My high school guidance counselor told me not to bother applying to the Ivy League, despite my high SATs, because "According to your teachers, you're a clear underachiever. You'll never get the references you need."
It was no shock, I'd heard it all my life. Spelling is difficult for me; math near impossible even with a calculator -- dialing a phone number correctly takes enormous concentration - and there were no PCs with Word auto-correct or spreadsheets back then. I didn't hang my head, I had too much dignity, but I hung it internally. I was no good. Somehow, despite trying and trying, I apparently didn't try as hard as other kids did. I would have modest success in life, if any, and it would all be my own damn fault.
It was only years later I learned my faults had a source. A college friend who'd been to a special high school for dyslexics was describing the tricks they'd taught her to manage daily life. "You have tie an imaginary thread to your starting point when you walk someplace that's new to you," she said, "then keep that thread in your mind all the while so you can find your way back again." Oh. Revelation. I thought I had invented that trick and so many of the others she described that day. I wasn't a bad person. I was dyslexic.
It didn't make much of a difference though. When I graduated, still in a world largely without personal computers, I forsook my dream of becoming a professional journalist, because journalists have to spell properly, and accepted the most lowly job in the marketing department of a publishing company instead. If I couldn't be a writer, at least I could be close to it.
A handful of years later, I found myself in an extremely odd position. Feted. Employee of the month, employee of the year, winning regional marketing association awards, written up in the national press, invited to speak at professional luncheons. I didn't know what to make of it. I couldn't even learn to drive a car because making quick decisions about right and left was so terrifying. And I was an underachiever after all, surely these people were mistaken.
Only after I started my first online publishing company in 2000 (an act of presumption for an underachiever such as me, only possible to conceive because I saw so many, quite frankly, idiots starting apparently successful ventures in the dot-com boom) did I learn how I was truly different from other "normal" people.
My staff had phrase for it: Anne Time. As in anything that takes Anne an hour, will take anyone else three.
For more than a decade now, it's driven me crazy with frustration. I would hire top people. Experienced, intelligent achievers. And then I would give them assignments, and everything took them FOREVER. "How is this so difficult?" I would (literally) scream. "I can do this in 30 minutes. What is your problem?"
Most annoyingly, my journalists, far more trained and experienced at their jobs than I with my marketing department background, would take hours to skim through the "beat" gmail and Twitter accounts I set up for them that poured all the news of the day to their fingertips so they didn't need to waste time searching for the obvious stuff. I even held in-house training webinars, "See, you just skim it, and then zap a message to a potential source here, pop out a quick Tweet here and dash off a blog post there. It should take no longer than an hour day. It couldn't possibly take longer,"
But it did. And the myth of "Anne Time" grew, haunting me until I grew half-afraid to set hard deadlines for anything.
Then this weekend I read an article in the New York Times about the advantages of dyslexia . Oh. Well, that explains a lot.
Now I understand why I can read two novels from cover to cover on a lazy Sunday, despite not "seeing" all the words. And how I can skim through multiple email inboxes, with 200+ messages each per day, in a heartbeat. And why reviewing Twitter streams from 300+ contributors for the daily trends take me about 15 seconds. Not to mention why I can only give my CFO a garbled explanation of a financial spreadsheet we need, but then spot the erroneous calculation like a big sore thumb sticking out when she doesn't "see" it. Not to mention why I can leaf through 100 charts intended for one of our new Benchmark data reports and intutively and instantly just "know" which belong in the Executive Summary because they are somehow, obviously-to-me, sexier than the rest.
And apparently dyslexics tend to end up in the design profession. Hence my penchant for Web design, and why my gut has the "right" answer to problems invariable with content heavy sites.
I'm dyslexic, and apparently I should be proud of it...and cut normal people a break.
That said, I still can't spell dyslexia with help from an auto-correct program :-).