I am not a fan of “woe is me” authors who overshare all the problems in their life. I am partial to a stoic approach. We all have our battles, many of them private, and that is a personal choice. Not every malady has to be posted and commented upon. Similarly, not every victory merits a parade. However, transparency and vulnerability are hallmarks of better leaders in this era, and no good comes from being afraid of either. The ability to know your limitations and then challenge them, establish your boundaries, and then honor them, are skills everyone can use whether they are leaders or not.
I have mild dyslexia. It’s not debilitating, but it is is a pain in the ass. For me it is less about a learning disability, reading comprehension or focus, though my eyes do drift if the content is not compelling. Rather, it shows itself in my writing — both handwriting and typing. I transpose the letters b and d, l and t and the o and e tend to dance a little too close for comfort. This is maddening for someone who prefers to send a handwritten Christmas card or a note of appreciation versus a cold email. However, the ink splotches can sometimes make my penmanship illegible.
In 2006 I decided to “go public” with my writing and began my first blog. The fine people of the internet were quick with critiques of my “your” versus “you’re,” syntax and grammatical errors; bless their hearts. When writing tired, I also have an inexplicable tendency to replace random words. Not only the forgivable “goat” instead of “goal,” but alas, something akin to “potato” instead of “chair.” Thankfully, I can usually spot these egregious errors in time.
Writing is supplemental oxygen for me, so I persevere despite the inevitable common errors. Being a dyslexic writer is a kind of private hell. One of the best backhanded compliments I ever received was, “Your writing is so good, most people don’t see all the errors.” That’s the kind of comment that both takes the wind out of your sails and compels you to fire up the motor. So, I keep writing, for myself, and for others who despite obstacles, find enjoyment or insight between the string of words. My writing is not accomplished without fear or anguish. When I press the upload or publish button I cringe knowing there are things contained within that are not perfect. Then it strikes me, that is true for all of us; “there are things contained within that are not perfect.” It slows me down, but it does not stop me.
Dysthymia, a low-grade persistent functional type of depression is not a walk in the park either. With depression, you can feel lost in a murky black cloud. With Dysthymia it is more like an indistinguishable hazy fog which tries to permeate every area of your life. Untreated it can rob you of your self-esteem, concentration, and zest for life. Not only does it taunt you with unfounded irritability and guilt, but it can also drive you into isolation and feelings of hopelessness if you let it. Having taken an SSRI for thirteen months several years ago, I know it is not a place I want to revisit. For many, antidepressants are a literal lifesaver, so I would not critique their use, nor any of the millions of people who are dramatically helped by them. Treatment can include medication, therapy, or a combination of the two. It is not something you can ignore or wish away. It takes sincere effort, the very thing insidiously, you often find lacking in your life. It’s okay; if you dig in deeper, you can reclaim it.
Like medication, talk therapy can be a fantastic tool if the chemistry is right. It also requires a lifestyle change involving routines that include physical activity, meeting with friends, building your fortress of positivity and humor to buttress the inevitable onslaught of projected negative thoughts. Dysthymia ebbs and flows, and like the tides, with varying intensity. It’s the difference between a beautiful day at the beach and a Nor’easter that washes away the dunes and rips apart at beloved structures.
Now, in many ways, that’s life. My difficulties are not dramatically different from the challenges millions of other people carry; in fact, I’m blessed with far less. Some seem to navigate their choppy waters effortlessly, while others appear to flail about and loudly require help. My point in sharing this is if you are afflicted with dyslexia or dysthymia, or any other ailment, you can still find a way to function and pursue your dreams. It is not effortless, nor should you ever expect it to be. You can choose to fight the current and winds you find yourself facing, or you can adjust to stay afloat, and then figure out how to use both to your advantage.
Determination can be one of your secret powers. When you are principle-centered and resolute to your purpose and values, you can weather the storms of life and then notice and enjoy the equally frequent days of tranquility.
If you are a good leader you likely have some self-perceived impediment you would rather not admit to having. That’s okay; you are not required to reveal it. However, I recommend you examine it and make your own deliberate choice. You may find the thing you fear is holding you back, could instead propel you forward.
Finally, please recognize that everyone is going through something. The numbers are too high to think anything otherwise. So, perhaps, treat people better. Not with kid gloves – but certainly with an open heart and greater compassion, humility, and humanity.
Also published on Medium.