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As I boarded the plane to Belgrade I reflected it had been almost 10 years since I had been to Serbia. I sat down into my seat and as I began exchanging pleasantries in Serbian with the woman next to me suddenly my whole began to contract. My breathing went short, eye contact shrunk away, and my thoughts started racing with self-judgement. As my awareness shut down I didn’t even respond to the last thing she said, and at best I offered a smile. Actually, I may have just thought about smiling as it may not have come out of my face. The experience was an instant dive into shame and self-judgement as I felt my body drop into ‘stuttering mode.’ I gave up on any communication and spent the rest of the flight breathing deeply to allow my body to open again. I was born Serbian in former Yugoslavia, and at the age of five my family and I ended up as refugees in Australia due to the war. I became what some would call a third culture kid. Belonging not fully to the culture of my birth, or the one that had adopted me. To my friends I was normal in intimate settings, but any group scenarios or around adults – I was the quiet, shy one. Many children at school assumed I was mute because of how little I spoke. On some deeper level I had decided that dealing with the judgement of stuttering was too much to deal with so I avoided speaking altogether.

The crazy thing about all this is that today, my main career is speaking and communication. In my everyday ‘English identity’ I specialise in public speaking and teaching others how to speak from stage with authenticity. I have done a Tedx talk, written a book on speaking authentically and run an institute teaching other professionals how to speak in an enlivened way and creates connection and influence. Yet 30 years later here I am in my country of birth and my own communication goes into complete shutdown the moment I begin speaking my native tongue. There is a disconnection inside me between who I am in my English and Serbian identities. The English one is a confident speaker, and the Serbian part young and craving for a tender feeling of ‘okay-ness’. Since writing about this publicly on social media a number of people contacted me expressing gratitude at the openness of my writing as it was very similar to their own experience of growing up abroad in this way. A number of them were ex-Yu, but others still were as far different as Isreali yet we shared this bond of displacement through the disconnection from our mother-lounge. There is something fascinating here, the way our personalities are formed based on how deeply we can rest into the language we speak. Being in the industry of training speakers gives me a unique vantage point. The last couple of years I have probably trained over 200 speakers so I see a lot of different patterns, problems, and places people get stuck. It is not uncommon for me to hear people say “I would love to work with you but I hardly do any public speaking.” Here is what most of us miss. All speaking is public. Your life today is a result of the things that you have had the courage to say and the things you have avoided saying. Every opportunity you have experienced or created is a result of what you have communicated and to whom. Speaking is the doorway to life. The fulfilment of all of your wishes and desires over this lifetime is also hidden in words that have not yet been expressed. I do not mean this in some esoteric way. The words we speak and live in quite literally create our reality. Marketers and salespeople know this well. That’s a topic for another day though – where I want to go with the words still remaining on this page is this:

The most beautiful words that can ever be spoken are those that are being expressed for the first time. You see throughout our day-to-day lives we tend to speak about the same things on repeat – we recycle stories, problems, the news etc. It is magical when we choose to break this pattern and express the unexpressed. The silent parts that have remained silent due to fear of judgement. These words when expressed make time stand still. This could be the first I love you, asking someone on a date, a marriage proposal. Or one of mine was the first time I told my mother thank you for giving birth to me.

It is about expressing something we have never said before. These words create life. Create possibility,

It does not have to be just positive happy things. First expressions could also be drawing a boundary – saying no, how you will no longer be treated, and what you do desire. It is not about the content of the words, What matters is how they make you feel. Their expression usually holds an air of vulnerability. They are moving through you for the first time. When you speak these words they become a blessing upon life. They create the possibility for more life. Perhaps that is why we are afraid of them and avoid them so much. Maybe we are afraid of these different possibilities they will create in our life. It is like a train leaving its tracks. But that train is your life leaving its safe habits to pursue what it truly desires. Can we have the courage to live life more in alignment with our deepest desires? What if our deepest desires are our souls calling for life itself? And that yearning, that expression will burn away the identities we hold so dear. For me, as I navigate my speaking Serbian I see that certain parts of my Serbian personality have been more suppressed than others. I find it is mostly in conflict and sexuality that there is greater fear and tenderness to express myself authentically. As I continue to lean into them, to speak them – magic opens up and the pressures of stuttering continue to soften.

Like the harshness of a drought that has held a landscape captive for eons, finally withdrawing to welcome the rain. To welcome life.


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