When Famous People Reveal Dyslexia

I admit it. I admire Jennifer Aniston. She’s a good actor and has entertained me.

In spite of constant attention and the surreal life of the rich and famous, Aniston has always seemed to remain fairly balanced. The attention has neither caused her to develop a terribly inflated ego or spiral down a vortex of self-destruction, like many in the limelight.

In the past, the famous often became heroes to the masses and were carved in stone, or preserved for eternity in oils on canvas. Today, however, they are churned through the grinder of media, every weakness exposed, every life event scrutinized.

When we admire famous people from a distance, they can take on hero-like qualities. We may attribute qualities such as strength, courage, or nobility to their characters. Unfortunately, we may even be more willing to see them this way, than the everyday heroes in our midst. When a famous person reveals something in their life they have overcome, we are drawn to the revelation and may even push them up a notch on our respect meter.

Jennifer Aniston

This past week, we learned that Aniston is dyslexic. I could cynically point out, that her public relations people are perhaps very adept at manipulation by delivering news that might suggest hero qualities, at times that coincides with a movie release, or a shift in career… but I won’t.

There is a greater purpose to the sharing of that information, that matters to me, to the staff of The Reading Network, and to those in our extended community of advocates for people with reading problems that goes beyond Aniston’s ratings or the success of her new movie, “Cakes.”

For those who have personally experienced or understand the challenges that people face growing up with dyslexia, a reading or learning disability, the information that a famous person has accomplished what they have, in spite of that difficulty just increases the amount we value them. We are hooked.

Their story provides us with another piece of information we can share, that will give a person we work with or care about, hope and persistence. Imagine being a ticked off 13 year old girl with dyslexia… having difficulty reading, feeling stupid, mad at everyone, wondering “Why me?” and learning that Jennifer Aniston has the same learning issue you are fighting to overcome! Powerful stuff… it’s called ‘hope.’

Reading problems like dyslexia can have a huge impact on someone’s self-esteem and their ability to reach their full potential. When we learn that people like Jennifer Aniston have had this same issue in their life, and have succeeded, we cheer. “Ah! Another one that made it! Yay!”

In an interview with Hollywood Reporter, Jennifer Aniston said, ” I thought I wasn’t smart. I just couldn’t retain anything.” Yet, we know that she has had a successful career, and has managed to learn scripts that have brought us some of the best entertainment of the last twenty years and is an intelligent woman.

Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg, famed producer of “E.T. and Shindler’s List”, revealed his own problems with dyslexia in an interview with Friends of Quinn. In regards to his being two years behind in reading achievement in school, and his experiences at that time, he said, ” I got bullied. I dealt with it by making movies. That was my cover up.”

Spielberg described that it takes him 3 hours to read something that others would read in 1 hour. Yet, he himself has become a master storyteller of our time. In his role as a director he works with the written word. His success has garnered him the love and respect of many for his retelling of significant pieces of history and stories that overflow with a sense of humanity… even when they are about aliens.

Richard Branson

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group which operates in over 30 counties, said to have founded 8 billion dollar companies in 8 different countries and known as one of the most fascinating and visionary entrepreneurs of our times, said in regard to his own dyslexia:

“My teachers thought I was lazy and not very clever, and I got bored easily…thinking of all the things I could do once I left school. I couldn’t always follow what was going on. On one of my last days at school, the headmaster said I would either end up in prison or become a millionaire. That was quite a startling prediction, but in some respects he was right on both counts!” (Washington Post, 2012)

So, famous people with dyslexia, we thank you. Your stories of success give us stories to share with our children and students. They are stories of motivation, persistence, strengths, talents, gifts and learning. Your stories help us, as we do our best to support these learners in a way that you likely weren’t.

We don’t want it to be quite so hard for dyslexic students we work with and care about, as it was for you. We know more than they did did then.

Role models can start the ball rolling.

Hope is a powerful thing.