I can’t read. That might seem like a pretty big barrier. I’m not saying it wasn’t. I had a lot of challenges in school. I felt dumb. I knew I wasn’t picking up things as easily as other students. Lucky for me, an art class changed the way I saw myself and the way I saw my future.
Finding a Different Way
The summer I was 10 years old, I broke my arm, right at the beginning of a summer school art class. I was disappointed: I was looking forward to the intensive class, where we made art for hours a day. I went to my teacher and showed her my cast, which covered my right hand and gave me no way to pick up a pencil or paintbrush. I told her I’d like to sit in on the class, even if I couldn’t participate.
“What do you mean?” she said. “Don’t you think people with disabilities make art?”
“No, probably not,” I said, “Not if they can’t use their hands.”
So she told me about artists with disabilities — how they created art with paintbrushes held in their mouths or strapped to their wheelchairs. I spent the rest of the summer making art, drawing with a magic marker held in my mouth and painting with my feet. I learned a key lesson: if a broken arm wasn’t going to stop me, then dyslexia shouldn’t stop me, either. I just had to find a different way to do what I wanted to do.
It wasn’t easy. I didn’t really recognize that I was smart, truly smart, until the end of high school. And it was even later that I realized that even though my dyslexia could be a barrier, the ways I dealt with it became part of the reason for my success.
Barriers or Benefits?
I embraced technology at an early age, since I used technology to “read” and to play. My dad had one of the earliest computers. It had one simple video game, which I loved. He wrote down the DOS commands so that I could play it, and I became one of youngest DOS users around. Since I became tech savvy early on, I’m extremely comfortable with new technology and quick to adopt it.
I also listen well. Not only am I an avid reader of audio books, but I really listen to people. After a meeting, I often remember key points much better than my colleagues. I don’t have to go back and look at my notes, because I don’t have any. I have to listen and remember.
Dyslexia also helped me become a salesman. In school, I had to sell the teachers on how clever I was, so that they understood I was trying and would cut me some slack if I needed to write something.
I learned to ask for help, too. Since I couldn’t write, I needed to dictate. I had to learn to get what I needed from other people. I think that gave me a big advantage, since that‘s where a lot of other entrepreneurs fall down. They try to do everything themselves. Me? I ask for help when I need it.
The Art of Starting Up: 3 Tips
I think I gravitated toward art in part because of my dyslexia. As an artist, I wouldn’t be judged by my reading skills. After receiving my MFA in sculpture, I became a working artist, and learned some of my first lessons in business, like:
- Push yourself to be creative. Different is good in a crowded marketplace.
- Brand yourself. Don’t just be different. let the world know that you are unique and valuable.
- Manage your own budget. An obvious but important lesson, especially for artist.
Being an artist also taught me to value my independence. I liked relying on myself, rather than depending on an employer, which eventually gave me the confidence to start my own business. I didn’t have to leave a 9-5 job. I didn’t have to give up my art. I just needed to shift around time and priorities.
I went on to start a Web-based company, and then built on its success with another one. Now, I’m the CEO of Globe Runner SEO, a Dallas-based firm offering comprehensive search engine optimization, search marketing, and social media campaigns. I’m proud to say that, in spite of the economic turndown, Globe Runner grew exponentially during the last few years, and was recently recognized as one of the Top 100 SEO Companies (#36) by SERP.com.
An unlikely success story, right? Maybe not. The one big challenge in my life, my dyslexia, has helped me acquire every skill that has made me successful.
So take another look at the barriers in your life. How can you address them? How can you do things differently? Paint with your feet, in a manner of speaking. Do what it takes to reach your vision of the future. You may find that the skills you learn along the way will lead you to success.
Reprinted with permission from the YEC: How I Turned My Personal Challenges Into Business Success