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When You Can't Answer "Tell Me about Yourself"

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

I chomped at the bit to go out and find a job. It wasn't any job that would do, though. I had a stroke on March 30, 2014, that disrupted a few systems in my body. I spent more than a year learning how to walk normally. Now ready to work, I wanted to get a job that made a difference in the world . . . and mattered to me as a person.

Walking Normally

Well, I didn't really walk normally, although a regular person striding toward me wouldn't know that I had anything wrong. I had worked really hard in physical therapy (and my own) to straighten up and walk without my right foot pointing out to the side. Inside, my right-hand side still didn't work properly from the top of my head to my toes. My right foot constantly cramped. The muscles didn't work in harmony yet. I was still in pain.

To Talk or Not to Talk

More importantly, though, I had aphasia.

"Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that impairs a person’s ability to process language but does not affect intelligence." National Aphasia Association

I could speak some and I thought I would make it through the interview. I REALLY wanted this marketing job. It was for a non-profit that helped people with hearing problems. Since the stroke, I also had tinnitus in my left ear. So I had marketing experience and I understood what it was like to have a hearing problem . . . what could go wrong?

My speech could go wrong.

When the phone rang the day of my interview, I picked it up and introduced myself. The interviewer introduced herself as well. She asked the first question. "So, tell me about yourself." Easy, right? I opened my mouth to answer and said . . . nothing. I tried again. Nothing. The interviewer said, "Take your time." I tried again. Nothing. The interview was over before it even began.

I was devastated.

I could think about what I wanted to say, but could not say it. The more I tried to say it, the harder it became. The interviewer had no idea that I knew anything about marketing because I couldn't say anything.

I decided to go to where they teach people how to look for a job. It wasn't long before I understood that I was in the wrong place. They did a great job preparing people on how the get the right job, but not how to speak. I needed to look somewhere else.

Northern Virginia Business Referral Roundtable

I found the Northern Virginia Business Referral Roundtable (NVBRR) on Although scared, I went to their meeting anyway. A found a group of like-minded business people who changed my world. They were like family to me.

Unfortunately, they couldn't change the way I spoke. Sometimes I said things and it went ok. Sometimes I couldn't say much of anything. I had to admit it. My speaking wasn't getting much better. Every time I went to the NVBRR and didn't speak well, I shut down. A piece of me died. Week, after week, after week my ego shriveled up. Would I ever be able to find a job when I couldn't speak?

The answer is no. I had to find a different way out of the aphasia box.

My next blog talks about my next steps to address aphasia. Or, if you can't wait, Stroke Forward tells the whole story from my perspective and my caregivers' points of view.

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