With a net worth of $140 million, Julia Roberts is one of the highest paid actresses in the history of Hollywood. America’s sweetheart was first recognized in the critically acclaimed Steel Magnolias, winning a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and a nomination for an Academy Award. She cemented her star status in 1990 with her breakout role in Pretty Woman, starring opposite Richard Gere. The daughter of two actor-playwrights, it would seem that performing came naturally to Roberts, but in truth she had to overcome a particularly difficult obstacle for her profession: stuttering, and along with it, a fear of public speaking.
It’s easy to forget that most celebrities started off as regular kids in small towns, dealing with the same ordinary problems as the rest of us. Julia Roberts grew up in Smyrna, Georgia, with dreams of becoming a veterinarian. She played clarinet in the school band, watched her mother’s second marriage descend into abuse, and dropped out of Georgia State University before moving to New York to pursue a modeling and acting career.
She and her brother Eric, both actors, suffered from a pronounced stutter as young children. This lead to an understandably paralyzing fear of public speaking, as stuttering is generally worse when the speaker is nervous or anxious. Eric Roberts has been more candidly public about his experience with stuttering, while Julia is more reserved. Roberts has enjoyed a successful and lucrative career, and continues to work in film and as a spokeswoman for Lancôme.
Roberts rarely speaks of her stuttering issues, but has expressed an interest in assisting the Stuttering Foundation of America as a spokesperson for awareness and education. In interviews, Roberts has confided that she overcame her stuttering problem through speech therapy, and achieving fluid speech helped her gain confidence as a public speaker. Her slew of roles in iconic romances of the 90s solidified her incredible career as an actress. Films such as Dying Young, I Love Trouble, Something To Talk About, Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Notting Hill, and Runaway Bride certainly shatter any doubt that Julia Roberts has throughly defeated her fear of public speaking!
In the 2011 film Larry Crowne, ironically, Roberts plays a college professor of public speaking. Roberts confesses she was terrified of teaching scenes. “All these faces looking up at me, thinking, What is she going to teach us? I needed to find my composure. It was very hard—it was terrible, in fact,” she says. The experience certainly brought her back to her own struggles with fluid speech.
Roberts continues to find critical acclaim and financial success in one of the most cutthroat businesses on the planet. Refusing to let her fears dictate her life choices, Roberts is a remarkable example of endeavoring to persevere. She sought the help she needed, and overcame with incredible tenacity.
So often, we are caught up in our day-to-day struggles without stepping back to look at the big picture. What is it that we want? Are we letting fear dictate our action (or inaction)? What if Julia Roberts had thought to herself, “I’m not very good at public speaking, and this stutter will never go away. Acting just isn’t for me,” ?
Don’t let fear stifle your creativity, and don’t let perceived limitations dictate your path. Let that back burner project move to the front, and launch that app, create that blog, or get that Kickstarter going for your latest startup idea. Who knows, maybe the only thing between you and an Academy Award is a little bit of speech therapy!