How does dyslexia contribute to your professional success?

Three years ago I started contemplating this question after reading about a study finding that 35% of American entrepreneurs have dyslexia. The study suggested that some adults with dyslexia develop coping strategies that are useful in the business environment, such as the ability to delegate and build teams. We have all seen lists of famous dyslexics, usually presented as people who managed to beat the odds and overcome their condition. But I have come to believe that many of us thrive in our chosen fields because of our dyslexia, not in spite of it.

Since November 2009, a group of adults with dyslexia have met periodically to explore this idea, and to help each other achieve more professional success.  My experiences with the Professionals with Dyslexia group, as well as conversations with other adults with dyslexia and dyslexia researchers show me that we really do have some advantages in the working world.

First, our brains are wired differently. Neurologically, many of us have very strong visual spatial skills, allowing us to thrive as architects, artists, engineers, and graphic designers. We also reason and solve problems in ways that differ from our non-dyslexic colleagues. Thinking less dogmatically, we focus on tangible and realistic outcomes instead of the process of achieving them. There is a link between dyslexia and creativity. As Dr. Sally Shaywitz explains, we are “out-of-the box thinkers.”

Our, often painful, educational experiences as struggling readers have provided us with valuable tools. We come to understand the importance of hard work and learn resilience at a young age.  As suggested in the entrepreneurship study, because we often had to obtain help from others to get by in school, we tend to be good delegators and team builders. From enduring the subtle (or not so subtle) messages that we were less intelligent and less worthy than our classmates, as adults we tend to be more understanding and accepting of others – an important quality in an increasingly multicultural and global society.

To me, our greatest advantage is that adults with dyslexia are better at coping with failure. We have been trained in it since we began formal education. To be less risk adverse and more able to learn from failures provides a real advantage, not just for entrepreneurs, but in any chosen profession.

So ask yourself, how does your dyslexia contribute to your professional success?

Submitted by Kent Sinclair.  Kent is a Partner at the national law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP.  He is also the Vice President of the Massachusetts Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (MABIDA) and founder of the Professionals with Dyslexia group.


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