Matthew Strawbridge: using dyslexia for inspiration

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Matthew Strawbridge is a 15-year-old Wellingtonian who attends Scots College. He’s used his dyslexia to make a positive difference in his own life and the lives of others. Our CEO Rod Drury was so impressed by Matthew that he invited him to spend two weeks at Xero to get some new work experience.

Today, Matthew has kindly agreed to share his story with us.

It’s an amazing feeling being able to help kids reach their potential, provide workshops for fellow dyslexics, and have the opportunity to travel overseas to attend Global Youth Leadership Summits.

Sharing a stage with Richard Branson and meeting famous motivational speaker Les Brown have also been life changing experiences for me. Being interviewed for both magazine articles and TV has been pretty memorable too.

It’s also a fantastic feeling to be successful in NCEA, strive towards receiving a level one endorsement, and receive top marks for business studies. However, my life has not always been like this…

Growing up with dyslexia

Kindy was awesome, and I loved every bit of it. However, once I started school I started to realise that I couldn’t do what my friends could do, but I didn’t know why.

One day, in about Year 3, the teacher asked the class to do a piece of writing about our break. I was sitting next to a kid who wrote three or four pages on his holiday. Other kids in my class wrote papers of similar length. I was able to think of so many things to say, but all I could write was the date – Wednesday 5th of September. Every five to ten minutes the teacher would come over and tell me off for being lazy. I had just returned home from a holiday in Australia and had the burning desire to write about the amazing time that I just had, but I just couldn’t. It was an incredibly frustrating experience, I didn’t talk to anyone, and I was trying so hard to focus, but I just couldn’t get the words down.

In my first few years of school, I would often have rushes of anxiety, stress and confusion while I was in the classroom. To the point where my parents had to drag me kicking and screaming out of bed each day. I was completely unmotivated and every day I woke with a pain in my stomach. It got so bad I went to the doctor who suggested anti-depressants, but I never took them.

Making positive changes

Finally, in Year 5, things began to fall into place. I began to realize that if things were going to change in my life, it had to come from me. I was officially diagnosed with dyslexia, so the meaning behind my struggle changed, I was no longer ‘lazy’ or ‘unintelligent’, I was dyslexic. I was also lucky enough to have a really awesome teacher, Ms. Kidman. She looked beyond my struggle to read and write. She gave me the confidence to make mistakes, she told me that if you aren’t making mistakes then you aren’t learning – it was the first time I realised it was ok to make mistakes.

After year 5, my confidence inside and outside the classroom started to grow. I started looking at dyslexia in a positive light. I realised that if I didn’t, then no one else would. I always think of the ‘blind person’ example – a visually impaired person can’t see, but their other senses become heightened, smelling, hearing, taste or touch. This is kind of like dyslexia. With our weaknesses come great strengths, we just need to find them.

‘Dyslexia Potential’

When I was 13 years old, I decided to set up a website for fellow dyslexic kids called Dyslexia Potential. I never wanted any other kid to feel the same way that I did. I knew that using the internet was the easiest way to help others with similar challenges to those that I had faced. The website explains the different stages of the dyslexia journey. It has self esteem videos and includes everything that I have done or look back on and wish I had done in regards to my dyslexia.

Ultimately, I try and share my journey with as many people as I can. Once the website was established, I was interviewed on Breakfast TV. At first I wasn’t keen to go on the show at all – I was so nervous! But I knew that this was the best way for me to spread the word about my website, and help other kids by doing so.

After my interview I received lots of emails from dyslexic kids, and my website was being used by many kids who were experiencing what I had experienced.

Global Youth Leadership Summit

When I attended a Global Youth Leadership Summit in San Diego I was so inspired by the impact the presenters had on people’s lives. I connected with so many incredible people while I was there. This impacted my life in such a positive way. I knew that I wanted to do something similar, as I have always wanted to help and serve others.

At first I decided that I would wait until I was older before I started to organise my own workshops, until I met Les Brown. Les is a famous American motivational speaker, and I was lucky enough to have lunch with him at one of the courses I attended. He told me that there was no point in waiting and that I should just get out there and go for it.

Workshops for kids with dyslexia

So, in 2013, I held my first workshop for dyslexic kids. I was so nervous. I went in there questioning whether these kids would even want to listen to me – it was scary! But the kids were amazing. That’s when I realized it was about us all coming together and learning from each other. If we each know a little bit, we can come together and know it all. I think I learnt as much from these amazing kids as they learnt from me. After my first workshop, I had a lot more confidence and drive because the kids enjoyed it, and I received a lot of great feedback.

But realistically, it was these kids being surrounded by other amazing kids who shared the same gift of dyslexia, and enjoying each other’s company, that made the workshop successful.

Since then, I’ve held about six workshops. They have been popular and always sell out quickly, which shows how many kids are feeling terrible as a dyslexic within the school environment. In my workshops, I try to change thoughts about dyslexia and empower kids to use their strengths (or as I call them, “dyslexic superpowers”), in order to overcome the challenges that their dyslexia presents.

I also get these kids to find a role model to follow; often these role models are fellow dyslexics who have had an impact on the world, from Richard Branson to Richie McCaw. I motivate these kids to have achievable dreams, but also to dream big for the things that they believe to be impossible.

When they get up on stage and share their dreams, I’m always surprised and in awe of the kids that I get to work with. Their dreams range from being actors to inventors, to highland farmers. These kids reinforce that it is diversity that the world needs, not just people who can learn by rote (we now have Google, after all!)

Meeting Richard Branson

Then my dream of meeting Richard Branson came true. This experience really taught me to aim big. I went to a workshop that he was speaking at, and both my parents and I hoped that I would just be able to see him. However, my ultimate dream was that I would actually have the chance to talk to him (and maybe he would invite me to his island!). Not only did I get to meet him, but I was fortunate to share the stage with him in front of hundreds of people.

When I arrived at the workshop I recognised one of the people directing people into the room, so I told him  that I would love to talk to Richard Branson. He told me Richard was coming through one particular door, and soon after, Richard walked right in. I handed Richard my business card (he put it in his back pocket), and he kept walking to the stage. After Richard’s talk he asked if anyone had any questions – my hand went straight up. He said “you, the young fella”, (I stuck out as I was the only teenager). I started talking to him about what I was doing with dyslexic kids, and he then invited me on stage! He said, “this man deserves a round of applause”, and grabbed my hand and lifted it up. It was the most unbelievable experience to meet my role model – I was buzzing for ages!

Next stop: becoming a life coach

Since then, I have been to many youth leadership events and workshops in Australia and America. Ultimately, I would love to be a life coach who speaks to thousands of people on how to live to their full potential. I believe that everyone has the potential to do and achieve anything they want in life – it’s just whether they understand or know that, and how they get there.

Dyslexia is very close to my heart, but I now want to help and serve anyone and everyone. I aim to extend my talks so that they aren’t limited to those with dyslexia – but are for everyone to attend.

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