The word underdog, according to dictionary.com, is “a competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight.” When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to experience the joy of reading. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties and became an educator, that I began to understand why. I remember the exact moment it became clear to me. I was enrolled in a three-day DIP or dyslexia intervention program training and as a first-year special education teacher I was required to become certified. The head trainer of the workshop candidly spoke about her personal struggles being undiagnosed in school, and added glimpses of her life as a young adult in college. Several years have passed, but I can honestly say those three days changed the way I view myself. As a person who had experienced suffering, I left with a sense of hope. More importantly, as a new teacher, I left empowered to help others.
For me and others with dyslexia, reading is not an enjoyable experience. However, I am almost always listening to a book while driving or walking. I consider myself an avid reader, consuming 2-3 books a month. I have two favorite books I listen to at least once a year. The author, Laura Hillebrand, wrote an extraordinary journey of a young man, Louie Zamperini, in her book Unbroken. This author describes the life of Louie — an underdog in every sense of the word. The book, Playing for Pizza, is also an underdog story. But, unlike Hillebrand’s real-life depiction of an Olympian turned POW, my second favorite is a comedy written by the popular writer John Grisham. Rick Dockery is an NFL player who became a laughingstock during the AFC Championship game. Both stories are inspiring and involve suffering, shame and embarrassment. Although most of us haven’t fought sharks in the Pacific Ocean and captured in WWII or failed on an NFL football field; we can all relate to the hopeless feeling of failure and the emotional damage of trying to obtain something just out of our normal reach.
I have always known, I wanted to serve others in some way. But, if you are like me, sometimes what we want isn’t easy. I spent most of my life thinking I was stupid. It wasn’t until I was almost thirty, I realized I wasn’t. After finishing my Bachelor’s degree I placed it in a beautiful frame. On the wall, it reads “with honors, summa cum laude” under my name. Although, I struggled most of my life with reading, with deliberate practice, I now have an high reading comprehension level. I know this because of my reading score on the Texes EC-6 generalist exam where I received nearly a perfect score in the reading comprehension section. Although I have philological dyslexia, which affects my pronunciation, I overcame my fear of speaking in front of others when I taught 7th and 8th graders.
Sometimes what we want isn’t easy, but without the struggle we don’t obtain the sense of achievement we truly desire. It’s in the journey where we discover what we are made of. As the Chinese proverb suggests: “The journey is the reward.”