaker’s coming words, even if you think it will help them.
  • Just be there and be present, listening to the message the speaker is trying to convey. When you listen without distraction, you can really connect to what the speaker is trying to communicate.
  • Respond only once you see that the speaker has finished

There you have it: the gist of being a good listener.

When Moses was pasturing the flock of his father-in-law, Yitro, G‑d appeared to him in a burning bush and called to him, saying, “Moses, Moses!” Moses replied, “Here I am.” G‑d then said, “Do not draw near here. Take your shoes off your feet, because the place upon which you stand is holy soil.”

One famous commentator explains that G‑d was telling Moses to remove all preconceived notions, all inner hindrances to the Divine light that was present. Moses had to remove his own sense of self, and be fully present for the revelation that G‑d was showing him.

Lesson 2: Resilience

Being hung up on while making a call, being made fun of for speaking in an unfamiliar way, or having a friend speak on my behalf are all par for the course for stutterers. All this has naturally had an effect on me. To be able to withstand these challenges and not let them define you takes great will and energy. To keep at it, to continue engaging with the world, speaking to anyone you want to, stutter or not, builds inner strength that is deep and lasting.

There are situations in life that overwhelm all of us. There are times when we are intimidated and made to doubt our ability to accomplish a goal, big or small. We need to remember that we can do whatever we put our mind to, and that people respect others who overcome their challenges. To be mindful of our hardships, and despite it all to continue on our path, is what will lead to great things.

Lesson 3: Bring out the best in others

Stuttering has made me someone unique. When I converse with someone, the listener is given the opportunity to pay closer attention to me and my message, and to have the patience to allow me to get the words out. When asked their name, not many people take 30 seconds to get out that one seemingly simple word. When you meet me and hear my name (after a struggle), you’ll remember the name Shalom Goodman, because you don’t want to ask it again and be on the receiving end of another uncomfortable 30 seconds of silence while I try to get my name out. Secondly, and more importantly, one doesn’t forget an experience like that.

I work at not leading with my speech challenge. Regardless, it makes me memorable. But I hope it is the way I approach my challenge that is the most memorable.

I am inspired by Joseph. He had a life full of hardship, from having his brothers sell him as a slave, to being wrongfully accused and incarcerated in Egypt. And through it all, he kept his uniqueness, shared his talents and uplifted those around him. I believe that the fact that he was able to rise to become the viceroy of Egypt was precisely because he was able to learn from his hardships and use them to his advantage. They gave him the gift of resilience, the fortitude to keep his faith and overcome any obstacle that came his way.

All of us have qualities that are distinct. And when you find those, when you’re able to convey your inner unique self, sharing things that may be raw or beyond the surface, you and that experience become memorable to others, and you can forge deep and meaningful relationships.

Each of us has our struggles, our stutters in life, those things that we think impede our ability to reach greater heights. The goal is to remember that strength and beauty are in the struggle, in overcoming hardships and in being open to people about your struggle.

When I meet someone, I try telling them, “I’ve got a stutter, would you mind if I use a technique to help myself speak more smoothly.” And with those few words, I show them that I have something I’m working on, and that they can help me work on it too. Try that for yourself. Put the challenge up front so that you can put it aside from the start. Be like Moses, leaving the preconceived notions at the door, and be resilient like Joseph, continuing to pull through.

I hope this story of my struggle and the strength it has given me can add value to your life as well. We are in this journey of life together. With resilience, kindness and an honest ear, we can add light to our lives and the lives of those around us every day.