How to Overcome a Learning Disability

We continue our weekly interview series as we hear a story from a very successful blogger and former IT guy on how to overcome a learning disability.

Steve Adcock, authors the blog ThinkSaveRetire. Steve and I are part of a blogging group. We met and the recent FinC0n conference. I'm happy I can now call him a friend.

He's one of my favorite bloggers. His blog made my top ten list of most influential bloggers. I'll let Steve tell you how this interview came about. It's one of those “small world” kind of stories.

Steve asks readers if they want to live differently, change their lives, and achieve their permanent paradise. Who wouldn't want to achieve their permanent paradise?

He writes about a variety of topics. His posts are always well-written, thoughtful, and many times challenge the conventional wisdom of the topics he covers.

Here are a couple of my favorites from the blog:
6 Ways Clever Marketers Get Us to Spend More Money
Before Assuming You Aren't Rich, Understand What “Rich” Means

He's a poster child for the FIRE community having retired from his corporate job at a very young age. Again, I'll let him fill in the details in the interview. His story is inspiring and will encourage you in whatever adversity you might face. Like many of the folks I've interviewed, Steve's most significant difficulty happened when he was younger.

Without further adieu, here's my conversation with Steve.

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m Steve and, together with my wife Courtney, we are full-time digital nomads who live in a 30’ Airstream travel trailer. We spend our days away from the computer witnessing the incredible beauty that the United States offers and that most of us never get to see.

I retired at 35 from a 14-year career working in Information Technology. My wife retired at 33. We both worked engineering-type jobs, which pay well. We were able to save up money fairly rapidly before calling it quits from full-time work.

I blog at ThinkSaveRetire.com, and both my wife and I run a YouTube channel at A Streamin’ Life.

What motivated you and Courtney to choose FI and the lifestyle you now enjoy?

I hated work. Like, a genuine hatred. Every day that I was forced to spend eight to 10 hours working for someone else was a day that I felt was wasted. It was relentless. The expectation that my life revolved around the company and their high-paying clients was a draw that I couldn’t stomach. I knew that there was no way I’d be able to keep doing that until I was 60 or 65. I needed out.

My wife was much more accepting of her job. She loved the people she worked with and generally liked what she did. But given a better option (like retiring early and traveling full-time), it didn’t take much to get her on-board with my crazy idea to achieve financial independence and retire early.

For me, I wanted out of corporate America because I was dissatisfied with the idea of giving up a significant portion of my time to another company. The daylight hours are when I’m motivated and determined. Unfortunately, those hours were taken from me when I worked a full-time job.

Naturally, I had to work to accumulate money. I’m thankful I choose an engineering-type career. No doubt, I wouldn’t be retired now if I hadn’t earned an IT salary over those 14 years. Even through my keen distaste for work, I still recognize everything that went right for me and the decisions I made to put myself into a position to retire early.

You read my interview with my pastor, Mike Minter. First of all, your history there is a crazy coincidence. More than that, you resonated with the story. Tell us why.

My jaw practically dropped when I read your interview with Mike Minter. As a child, my parents were church-goers. I remember going from church to church when we first moved to the Herndon, Virginia area until we found the church that my folks connected with. A lot of that had to do with the pastor.

Reston Bible Church is where we ended up, and a lot of it had to do with Mike Minter. His speaking style is truly amazing and unique. Though we never personally knew Mike, we knew that we loved listening to him every Sunday.

I’m not a terribly religious person, but even I enjoyed his speaking style.

And, I never would have guessed that Mike struggled.

I did, too. I was in what Fairfax County labeled a “Learning Disability Program” – or LD for short. The LD program was for kids who didn’t learn as quickly as their peers. During our school day, LD students got to take a “Basic Skills” class to get help with our homework from teachers dedicated to providing this additional help. This class would replace a regular class that other kids took.

Related:
Growing Up Abused – A Story of Tragedy and Triumph
How to Thrive After Two Job Losses in One Year
How to Overcome a Gambling Addiction – A True Story

Did this affect you growing up? Were you treated differently by other kids? Did you have resentment at being labeled a kid with a learning disability?

My problem was reading. I was one of those kids who could read several pages in a book and then not remember a thing that I read. Nothing. I’d fail even the most elementary test covering those few pages I read because my recall just wasn’t there.

Naturally, this had a huge effect on my ability to learn in school. It took me twice as long – sometimes longer than that, to learn the same topics that other kids would pick up almost instantly. When they read, they retained that data.

When I read, I lost the vast majority of it.

I don’t remember being teased by other kids for this – though I was definitely picked on as a child. My last name alone (Adcock) provided all the fodder that a 12-year-old needed to chide me relentlessly. I always hated that name. 🙂

As a result, my confidence as a kid was pretty low. Readers of my blog know that I’ve overcome that lack of confidence throughout my life, but it wasn’t an easy process. It took a lot of time.

How did you overcome this?

Slow and steady wins the race as they say. Strangely enough, I never set out with the specific goal to overcome my reading disability or confidence problem. For me, I found that the strength to overcome was built naturally as the years carried on. The older I got, the easier it was to push through.

First, I realized that I wasn’t that much different than anyone else. Yes, I might have read slower than other kids, but they had problems too. I had strengths that they didn’t and, of course, vice versa. Once I recognized that we all have our own strengths and battle our unique weaknesses, it became much easier for me to overcome my struggles.

Second, I compensated whenever I could. I knew what my weaknesses were and I worked hard not to put myself into a position where those weaknesses would show.

For example, I majored in Information Technology in college rather than a more rigorous Computer Science program. A Computer Science degree is much more centered on math. The classes are tougher and more detailed. Standards are higher.

In other words, it was a much harder degree program to get through.

Though I did the exact same work in my career as someone who went through a Computer Science program, I choose the easier route that worked better for me. My IT degree still prepared me to do the same work as CS majors. I might not have had the same level of knowledge and experience with Computer Science theory, but that’s okay. I've never wanted to get that deep into computers anyway.

I worked with my strengths, minimized my weaknesses, and excelled.

Do you still find it difficult to read and comprehend? If so, how do you deal with it? If not, how did it change for you?

Sometimes, yes.

My wife got me into reading fiction at night as a way to just unwind from the day and settle in for [hopefully] eight blissful hours of sleep.

The more I read books that I enjoy, the easier it gets to comprehend and retain the words that I read. Though I’m still far from a natural reader, it’s easier today than it was when I was in grade school.

And, I think a lot of it has to do with what I’m reading. Forgive me, but reading Shakespeare and other “high-end” designer novels in school just wasn’t my jam. I didn’t care about them. They weren’t exciting. And, I knew that I was just reading for the expressed purpose of taking some test and then moving on.

That whole process didn’t make sense to me, and the negative reinforcement that “reading was a chore” didn’t help me to overcome my reading comprehension problem. I was not reading for enjoyment back then.

I read because it was an assignment.

Today, I read because I enjoy it. I’m more focused and determined to retain every word that I read. I get way more satisfaction out of finishing a book today than I ever did as a child.

To me, that’s the key to teaching kids how to read. When we treat reading like a chore, kids will interpret all reading to be a chore.

What encouragement would you give to others dealing with a learning or other disability?

We all have things that we struggle with. Believe me when I say that it’s not just you. It’s me, too. And your neighbor. Just because you can’t see other people’s weaknesses doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Without exception, we all have them.

We all struggle with different things, and we human beings aren’t perfect. None of us are. And, it’s this struggle that sometimes gives us the most happiness as we figure out ways to overcome. The satisfaction of pushing through hurdles is unlike any other feeling in life.

Take it from me. I went from someone who had a very difficult time with reading comprehension to someone who earned excellent money in information technology and then retired at the age of 35 to much happier pursuits.

But it didn’t happen overnight; it took time.

The first step is to admit to yourself that you struggle with something. Once that admission is out of the way, you’ve mentally allowed yourself to find ways to begin to overcome your struggle.

Ignoring your struggle only cements it into your life.

Then, find ways to overcome your struggle and avoid your weaknesses. For me, that meant choosing a less rigorous degree in college. For you, it might be allowing yourself more time to do certain things, or changing up your routine, or getting out of your comfort zone by volunteering for public speaking.

Whatever your struggle is, there’s always a way to begin the process of overcoming. It’s different for every one of us, and this process often requires a little trial and error. Keep trying.

You CAN overcome your weaknesses. It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when…and, how. Keep trying. Understand and accept that we all struggle, and your struggle doesn’t make you inferior to anyone else.

It makes you…you.

Steve and Courtney

Final thoughts

At some point, we all encounter adversity. I do these interviews to offer encouragement to anyone dealing with a similar issue in their life to the one highlighted in the interview. So many people I've met have dealt with a learning disability.

Steve's story encouraged me when he told it. I hope it does the same for anyone dealing with this or any other disability. The common thread in overcoming most any adversity is perseverance and drive to get better.

The stigma from the disability is often as bad as the disability. Steve was fortunate he didn't get bullied or made fun of because of his disability (though he did say his name gave him plenty of that). He figured how to choose a degree option that gave him the best advantage to be successful. He offers lots of lessons on overcoming.

The example he shows with his success, not just financial, but in how he lives his life, is one from which we can all learn.

Thanks, Steve for sharing your story in such an honest and open manner. I guess that shouldn't surprise me. That's who you are. It's one of the many reasons I appreciate you so much.

Hopefully one day, we'll cross paths when we hit the road in our future travel trailer.

Now it's your turn. What adversity have you overcome? How did you do it? What did you learn from it? Would you like to tell your story here? If so, I'd love to hear from you.

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