The first time in my life I wrote about my little secret was September 10, 2014. I wrote a blog post about it because I was learning to build websites for my job. I asked a trusted friend to proofread my post. Afterwards, I made the edits, added images and styling to the blog post, and then… I chickened out. I never published it even though the first line of the post was literally: “I think I’m ready to tell you”. Obviously, I wasn’t ready. I never shipped.
I produced the video below almost 4 years after my initial blog draft, and even now it took me over a month before removing the password protection on this video. That is how terrified I have been of putting this out there.
I feel like I stand to lose something— a secret that is public is no longer a secret. It’s gone and I’m vulnerable.
Yet, telling a few friends was a freeing experience. Even though I didn’t feel safe previously, those who responded with acceptance and affirmation gave me courage to embrace my full self.
I have a secret.
Some people who know me may not even believe me. For others it will make a whole lot of sense and explain my behaviours perfectly.
I am dyslexic.
I’ve kept this a secret for SO long because I was scared people would label me and put me in a box. I thought dyslexia would limit my opportunities and affect what people thought I was capable of.
What IS dyslexia? It’s a neurological condition caused by different wiring in the brain. It’s a learning disability that makes reading, writing and pronouncing words difficult. Sometimes I skip words when I read or insert words that aren’t there. I confuse left from right constantly, so I make an L with my left hand when I’m following driving directions. Dyslexia can be very frustrating, especially because mistakes increase dramatically with confusion, time pressure, emotional stress, or poor health.
What a lot of people DON’T know is that dyslexia also has A LOT of pros. People with dyslexia often have extremely high cognitive function. It’s what makes me a good strategist in my job. I think of ALL the possibilities. I brainstorm internally and process a huge amount of information and concepts very quickly. Dyslexics often have good long-term memory for locations, experiences, and faces. We have a strong sense of justice, are emotionally sensitive, and strive for perfection.
These are just a few of the characteristics dyslexics embody that make me who I am. I’m smart. I can figure out how to get from vision to tangible action. I’m extremely methodical when it comes to completing tasks to achieve goals.
In school, I’d stammer when it came to reading aloud in class. I would miss words here and there. Lowercase b’s look like d’s, p’s look like q’s. I read things over and over again before I finally comprehended what it’s trying to say.
Studying in school was immensely difficult. Other students would procrastinate and read all the material the night before an exam, but for me, it was week-long preparations to come out with a remotely similar grade. I was resentful and envious of other students.
In adulthood, dyslexia looks like skimming emails because I can’t read them quickly enough. Or missing out on valuable professional development books and articles because I don’t have time to read them at my pace. Perhaps, I miss an important detail or thrive best when I’m given broad concepts/visions to strategize into action.
Yet, if anything, dyslexia hasn’t held me back, but propelled me forward. Once I realized I had difficulty in school, I devoted myself to overcoming this constraint. I began to read all my textbook aloud, however slowly I needed to. This way, I learn both visually and audibly. I still do this today. I get the audio books, speed them up, and follow along in the hard copy. I highlight, underline, and write in the margins as I go.
Dyslexia didn’t hold me back from graduating university with honours, attaining a C-level position at work, buying a home, getting married, or being as ambitious as I am meant to be. It’s an integral part of who I am.
And you can achieve your dreams too.Think about your constraints. Where are you at now? What are limitations you just can’t control. How can you leverage a “weakness” into a strength? A disability into a gift? A disadvantage into an advantage?
I want to encourage those with disabilities to make your own dreams come true. Don’t let your different abilities limit you from starting something. Turn constraints into a powerhouse.
To those who are blessed not to have any anatomical limitations — consider deliberately hiring diversity. Challenge us and believe in us. Give us a chance and you’ll have lots to gain through the way we see the world.
We might surprise you through our amazing accomplishments. So watch out! And then just smile.