Dyslexia: how did you become the master and not the slave?

I received a thoughtful email recently from a young man called Oliver who is also dyslexic. He told me how he really struggled to keep up at school and felt like everyone had labelled him as lazy – until he was diagnosed with dyslexia and given support. 

He said his teacher, Mrs Devril, was one of the most influential people in his life. She sat him down and explained: “Special Needs lessons are not for stupid people, but are in fact, for people that are special, talented and gifted in other areas of life and it's up to you to find out what those areas are."

She went on to tell Oliver about all the successful and famous people who were hanging on the walls of the classroom – Zoe Wanamaker, Steven Spielberg, Walt Disney and Albert Einstein to name a few. Oliver finished his letter with a question: "Dyslexia has never seemed to hold you back in terms of business, how would you approach business in today's world if you had to go back to being a young man of my age (22) and start all over again?"

Your teacher Mrs Devril hit the nail on the head – I’ve managed to be successful because I’ve focused on what I’m good at. Like you, I really struggled with school. When I was a child no one really knew what dyslexia was. I was typecast as lazy and dumb. I would sit at the back of the class, trying to make sense of the chalkboard, which was always very much a jumble to me. I couldn’t keep up and didn’t fit in, so I left school as soon as I could to set up Student magazine and later Virgin Records.

I quickly realised I needed to focus on my strengths – seeing the bigger picture and trying to grow the business. I learned to delegate and build a team around me that I could trust. I made the most of every opportunity that was thrown my way and fought to make big dreams like starting an airline happen.

My struggles have shaped Virgin as a company – I like clear, direct communication and we have an inclusive culture that is more like a family than a business. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As I wrote in Finding My Virginity, if I had to start all over again I would still try and do what I’m good at: finding markets that need shaking up, coming up with ways to make people’s lives better, and then finding brilliant people to bring it to life. Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur. Technology has also opened up the world like never before and given entrepreneurs so many new ways of communicating and building a brand. It’s such an exciting time for innovation and technological advancements. I know I’d find a gap in the market somewhere.

I would ask yourself what are you passionate about? Pursue something that makes you excited and makes you dream about the future and all it could hold – then go out and find ways to make this happen. Dyslexics are great at creative thinking so use this to your maximum advantage and see opportunities instead of challenges.

In today’s world there’s a much greater awareness of dyslexia so I would be actively searching for support and speak to other like-minded people. Made By Dyslexia is a wonderful charity run by dyslexics who have all done amazing things. The charity is focused on changing the perception (or misconception) of dyslexia and helping people understand it for what it is – a different way of thinking.

Celebrate your alternative way of thinking and chase your dreams – you are just as capable (if not more) of achieving anything you set your mind to.


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