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Sunday, July 14, 2024

How I Turned My Learning Disabilities Into a Superpower

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I have every learning disability imaginable. ADHD? Check. Dyslexia? Check. Dyscalculia? Check (and I bet you Googled that). For the first 20 years of my life, I considered these “disabilities” the anchors that kept me away from being successful.

I sucked at everything. I was a legit loser, but not the kind you think of in a modern definition. I literally lost at everything. Sports, social opportunities, tests, really anything. Prom dates? What’s that? Sounds fun. Getting your driver’s license at age 16? Nah. I elected to get a Nintendo instead.

I was convinced that my inability to focus on just one thing would never allow me to dominate.

I was a straight C student from fifth grade until I graduated college. At least I was consistent. I got used to it, which gave me the reason to call my best friend complacency as a kid. Well, complacency and Upper Deck baseball cards (when can I retire from my collection of Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards?!).

Related: How Leaders Can Support Neurodiverse Talent in The Workplace

Then, one day, I had an epiphany that changed the trajectory of my entire life. I realized that a crowded mind that never shuts off is a superpower as long as you leverage it properly…and leave just enough room in there for at least one more thought.

I’ll never forget my parents realizing there was something “different” about me, especially when it was time for me to sit down and “focus.”

It was 1986, and I was a budding six-year-old without access to a cell phone or the Internet. I know what you’re thinking: no six-year-old should have a cell phone or the Internet. It’s really because we were still about two decades away from cell phones and the Internet being a thing.

My parents took me in to get “tested” by a new type of doctor, as they had noticed patterns with me that seemed concerning.

“Rogers, you have ADHD.”

Huh? What the heck is that?

“This means you are prone to lose focus, especially with things that don’t interest you.”

Well, duh.

Maybe my parents should have then uprooted our family from South Texas and moved us to Hollywood so I could shift my focus to being a child actor. But we stayed in Corpus Christi and my 20-year battle against the demon of distraction began.

Related: How to Turn Self-Doubt Into a Superpower

From group projects to pop quizzes, I had ZERO personal expectations to excel. No one would have ever bet on me. The goal was to simply get by, at best. I remember the first time I had to actually do a book report — it was a disaster. I was nine years old, and I took the book home (it was called ‘And Now, Miguel’), and I copied the book word for word, and after about 17 hours of “work,” I handed the Moby Dick-esque packet to my teacher (her name was Mrs. Cheshir), and she gave me the most confused look imaginable.

“Oh, a book report means I actually read the book and then share my thoughts on it? I missed that part.”

The journey was a difficult one. Along the way, I decided to add another tool to my belt. I called her dyslexia, and she was so mean to me — almost like a bully who never left my side. Reading was already really hard, and now…it’s like trying to play Tetris with the letters? Fun. And let’s go ahead and add the inability to do remotely complex math questions in there.

Related: I Have Dyslexia. And I Became a Successful Entrepreneur. How You Can, Too.

My evenings after school weren’t like my friends. Neither were my weekends. Neither were my summers. Tutors, summer school, and “creative” ways to learn were always hard, and I never saw a glimmer of light in the tunnel.

When I say that I barely graduated high school, I mean it. My friends were expected to win at everything. Sports, dating, grades, awards, and college acceptance letters. I never even considered wanting to be ‘something,’ as I was used to being the funny guy who would always crack jokes in class.

High school graduation came, and in a typical Americana moment, our high school newspaper came out a couple of weeks before graduation with the much-desired list of Senior Superlatives (aka the ‘Most Likely To…’ list).

Much to my surprise, my name was in there a few times!

  1. Most likely live at home after college
  2. Biggest kid in an adult body
  3. Most fun to have class with (at this moment, this was my life’s greatest achievement)
  4. Most likely to return as a substitute teacher
  5. Biggest complainer

Alright, I know what you’re thinking. I read that, got pissed off, and said to myself, “Self, it’s time actually to do something with your life. Quit living out the life that everyone expects you to, and get out there and set the world on fire.”

Much to my surprise, you’re right!

The day after the dreaded “awards” issue of the paper came out, I was playing basketball with a group of older guys (my friends have always been older). I was really embarrassed about the paper and told one of them something similar to, “I know I’m not going to have good grades in college, I have zero hidden talents, and if I ever have to put together a resume, there won’t be anything on there to give people a reason to give me the time of day.”

Related: 10 Ways Successful People Push Through Adversity

And then, out of nowhere, a guy approached me, put his hand off my (sweaty) shoulders, and said something that changed my life forever.

“Rogers, the first thing you sell is yourself, not your resume.”

I was blown away. Does this mean my impressively pathetic grades, lack of organized activities, zero achievements, and 10,000+ hours of James Bond on N64 don’t matter?

Well, they did matter, but what really mattered was I was going to be able to leverage ME. My personality. My interests. My heart. My salesmanship. My gut instincts.

From that moment, I learned how to rely on myself. I learned that my obstacles could be approached as opportunities. Asking for help was a gift, and pouring time into things that I had an interest in would give me the chance to have something I’d never had before.

Self-confidence.

Fast forward another 20 years, and I am still working on becoming the best version of myself. This is with my faith, my family and my career. I can tell you a list a mile long of the things that I suck at, but my favorite use of time is to hone in on the one thing I know best.

Being myself.



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