Imagine not having a voice for most of your life out of fear of what others might think. That’s exactly what Rob Wilson has experienced until one day, in his early 20s, he chose to embrace his uniqueness.
Spoiler alert: he’s now a successful leader of a team of 21 engineers at Calendly! This is his story.
How old were you when you noticed your speech being difficult?
I’ve stuttered as long as I can remember. I went through speech therapy my whole life and went to a three week speech camp when I was 14 that really helped me learn how to manage and control my breathing.
Breath is incredibly important when it comes to stuttering. It can be very exhausting and painful, so learning how to breathe properly helps me manage my speech. As a kid I was very shy — I never spoke in class. I hated public speaking and all throughout high school, I’d ask teachers if I could give my presentations after class. I got picked on a lot as a kid and got into a lot of fights.
My lack of confidence and avoidance of speaking lasted well into my third year of college. One day I finally was like, “I’m so sick and tired of not having a voice. I’m tired of being angry and afraid and it isn’t doing me any favors.”
Once I did that, my life changed. I had a voice after almost 22 years of not having one. Now I'm super social, love meeting new people and making them laugh. My wife says I’ve never met a stranger and it’s true!
How was making the transition from school to the professional world for you?
I’ve been working for 25 years now. But when I started interviewing for jobs, there was a lot of fear on my part, and also a lot of discrimination. I would get turned down for jobs and they would be very transparent and say it was because of my stutter.
I took a significant gap — about 4 years — from college and I realized I was a fast typist, so I started looking for a job in data entry. When I interviewed, I ranked the highest out of all candidates, but I got turned down. The hiring manager point blank said to me “It's because your stutter is really bad.”
There was a second manager who was hiring for her team who pushed back and said, “He is the most skilled candidate, so what does his stutter matter?” She ended up hiring me into the company. That manager still holds a place in my heart to this day.
That job is what got me into coding. I went back to college and got two degrees in Computer Science and Statistics from the University of Georgia (UGA).
How did you end up at Calendly?
A strong, inclusive culture is super important to me. I came to Calendly from a job where I worked as a software engineer. I had a lot of respect for that company, but something was missing for me personally.
The first thing that hooked me into Calendly’s culture was one of our core values, Start With Human, which basically means we treat others with genuine respect. When our CTO, Roy, got hired, I loved his philosophy and his values and thought to myself, “This is someone that I want to build a team with.” I now have a team of 21 engineers and managers who report to me at Calendly.
What do you think helped make you successful?
What’s made me successful here is focusing on what value I can bring to Calendly, not what Calendly can do for me.
There are two ways to approach your job and your life. One is “value creation”: what value can I add to my teammates, the business, and our users? The other is “value extraction”: what can I get out of the company, what recognition and praise, titles, promotions, etc. can they give me?
The moment you stop chasing value extraction and say, “I’m going to enjoy the journey and I’m going to be the best at my role,” is the moment you find joy and success in what you do. I’ve been really fortunate to be able to focus on that here.
What advice would you give to someone who struggles with a stutter, accent, or some other disability?
The biggest piece of advice is to let go of that fear of what someone else thinks about your disability. To stop worrying, “Are they judging me because I’m different?"
People may or may not be treating you differently, but don’t let that run your life. That narrative will take over your mind, whether it's true or not. You are going to invest emotional cycles on those intrusive thoughts. Ultimately, it’s going to take away from you being your true self.
I didn’t have a voice for so many years. I always assumed people were judging me, whether they were or not. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy and I led a lonely life. Then I flipped a switch in my thinking. I decided I was no longer going to be bound by what other people might think of my disability. And my life changed. People got used to my disability. Speaking up, speaking out and not caring how others are going to respond to my stutter has made people realize that I’m not so different from them after all.