School is often hard for dyslexics. But high school grades and standardized tests aren’t actually very good at predicting how successful someone is later in life.

What is a good predictor? How hard a person is willing to work for a goal.


There are a couple of different ways to look at failure. Some successful people look at failure as something to overcome. Others embrace failure, and see where it takes them. Neither approach is wrong. You’ll probably use both approaches at different times in your life.

What these two approaches to failure have in common is that neither of them let failure win.


If you listen to athletes who’ve come from behind to win a game, they usually say something like “We made some mistakes early, but we just focused on what we do best, and we were able to win the game.”

Athletes who worry about what’s going wrong during the game are the ones who choke. They don’t do as well as they could if they just let the mistake go.

Don’t worry about making mistakes. Be like a championship athlete: Focus on what you are good at, and try it again.

“The looks, the stares, the giggles … I wanted to show everybody that I could do better and also that I could read.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson— one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Basketball players of all time, now a successful businessman and co-owner of the LA Dodgers and the LA Sparks


But sometimes it’s more about what you learn along the way rather than the end result.

Paper sticky notes started as a glue that wasn’t sticky enough — it barely held two pieces of paper together. When an inventor at 3M needed a bookmark, though, he realized that he needed a glue just strong enough to hold his bookmark in place.

Microwave ovens were invented during World War II, when an engineer standing next to a radar set found a melted candy bar in his pocket. He realized that the microwaves produced by the radar set could be used to cook food.

In 1928, some scientists were looking for a mold that could kill bacteria. Dust blown in through an open window contaminated the lab experiment. But as the scientists threw the samples out, they noticed that the bacteria on the contaminated plate had died. Penicillin mold blown in through the window had killed it. That mistake led to the development of penicillin-based antibiotics, and has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

Ms. Frizzle, in the Magic School Bus series, by Johanna Cole

Although the people who discovered these ideas may not have been dyslexic, they used a trick dyslexics are good at: they looked at the mistakes differently than the rest of us, and saw greatness.

Remember that everybody makes mistakes. You can recover from them, and they may lead you to interesting new places.

“Failing isn’t a problem — interesting things happen along the way, as any entrepreneur will tell you. After all, I haven’t actually become an astronaut, but I still hope. And in the meantime, I do get to space with the instruments and technology I help create…”

— Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Space Scientist, Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE)


“About Us.” n.d. 3M. Post-It®. Accessed November 13, 2017. https://www.post-it.com/3M/en_US/post-it/contact-us/about-us/.

Aderin-Pocock, Maggie. “Let’s Inspire the next Generation of Scientists.” Telegraph. March 13, 2009, sec. Technology.

Beilock, Sian. 2010. Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal about Getting It Right When You Have To. 1st Free Press hardcover ed. New York: Free Press.

Cyran, Pamela. 2012. “The 20 Most Fascinating Accidental Inventions.” Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 2012. https://www.csmonitor.com/Technology/2012/1005/The-20-most-fascinating-accidental-inventions/Microwave-oven.

Duckworth, Angela. 2016. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. 1st ed. New York: Scribner.

Eide, Brock, and Fernette Eide. 2011. The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

Logan, Julie. 2009. “Dyslexic Entrepreneurs: The Incidence; Their Coping Strategies and Their Business Skills.” Wiley InterScience. https://doi.org/10.1002/dys.388.

Regents of the University of Michigan. n.d. “Success Story: Magic Johnson.” Dyslexia Help. Accessed September 6, 2016. http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/success-stories/magic-johnson.

Rosenberg, Jennifer. 2017. “How Was Penicillin Discovered?” ThoughtCo. March 3, 2017. https://www.thoughtco.com/alexander-fleming-discovers-penicillin-1779782.

Shaywitz. 2003. Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level. 1st ed. New York: Knopf.

Published by Amy Law

Amy Law is a science geek. She feels about science the way some people feel about music, or art, or sports – a total and complete emotional connection. She thinks in science. For Amy, there’s nothing better than helping people see the beauty of science as she does. She loves to untangle a complicated subject into its parts, explaining it so that anybody can understand what’s happening. Let her show you her world...

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