Maury Hanigan

CEO, SparcStart

Dear Maury

You are not stupid.

It will take thirteen years before you are diagnosed as dyslexic, but you are not stupid. All the games you are playing and schemes you are coming up with to fool people so they don’t figure out that you can’t read aren’t necessary. But it is the 1960’s and nobody has heard of dyslexia.

Let it go

I wish I could really get this letter to you and tell you that the imposter syndrome you experience is not a failing. You are not pretending to be smart, you really are smart. No, you can’t read like the other kids, and you will never be able to spell, but it is not because you are inferior.

Please let go of the memory of the third-grade spelling bee where all the kids stood up around the edge of the room and sat down when they missed a word. Forget the week that the teacher threw you a softball and you tried to spell the word “any” as e-n-y and the whole class laughed mercilessly while the teacher kept insisting you must know how to spell that word. Your brain couldn’t do it. Let it go.

You do belong

And the years ahead in high school when you pass notes to your friends and they come back with your spelling corrected. And ignore the note on your first composition assignment in college where the snotty TA wrote in the margin that the paper was so far below college level work you didn’t even belong at Duke.

When you are 26 years old you will read an article about dyslexia and you will find yourself thinking, “ya, I do that,” and “ya, that happens to me” over and over. You will sit dumbfounded for a while recalling the endless criticisms of “careless errors” and “sloppy work” and consider for the first time that maybe it wasn’t your fault, maybe you aren’t a careless and sloppy person. You will think about how hard you worked to compensate and how the criticism never stopped.


You will need to rethink your belief that you are a stupid person pretending to be smart. You will take an IQ test that you will never be able to fully reconcile with your self-image. You will start to wonder, what if? What would your confidence have been? How would you have presented yourself differently? What would you not have shied away from?

But its going to be OK

Your experience will give you empathy that will make you a compassionate person, and your work ethic will serve you well. As you grow into your understanding of yourself, you’ll appreciate that your brain works differently. You will never be able to spell and you will read at the speed of a 6th grader, but you will be awarded a US patent for a software system that is valuable and unique, and you will create a product that will be used by some of the largest companies in the world.

Spell check is coming!

You will still be embarrassed when friends exclaim, “you haven’t read this book” or “I can’t believe you have never read this author” because they have no idea what a commitment it is for you to read a whole book. And business associates will receive your emails and make judgements about the quality of your work despite your devotion to spell-check and grammar check. (Yes, spell-check and grammar check are coming and they are the most wonderful and important computer programs ever written. They aren’t perfect and don’t catch everything, but they will change your life!)

So hang in there

Because you will never know what abilities come with the disabilities of dyslexia, you will never regret having it or want to give it up, you’ll just wish the journey hadn’t been so painful. And in the grand scheme of things that are important, you will have them all. You will have good health, a loving family, a safe and strong country, and abundant food, shelter and clothing. It’s going to be ok. Stop being so afraid.

PS: If anyone is interested in what it is like to be dyslexic, this is the best simulator I have found:

Thank you Maury Hanigan writing A Letter To My 13 Year Old Self

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