Speech-impaired Kid to Renowned Coach: Bobbi Kahler’s Undeterred Climb to Success

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” – Steve Maraboli.

As highlighted on her website, the quote above perfectly encapsulates the incredible journey of Bobbi Kahler, a woman whose ambitions and goals were stonewalled by many years of battling with self-development, health issues, difficult relationships, and a career that took on many turbulent twists at the worst times.

Despite the many trials she’s had to brave through, Bobbi has carved solid niches for herself in the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds as a life coach, sales coach, motivational speaker, and training consultant at ASLAN Training and Development.

Struggles with a Speech Disorder and education

Born in Joliet, Illinois, Bobbi lived in a small farming village until she turned 12 and her family moved to Southwest Missouri to live on a self-sufficient family farm. Despite her mother’s opposition to her education, Bobbi balanced her academic work with hard work on the farm, fully determined, at a young age, to contribute to the success of her home and family. 

Bobbi had always had trouble with her speech and was diagnosed with a speech disorder at the age of five.

The speech pathologist diagnosed me with severe speech problems (what everyone already knew),” Bobbi recalls. “My issues were termed ‘catastrophic’ by the pathologist and at the worst of it, there were at least 18 sounds I was unable to make. It was expected that I would never be able to speak properly, but my mother refused to work with the pathologist. She rejected the diagnosis and took it upon herself to help me overcome the impairment.

“Never let someone else tell you what you can or cannot do,” Bobbi’s mother had told her, and to the young girl, these were words on marble. Together, they practiced painstakingly for years until Bobbi was confident enough to emcee for a school fashion show. She practiced daily for three months to read the cards and succeeded. This milestone pushed her to sign up for a speech class. 

“After my first speech – which was an absolute disaster – my speech coach, Mr. Jordan asked me if I’d join the speech and debate team,” Bobbi recalls. “I asked if he’d witnessed my earlier trainwreck and he smiled and said, ‘Yeah, it wasn’t very good, but you’ve got potential.’  So, despite being a kid with bad speech problems, I decided to join the team.”

All Bobbi had wanted was to learn to speak better to avoid being the object of mindless fun-poking. However, with Mr. Jordan’s help, she went on to win several debate tournaments and eventually won the speech division of the Miss Missouri Teen Pageant in 1983. 

As Bobbi thrived with her speech and nursed her love of sports (baseball), education brought another trail of hurdles her way. As she fought her mother’s wish to keep her out of school, funds for tuition were another problem. At 18, as was the tradition in her family, Bobbi had to leave home and start life on her own terms. She supported herself by working in management at Wendy’s and McDonald’s, using her leadership skills to build herself a reputation as a “morale booster”. By the age of 20, she became one of the most successful store managers in the country.

As her friends returned from college, Bobbi became heartbroken at what she’d missed out on and vowed to put herself through school in the future. 

“I decided to move back to Illinois for better opportunities,” says Bobbi. “I first worked in law offices before working up the courage to get a job in Chicago. Finally, I started making enough money to pay for community college courses. I finished my associate’s degree with a 4.0 while working full-time.”

Discovering Her Worth

Photo Credit: Bobbi Kahler, with permission

Bobbi’s relationship with her mother was precarious at times. Her mother was loving and supportive but was sometimes abusive and violent. This dynamic relationship led to Bobbi’s acquired skill in sensing her mother’s emotions as a matter of survival. 

While she worked in Chicago and lived in the suburbs, Bobbi nurtured a relationship for eight years before finally accepting that it was toxic.

“I worked so hard to please him and others that I eventually lost a sense of who I was,” she said. I worked with a coach for many years to develop my awareness and skills that would help me build healthier relationships.” 

Before this toxic relationship, Bobbi had been previously married at the age of 21, but after two years, they realized that they were both too young. She then mustered the courage to file for a divorce. 

Despite dealing with many difficult relationships, Bobbi still had several people who offered unwavering support in her life. One of them was Mr. Jordan, her speech coach whose encouragement provided a strong motivational pillar. She also nurtured healthy relationships with her sisters – particularly Nanette, a semi-pro baseball player who’d inspired Bobbi’s love for the sport. 

Bobbi also met Rick, her husband, and the love of her life in Chicago. They shared a loving relationship and nurtured a joint dream of living a life beyond commuting and working. They eventually moved to Portland, Oregon, where they built a business aimed at providing training for other small businesses. 

“We expected this business to provide a way to learn and grow,” Bobbi said. “We were right, but it was much harder than we ever imagined.”

The unanticipated stress of scaling and developing this business took a massive toll on Bobbi’s health. She deteriorated so badly that a time came when the doctors couldn’t believe she was still alive. She was treated for many years and during this time, just when the business was finally gaining some traction, she had to give it up on the doctors’ recommendations.

“I spent most of my time trying to rest and recover. I was doing better, but I had lost sight of what good health could be. I was settling but had not realized it.”

The Persistent Quest for Happiness  

Bobbi was determined to not let her dreams fade away as she battled her poor health and recovery. She went on to obtain a Bachelor’s degree at DePaul University before pursuing a Master’s in Positive Organizational Development. She graduated with a 4.0 and a Dean’s Academic Award while working as a coach in corporations at ASLAN Training and Development.

Upon the completion of their graduate studies, Bobbi and her husband moved to Colorado in 2010 to revamp their lifestyle. There, her childhood athletic inclinations sparked again.

“I discovered that not being sick is not the same as being well and being fit. I still wanted to be an athlete again.” 

They were in Colorado, and normally, biking was a great place to start. Her fitness ventures improved to the point where she could ride her bike to the Vail Pass peak – a massive achievement for anyone, let alone Bobbi with her medical history. She also branched her interests out to cross-country skiing and disc golf. 

Alongside her growth in fitness, Bobbi’s success in her career with ASLAN continued. Her hard work earned her a role as a top consultant, highly sought-after by clients. She has played a huge part in getting ASLAN’s name to rank on Selling Power’s ‘Top 20 Sales Firms’ list for the past decade. 

 “Don’t let someone else decide your limitations,” says Bobbi. “[Know the] power of the word, ‘yet’ – as in, ‘Don’t say you can’t do it. You just can’t do it yet.’”

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