Obstacle leap: Don't let a defect derail you

Here's a tale to show that no obstacle is too high when it comes to career success. It's about my friend Ann, who has a really deep voice. It isn't a sexy deep voice; it sounds more like Oscar the Grouch with a sore throat or Darth Vader on Prozac.

Her voice, which is a result of a birth complication, is a disability that she must deal with daily and, for the most part, has overcome.

I knew Ann in grade school where I confess to having had an evil thought: Why is she class president, and I’m not even getting invited to boy-girl parties? How can someone with such an awful voice be so much more popular than I am?

Ann and I ended up on the high-school track team, 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: Restaurant customers stared when they heard us talking. Often, salespeople did not hear what she wanted because they were so stunned by the sound of her voice. Ann never lost patience, never seemed uncomfortable.

When I asked Ann if she felt weird about how she sounded, she'd say no, adding, "A deep voice sounds authoritative."

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 others shied away after hearing her speak. Naturally, she knew she was different, but since good grades could help her overcome prejudices, she excelled in school.

After college, she went to a top advertising firm. I assume that her voice was not a problem during job interviews, or at least that 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 around her, and generally let her know he did not want her around. In truth, his actions amounted to harassment. I found it hard to believe that anyone would harass Darth Vader girl. But her harasser had leverage, so Ann had to leave the company.

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

Ann found that she had developed a new specialty, which is in a very narrow niche that she now dominates. Things are good for Ann now. She weathered many storms and is successful despite her disability. Her tips for others who are struggling with some kind of impediment are applicable to all of us:

1. Convince yourself you’re great. Then convincing other people is 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 the first try. Trust that you will find a place that's right for you, and keep looking.
Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more. She penned this column several years ago, but she's busy with new things–- too busy to write new things.