Listen to the voice of experience


My friend Ann has a really deep voice. Not a sexy, deep voice like at a 1-900 service. It’s more like Oscar the Grouch with a sore throat, or maybe even like Darth Vader on Prozac. Her voice, the result of a birth complication, is a disability that she must deal with daily, and for the most part has overcome. I know that now, but I didn’t always see things that way.

I knew Ann in grade school where I confess to having had evil thoughts:

  1. Why is she first chair in saxophone and I am last chair in oboe? She has a weird mouth and I don’t. It’s not fair.
  2. Why is she class president and I am not even getting invited to boy-girl parties? How is someone with such an awful voice so much more popular than I am?

In high school, Ann and I were on the track team together and we became close friends. I spent so much time with her that I stopped noticing that her voice was different. It seemed normal to me.

But there were constant reminders: People in restaurants stared when they heard us talking. Often sales people did not understand her question at first because they were so stunned by her voice. Ann never lost patience, never looked uncomfortable. I never knew how she did it.

In the track world, you meet tons of kids from schools all over the state, and when Ann walked by, I heard lots of them say: “What’s wrong with her voice?”

When I asked Ann if she felt uncomfortable about how she sounded, she’d say no. “A deep voice sounds authoritative,” she’d tell me.

Ann flourished in college. She learned to be extra nice to people because they usually would be extra nice back. She became very loyal to friends who stuck by her because so many other acquaintances walked away after hearing her speak. Naturally, she knew she was different, so she concentrated hard in school since good grades would help her overcome prejudices.

After college she went to a top advertising firm. I assume that her voice was not a problem during interviews, or at least that the interviewers believed Ann could overcome her voice impediment enough to impress potential clients.

But then she was assigned to a manager who hated her. He berated her intelligence, made sexually explicit comments in her presence and generally let her know he did not want her around. In truth, his actions amounted to harassment. But harassment is usually thought to occur when a man in power is attracted to a woman with less power. No one would have thought of anyone harassing Darth Vadar girl. Then, too, her harasser was powerful in the company, so Ann didn’t have much leverage.

Ann left the company. And once you leave a high-profile company without recommendations, you can forget going to another company in that industry. So she went back to where she flourished: school. She took programming classes and impressed a classmate so much that he got her a job. His software firm needed someone who knew advertising and someone who knew programming, and the company liked the idea of Ann wearing two hats.

The company went under in the tech meltdown of 2002, but Ann found that by switching gears, she had developed a new specialty in a very narrow niche that she dominates. She would not want me to say that in this column because she didn’t even want me to write the column in the first place. But the bottom line is that things are good for Ann. She weathered many storms and is successful despite her disability. Her tips for others who are struggling with some kind of impediment amount to good advice for any of us:

  1. Convince yourself you are great. Then convincing other people is so much easier.
  2. Don’t blame other people for your failures. Take responsibility for your life and move past people who don’t help you.
  3. Have patience with yourself if you don’t choose the right career on your first try. Trust that you will find a place that is right for you, and keep looking.
  4. Don’t make friends with a writer. They never stop using their friends’ lives as fodder.