Overcoming the Odds

Article by:
David Collier EO San Francisco
David Collier
EO San Francisco

How I learned to live—and work—with dyslexia

As crazy as it sounds, growing up with dyslexia was a blessing in disguise. At the time, it was often painful and challenging, as there wasn’t really a name for it back then. Consequently, I found myself in classes with kids who had very different, and often more severe, learning disabilities. Even though reading and spelling were a challenge, I knew that I was smart in my own way. And I always felt that I had something to prove to myself and others. What I didn’t know then—and what I realize now—is that I was not alone.

According to the National Institutes of Health, one in seven Americans have a learning disability, with dyslexia being the most common. In a recent survey of U.S. entrepreneurs, roughly 35 percent identified themselves as dyslexic. I’m not surprised; dyslexia opened my door to the entrepreneurial world by allowing me to harness those skills strengthened through my limitations. For example, in college I enrolled in a photography class and found that I loved composing images. Then I discovered filmmaking, with its combination of sound, motion and storytelling. Suddenly, I had a license to ask questions, explore ideas and solve problems using my visual strengths.

Today, I own and run a film company. And like many people with dyslexia, I’ve become very good at reading other people, identifying their strengths and delegating appropriately. Also, employees whom I trust handle aspects of the business where I’m not as strong, like writing creative briefs and filling out forms. This frees me up to focus on what I love and excel at: creative problem solving, visually conceptualizing and translating client messages into powerful stories, conducting interviews and serving as a leader to my employees. By accepting my limitations and embracing the art of delegation, I’m able to achieve success and fulfill my passions despite dyslexia.

Interestingly, my 13-year-old son, Ethan, is also dyslexic. Unlike a younger me, however, he doesn’t feel any of the shame that I experienced growing up. He has a single-minded focus and a strong entrepreneurial drive. Just yesterday, he asked me to set up a PayPal account so that he could buy a server and sell space for an online game. He’s eager to discuss various business opportunities with me, and enjoys speculating on how I might achieve more success. To Ethan and entrepreneurs like him with dyslexia, I offer the following tips on how to overcome challenges associated with this disorder:

  • Leverage Your Strengths: Concentrate your time and energy on the things that you love and that which you’re good at doing; it’s a lot more effective than spending your time spinning your wheels on the things that are the most difficult.
  • Create a Support System: Surround yourself with coaches, colleagues, mentors and friends. This may seem obvious, but when you’re struggling with something like dyslexia, having a helping hand can go a long way in realizing your goals. By pulling together as a team, you can accomplish things you’d never achieve on your own.
  • Visualize Your Success: I’m a big fan of creative visualization. Every six months I write down my intentions, but I write them in an active voice. For example: “This quarter we will connect with the chief marketing officer of Cirque du Soleil, who will ask us to produce a behind-the-scenes documentary for HBO.” When dyslexia gets me off track, I look back at what I wrote and it drives me to push harder and overcome any challenges I might face. Visualizing your success can help you achieve the goals you set for yourself and realize that dyslexia is simply a roadblock.

In many ways, I am grateful for having dyslexia. It has taught me to be resourceful and find clever ways to adapt. Dyslexia has also led me to the visual arts, and continues to fuel the creativity and tenacity that have helped me succeed as a filmmaker, entrepreneur and father. While it’s difficult to manage at times, being dyslexic is a part of who I am, and I long ago realized that being happy with who you are is the first step to success in business and life.

David Collier is the director and producer of Studio B Films. Fun fact: David made the film “For Better or For Worse,” which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1994.


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