Learning Our Way into Greatness

By Ryan Quinn

Becoming a writing coach when you are dyslexic would seem, to many, to be impossible. Recently, I heard the story of a young woman who did just that.

The Story

Alyssa, as I will call her, is an intelligent woman who worked as a teaching assistant last year in her university’s history department. All her professors adored her. Unfortunately, her timing for her applications was off, so she was not able to secure the same position this year. When her history professor found out, he went out of his way to secure her a position as a writing coach. Grateful for his help, she accepted and called home to report to her parents she had a job.

When Alyssa’s younger sister found out about it, she was baffled. She had lived with Alyssa as Alyssa struggled through elementary and secondary school. She had seen the papers Alyssa had e-mailed home from college to have her mother proofread. Those papers were filled with highlighted sections where her mother had written, “I have no idea what you are trying to say in this sentence.” How could Alyssa possibly be helping other people to improve their writing?

The next time Alyssa called home, her younger sister asked her bluntly (as younger siblings often do), “Don’t you have to be able to read in order to coach other people on their writing?”


“First, I have them tell me what it is that they want to accomplish with their paper,” Alyssa explained. “I ask questions to help them clarify what they are doing and to help me understand what they want to do. Then, I have them read their papers to me—or at least the parts that I need to hear in order to help them. I give them feedback, and they go off and improve their papers.”

Becoming Externally Open

I found this story to be absolutely delightful. It is a simple story, but it is a wonderful illustration of one of the fundamental principles of Lift.

So often, we think things are impossible when they are not. (In fact, as I wrote about in my last blog series, one of the biggest reasons we think something is impossible is because we think that a trait that someone has—our own or someone else’s—is unchangeable.) Alyssa had a personal trait—dyslexia—that she could not change. But that did not stop her at all. Quite the opposite. In retrospect, Alyssa’s solution to how to perform the writing coach job seems so simple as to be obvious. And yet her sister and her family could not even fathom this solution before she revealed it to them.

Innovative and resourceful solutions are usually a product, at least in part, of becoming externally open. We are externally open when we believe we are capable of learning and growing. And we become capable of learning and growing when we stop focusing on ourselves—our abilities—and instead focus on our actions: What can I do?

Recently, I have had a number of new insights into the concept of becoming externally open. This will be the focus on my blog entries this week. As I share my insights, I would be thrilled to learn of anyone who has also had insights into this topic. If you do, please leave them in the comment box. I look forward to a stimulating week full of new ideas!