Finding success on your own terms

Struggling with school doesn't have to limit your success!

Finding success on your own terms

If you are a student with particular learning needs and patterns, high school can be torture. Sometimes you might be fine; other times you will struggle with topics that come easily to everyone else. You might interpret answers and lessons in a completely different way from the rest of the class. But don’t despair. You are not the first person to feel this way and you definitely will not be the last. After interviewing Sprague Theobald — an Emmy-winning filmmaker and production company founder — we found out that struggling through high school does not mean you won’t be able to have your dream education, career and life.

Struggling in high school

Theobald is dyslexic, which made his early education in the 1960’s extremely difficult. “Dyslexia wasn’t very well known or recognized,” he remembers. “The word they used to describe someone who had issues with organization, number reversals, and such was ‘remedial’ which I very quickly learned basically meant ‘dumb’.”  If your teachers are not supportive or understanding about your learning patterns, you should tell your parents and school counselor. Theobald stresses that parents and teachers need to be patient and understanding. “Imagine the inner frustration that [student] is going through, knowing that they’re trying their very hardest but running into a wall every time,” he explains. Even if you think no one will understand, do your best to explain your experience and frustrations to your parents and counselor. They are the ones well-equipped to help you.

Planning for college

Even if high school is difficult, you might still love learning and might be interested in going on to college. As Theobald explains, “ingesting these facts into your being, interpreting them as only you can and then producing them ‘through the lens of dyslexia’ makes for a truly unique and special interpretation.” Learning differently doesn’t make you any less intelligent or likely to engage in interesting discourse. However, you will need to find out more about the prospective schools than financial aid stats and available academic programs. “Do your research and try to find out what colleges recognize that we’re all wired a bit differently. Unless you’ve truly thought it through, don’t attend a college that has no recognition of learning differences,” Theobald cautions. “After all, if you were interested in being a fine arts major you wouldn’t try to enroll in M.I.T.!”

Landing a dream career

But what about after college? Do you have a dream job or career? Theobald is the perfect example of why you should not be discouraged from pursuing what you want. As an adult, he realized that he was not a bad student, but was on the receiving end of a bad education from ineffective teachers. “I started to recognize that I, as do each and every one of us, had special and unique gifts to offer the world. I started to feel and identify that which gave me great pleasure and excitement,” says Theobald. “I loved writing for myself, I loved photography…I slowly started to put my work out there and it got attention.” Eventually, he found an ad for a local TV station and started working with producers. Now he is a successful documentary filmmaker, with two Emmy awards and his own production company, Hole in the Wall Productions. All of this means that your current learning struggles do not mean you cannot achieve your aspirations.

Remember: this applies to your professional and personal life. Even if you are frustrated and unhappy now, you might start to see your learning patterns in a new light. Theobald definitely did. “Dealing with [dyslexia], understanding it and learning about it made me realize that while I have some cognitive differences, I have many, many unique talents and traits,” he explains. So do you. Find out as much as you can about your cognitive traits and learning patterns. This will help you in school, but it will also give you personal encouragement. Discovering your learning differences means discovering what makes you unique and stand out from the crowd. It might seem impossible now, but you could grow to appreciate the fact that you learn differently from your classmates. After all, Theobald declares “I wouldn’t trade being dyslexic for anything.”

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