Over the weekend, one of my best friends asked how and why I decided to become a speech-language pathologist. I admit, it seemed that very suddenly I had completely changed my career objective. Even my husband said this at first. So, here’s my story. Per the picture, it started a long time ago.
Throughout elementary school I went to speech therapy for my R’s. It was a positive experience, especially since my friend Sally and I were pulled from class together. I have very few memories of the adults who worked with us, but I look back on those hours with Sally fondly.
As my education progressed, the field of speech-language pathology was in the back of my mind. It definitely wasn’t a priority when I was seventeen, completing a career-plan project and choosing a university. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I wanted to figure it out at Pepperdine.
During my blissful first year of college I had the following conversation with an upperclassman. We were in a group overlooking the Pacific Ocean, which at Pepp just means you’re outside.
Optimistic freshman: I heard you’re going to be a speech therapist! That’s amazing! I had speech therapy as a kid. What can I do to become a speech therapist?
Deadpan upperclassman: Transfer out of Pepperdine.
That ended the dialogue quickly. There was no way I’d leave Pepperdine. My freshman year was the happiest I had ever been my entire life. Not that life had been particularly rough before that, but the colors were brighter at Pepperdine (think Pushing Daisies saturation) and I’d made my best friends and I was going to study abroad in London! Leaving was unthinkable so, after peaking out for a fleeting moment, SLP retreated to its home in my subconscious. This was the only time I ever mentioned my interest speech therapy during college.
Four years later I was in Chicago. City Year does a great job of making sure its corps members are prepared (or at least given the opportunity to prepare) for life and leadership after their year of service. Via City Year career fairs, I discovered SLP graduate programs. It was the first time I realized I hadn’t ruined my chances of becoming a speech therapist by staying at Pepp. Even so, I had other professional interests to explore and, more importantly, I was engaged to a law student.
Someone had to pay the bills after we tied the knot and I wanted to get my feet wet in the workforce. So I explored. Here’s my favorite adage – it’s easier to change direction on a bicycle if you’re already moving. Ready for a run-on sentence? I was secretly interested in teaching until I did City Year, which allowed me to get over it and gave me the experience to move to development, which wasn’t for me but it paved the way to tech, where my bosses empowered me to explore SLP. All this time, changing direction, I refined skills that I will certainly use in my SLP career (e.g. organization, time-management, and multi-tasking) and made essential connections along the way. That brings us to the next part of my story.
Last summer, Mark graduated from Berkeley Law and took the CA bar. On the last of the grueling three-day exam, I happened to schedule lunch with a new work contact, Kerry. We’d taken a class about networking so it seemed appropriate to follow up with practicing elevator pitches together (because I’m an overachiever). I listed a handful of asks I had, depending on the situation, but he perked up when I mentioned my experience with and interest in speech-language pathology. “My mom was a speech therapist her whole career,” Kerry replied, “Let’ me tell you a story.” His mother had worked with a young client, starting in preschool, for a number of years and they naturally lost touch as the girl moved on. A decade later Kerry’s mom received a letter from the little girl, now grown and graduating from high school, thanking her and crediting her success to their speech work together.
As the story unfolded I found myself holding back tears. In that moment I realized that I could do this. Since Mark was done with law school and the bar, that very day in fact, I could go to grad school now. I actually could become a speech therapist.
From there, I enthusiastically pursued informational interviews and opportunities to shadow someone. Exactly one year ago, I had my first observation at School of Imagination and Happy Talkers. My bosses allowed me to leave work early (impressively empowering, right?) to sit in on a play-therapy session. The boy was four years old and diagnosed with autism. I spent the entire session giddy with excitement. When Mark picked me up, I actually cried because I was so happy.
“This is what I want to do!” I exclaimed. No qualifiers, no guarantee, just an enthusiastic certainty.
So that’s the beginning. I’ll cover my next steps another day.
Thank you, Kerry, for being in the right place at the right time. Your friendship through this transition, from spark to Amtrak to saying goodbye to Berkeley, has been essential.