When you see the names Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Pablo Picasso, Henry Ford, Mohamed Ali, George Clooney, Steven Spielberg, Richard Branson, Vincent Van Gogh, and Thomas Edison, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
I’d wager it’s not dyslexia. However, if it was, you’d be correct.
I feel privileged, because it’s perhaps the one time in my life I get to have my name mentioned in the same breath as those exceptional visionaries—because, yes, I too, have dyslexia.
“What? A writer with dyslexia?” you ask. “How is that even possible?” Believe it or not, creatives with dyslexia are far more common than you might think. Sadly, though, it’s developed such a stigma over the years, it’s a closely held secret many elect to take to the grave.
Not me. Not anymore.
But that’s only because I let the fact I have dyslexia slip during my job interview with 360 Live Media CEO, Don Neal. Don, I’m happy to say, didn’t so much as bat an eye or show even a hint of resistance to bringing me on. I asked him if hiring a dyslexic writer scared him, and he showed no hesitation in replying, “Not at all.”
It’s the first time in my career that I had openly shared with my employer the fact that I had a “disability.” The fact Don was so open and welcoming is just one more of many confirmations to me as to why 360 Live Media has been named one of Washington DC’s best places to work.
It also made me that much more determined to not let him or any one of my teammates at 360 down.
Just between you and me, though, I’m one of those who’ve come to know dyslexia as a “disability” like Superman would see being “stronger than a locomotive, able to run faster than a speeding bullet and leap over tall buildings with a single bound” as one.
In fact, there are many who claim dyslexia gives those who have it an edge in the modern economy. So many students at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have dyslexia, they’ve come to refer to it as the MIT Disease. Turns out, one in three successful entrepreneurs is dyslexic.
The secret is in the way the dyslexic brain works.
They’ve come to call us neurodivergent individuals, a term I prefer much more than “dyslexic.” More palatable still, “people who think differently.”
Chances are you’ve heard that dyslexics’ words and letters come across as being scrambled and out of order when they read and write. This is only somewhat true. Reality is, the primary difference between the dyslexic brain and the non-dyslexic brain is in how words and letters are stored and retrieved.
In the non-dyslexic brain, words and letters are conveniently located in a centralized, filing cabinet-like region of the brain, where they can be effortlessly deposited and retrieved with the efficiency of a switchboard.
The dyslexic brain, on the other hand, doesn’t store words and vocabulary in one tidy place. Instead, it stores them all over the brain, in regions not necessarily intended for that purpose. The “disability” comes into play when retrieving and making sense of those words. It can be a very laborious process of retracing steps and scanning the nether regions of one’s brain for just the right words and phrases and reassembling them in a way that makes sense.
But where this becomes an advantage is in the fact storing language in parts of the brain that are typically used for other kinds of thinking—means those words and phrases are informed by those “other” thought processes, creating novel connections and associations that would never be fathomable otherwise.
It’s the kind of thinking that allowed Einstein to come up with the Theory of Relativity despite being atrocious at math, and Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence, despite having difficulty reading; or that inspired Vincent van Gogh to paint “Starry Night,” and Leonardo da Vinci to do, well, just about anything he set his mind to.
So, next time you’re tasked with coming at something from a different angle or thinking out of the box, don’t be afraid to turn to those who do it by nature.