Achieving a successful travel career with dyslexia – my personal story
I have dyslexia – I know I’m not alone. The NHS states that up to 1 in 10 people has some form of dyslexia in the UK; that’s around 6.3 million people. But, for something so widespread, there’s not much common knowledge about what it is and how having dyslexia in the workplace affects people. People know it can mean you’re a bad speller, but there’s more to it than that. I’d like to share my story, about how I’ve managed the condition and been able to progress my career successfully despite having severe dyslexia.
What is certain is that dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. Einstein, JFK and Steve Jobs all had it, as does Erin Brockovich, among many others. However, when I was at school, I was definitely made to feel stupid. I wasn’t diagnosed until I got to Bournemouth University. So at school my teachers put me in the bottom sets, which I found painfully embarrassing as all my friends were in top sets.
I knew I was intelligent but my brain worked slightly differently to other people’s. It just took me longer to get my head around certain things, so my coping strategy started there and then. Sadly, it wasn’t really understood by teachers – I just knew I had to work extra hard. I went to after-school classes and summer school to bring me up to speed. I found a way to take information and apply it, and slowly I began to climb up the sets. I knew I had to always plan ahead of exams and work so much harder to get good results. But it worked: I started to get top marks. This work ethic and determination has stayed with me. Back then, I managed to get good GCSEs and A Levels, and went on to do a degree and have a successful career in travel, now as a manager in travel recruitment.
Diagnosis – the need for extra assistance
After I was finally diagnosed at university I immediately felt a surge of relief and began to get the support I needed. I was given special software and a new laptop, which helped loads. Different things work for different people, so having support helps to find what works best for each person. I was given extra time for exams as it can take me longer to get my head around questions and for me to answer than other students. I also had a tutor who checked my course work and gave me suggestions for how to adapt. The help was brilliant and I started to realise that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of.
For me, the main issues are still that I need to work extra hard to get the results. If you give me a surprise test, I’ll panic and do badly, so I always need to factor in extra time to prepare. I work hard for exams or important meetings. When I have the chance to do this I smash it. I had to do an accountancy module at university, and I was extremely stressed about failing it. My sister is an accountant and kindly took time out to tutor me. At first, she was worried too and asked if I would be able to retake, as I was so bad. But my determination kicked in and I set up a revision group with friends and ended up tutoring them and got 98% in the test. I know in life whatever is thrown at me I can go into slight panic mode, but I have learned to take a step back and process – then I can do it.
Having said that, the panic can come back. Even if I’m playing games with friends, I dread being slower to answer questions than others. My poor husband knows that I try to hide any panic from others. I still have nightmares about exams, too. So, every day with dyslexia in the workplace is a process of coping. But I’m proud of how well I’ve done.
Employers – have patience and be open
My advice to employers and colleagues of those who are dyslexic is to have patience. Really, that’s all it takes. Find out what support could be helpful and discuss it – encourage open discussion. Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence, so find out how your colleague with dyslexia could be assisted at work to perform their job to the best of their ability.
James Roberts, director-owner here at Progressive Travel Recruitment has always been supportive. When I had my interview with him, I mentioned my dyslexia straight up. I explained that I’m a high performer but I would need assistance in some circumstances. He was great about it. I have a fantastic support team who help write some content, I get emails checked when needed and I also use Grammarly, which is brilliant for checking my spelling. The British Dyslexia Association has handy information for those with dyslexia and what they should ask for to help them in the workplace. It’s also worth a look for employers of people with dyslexia to help understand the condition.
If you have dyslexia it’s about finding a way to work that suits you. I advise telling people that you’re dyslexic. I have a sign off on my email, which says, ‘Please ignore any errors; I have dyslexia.’ I find simple things such as this really help.
Luckily, things have improved for children with dyslexia in schools, and there is more testing and less judgement now. Sometimes having to fight to be recognised can reap rewards in life, however. I would now say that dyslexia is also my strength as it has made me the hard-working and determined person I am today. There can be stress and tears along the way but I always achieve what I set out to do. I’m proud of my successes in life so far, from high grades at A level, to a 2:1 at university and promotions in every travel job I’ve been in. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed, it just might take me a little longer to get there.