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Finding Strength Through Setbacks: How Dyslexia Helped Me Forge a Successful Career

Dec 13, 2021


contributor

Natalie Brooks is the founder of Dyslexia In Adults. After struggling in the workplace herself, Natalie created this community to support and empower individuals to better understand themselves.



I have always wanted my own business, even before I had an idea of what it might be. When everyone else at school was talking about boys, I was talking business. I believe my early entrepreneurial interest connects to my dyslexia. Being dyslexic meant I always knew I was different: both my needs, and also the way I viewed the world. 

When I talk about being dyslexic, you might think that means I am bad at spelling or maybe that I stutter my words when reading aloud. However, dyslexia is better understood as a different way of processing information. That difference can cause challenges and difficulties in our brains but also gives us a unique way of thinking that can be very powerful at creating incredible businesses. 

However, that isn’t how my journey started out. Rather, it started with me leaving university and getting a corporate job. At the time, I thought that I was too young and that I should start working and learning about business before I tried to create one. Finding a job that would suit me was my first hurdle. I thought to myself: what job has as little reading and writing as possible—one where I can talk more than I write? I settled on Account Management and eventually sales, which—as I regularly hear the phrase “you could talk for England”—I think was the best fit I could have found. 

I worked hard and eventually worked for a number of large companies including The Trainline, but I still struggled. I would make small mistakes regularly, often spelling mistakes or when starting a new job finding it difficult at the start because of the amount of information I needed to process in a short space of time. Generally it was something that was only always an “area of improvement” highlighted in annual reviews.

The bigger issue was how I felt about myself. I constantly felt frustrated at the little mistakes. They would eat me up for days and I would feel exhausted from the pressure I was putting myself under to try and improve. I wanted to be organised, to be the type of person who didn’t get distracted easily, someone who didn’t take longer to do “simple” tasks. I spent so long wanting to be someone else, focusing on what I was bad at that I never thought about what I was capable of and where I excelled. 

That feeling of never being good enough was so draining. Tired of the frustration, I started opening up to people and searching online for answers. When I googled “dyslexia in adults,” there was minimal information apart from obvious traits or tips on getting diagnosed. However, I was searching for something more. I was hunting for understanding and acceptance, a place to belong. I yearned to discover that I was not the only one who felt like this, that other adults struggled and it was okay that I was too.

After learning that there are an estimated 700 million people globally who are dyslexic, I knew I was not alone. So I began to put my ideas out there, talking about my experiences, the challenges I have faced, and the little ways I have navigated through life. My ideas found an audience, and now I run Dyslexia In Adults, an online community that gives people with dyslexia a space where they belong and can turn to for advice and understanding. (Editors’ note: To hear more about Dyslexia In Adults, please listen to our latest podcast episode, in which Natalie discusses her journey.) 

Suddenly, instead of seeing the obstacles of dyslexia, I was able to utilise the strengths I had gained working around them. Those strengths include: the ability to simplify, to problem solve easily and offer unique approaches to situations. Those, I firmly believe, are my biggest assets. I knew I had workplace abilities, I just didn’t know how to show them off in a conventional job, where I was expected to implement preset concepts as opposed to creating new ones. When I was younger, I didn’t use my strengths because I didn’t see them as such. But all of those years spent finding workarounds made me stronger and more resourceful than I ever thought I could be. 

Having my own business is not just about showcasing my skills, it is about creating an environment that I can thrive in. If I make a spelling mistake, my boss can’t get angry with me—because I am the boss. If my brain is feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, I can take a break and come back stronger. 

A recent study found that 40% of self-made millionaires are dyslexic, which is impressive considering only 10% of the population is thought to be dyslexic. This fact doesn’t surprise me: many like me probably didn’t feel they could survive—let alone thrive—in a conventional job. This meant that they had to create their own businesses and build something that fitted their brains. 

Dyslexia demanded that I forge my own work environment and start my own business—but luckily it also gave me all the skills to do so.

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