As I write this, I am sixty years old and when I was in grade school, I counted the years that I had left in school. I said to myself, “I have six more years and I will be done with school. I’ll never need to learn anything else ever!” (Little did I know that I would never stop learning.) You see I struggled in school and it was painful to do school work. In class I would stare out the window and daydream or get out of my chair and visit the other students or crack jokes like a class-clown. I recall early evenings at the dinner table doing my homework and my parents trying to help and it was a disaster. They would get frustrated and I would cry and nothing would get accomplished. It was a nightmare, even so that when it was time to bring my report card home from school, I would claim that I was too sick to go to school that day.
It all started one day when my teacher was so frustrated trying to help me learn math that she threw her arms up in disgust and blurted out loud, “You’re just plain stupid!” and stormed off. And of course I believed her – she was the teacher!
Fifty years ago, little was known about dyslexia. I didn’t know that I had it. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I grew up believing that I was incapable of learning.
So then you might ask, “How did you get through high school?” I was very interested in photography and track, so I got busy taking pictures and taking photography classes (which allowed me to be involved with the yearbook) and running track. I was also very social and made friends with my teachers. I had some ability to do school work which allowed me to “pass” my grades and move on to the next grade in school and eventually graduate from high school.
You could say that I fooled my teachers or that they “wink winked – nod nod” my way through school.
So what changed?
As I grew up, I made up my mind that I didn’t want to live an average life. I wanted to achieve more in life. As a teenager I didn’t know what I wanted to achieve or how to achieve it, but I did know that I didn’t want the life that my parents were leading because even though they were providing a roof over my head and food on the table, they were formally uneducated and laborers. They were intelligent and capable of furthering their education, but they never pursued it. I knew that I wanted to accomplish more in life and that’s when I made the decision to follow my dreams and goals. And at that time in my life, I didn’t know what dreams and goals were – butI knew that I didn’t want to live in a rut.
My fear in life.
I recall this feeling of failure. I was afraid of failing in life because I was ill prepared to be a productive citizen, husband and parent. I imagined not being capable of holding down a job or staying married because I was not taught how to and I have carried those feelings throughout life. There is even a condition called Imposter Syndrome which is explained in a book by Amy Cuddy, called Presence. In it she describes how accomplished people feel like imposters, while attempting to accomplish their goals and dreams. It’s a feeling of inadequacy or not feeling worthy (the latter description in my words). Today I struggle with this condition.
What was the turning point?
On the very first day of my senior year I walked into my English class and promptly looked around the classroom for the cutest girl and sat behind her. As was my routine, I came to school unprepared – without school supplies! So I tapped this girl in the shoulder and asked her for some paper. She reached into her bag and handed it over her shoulder while avoiding eye-contact. I thought to myself, “That was successful!” And I proceeded to ask her for a pencil. I needed something to write with. She complied, but without making eye-contact, which I thought was very strange. “Who wouldn’t want to flirt with me?” I thought to myself. Later she told me that she was too embarrassed to look at me. This girl, several weeks later, help me change my life forever. I will never forget her and neither will our children.