The Greatest Gift I Would Never Give

One of the greatest gifts I’ve received I would not wish upon anyone. As one of approximately 10% of the population I have a learning disability, dyslexia. Just the word dyslexia is agonizing. What cruel person creates a word, so incredibility difficult to spell, to label a disability of people who struggle with spelling. Even Noah Webster, I believe, would ask for a do over on this one.

It was late in my senior year of high school before my English teacher, June Richardson, made the discovery. After twelve years of enduring weekly spelling tests and reading assignments believing I was just stupid, a phrase I heard more than once in my younger years, I was finally presented with a reality I didn’t know how to process, I had a learning disability. Great, that made life better (insert heavy tones of sarcasm).

If anything, I went deeper underground as I entered into college desperately trying to hide the fact I struggled with learning. As much as I would enjoy blaming my teachers I understand their challenge, the basic learning cadence passed down through multiple generations, read/study/write, matched the strength of those who chose teaching as their profession. Today, when I teach facilitation to people I open their eyes to four basic learning styles and advise them to avoid the trap of only teaching as they learn.

It was because of my weakness in reading and writing I felt it essential to know more than everyone in the room. Let’s just say that approach didn’t work out as I thought it would. Being the smartest person in the room when you really are not the smartest person in the room creates an off-putting experience that only added to the recurring tape in my head of being a failure.

Other people needed to be seen as an opportunity not the enemy. A re-calibration of my faith helped open my eyes to a world not focused on what I perceived as a raw deal for me but a world in need of hope. The story of Peter and John, both disciples of Jesus, who were brought before the High Court for questioning changed how I saw my life. The story says, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” If these two unschooled, ordinary men could make a world changing impact then why not me?

My hunger to learn was unearthed in 1990 when I purchased my first book on tape, yes, an actual cassette tape. Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top, was the book and the experience of listening to a book changed my life. Countless volumes of knowledge and wisdom where now available to me to consume and I loved every moment. It was during this season I realized my true strength. Out of what I thought to be a disability came my true ability; to take an idea, thought, or truth, turn it into a simple message, and deliver that message to others in a manner which unlocks an intrinsic desire to take action.  

When I focused on what was in my control, my gifts and abilities, and stopped focusing on what was outside my control, my disability, I uncovered an amazing gift. Now, for more than 30 years, over 40 countries, and hundreds of thousands of people later, my journey has only just begun. Each day I continue to lean into my true abilities, living my life on purpose; to build others up to their greatest potential.

So, as you can see, one of the greatest gifts I ever received was a disability which helped me find my true ability, which I now get to share with others…on purpose!

tony bridwell