In his latest book “David and Goliath” Malcolm Gladwell discusses in depth the idea of “desirable difficulties.”  The idea is that not all difficulties that we face are negative.  He talks at length about some of the most successful people who are dyslexic, and how, for example, an obstacle such as struggling with reading made them better listeners, allowing them to be very successful.

Gary Cohn was a dyslexic who had a very difficult childhood.  He faced a lot of ridicule as a kid because people thought he was just stupid or lazy.  His own Mom just hoped he could graduate from high school so he could become a truck driver.

The story is that Cohn wanted to work on Wall Street, so he just went down there to see who he could make contact with.  He noticed an executive hustling to the elevator telling someone he had to get to LaGuardia Airport.  So Cohn hopped in the elevator and told him he was going to LaGuardia as well and asked if he wanted to share a cab.  They took a cab together, and he so impressed the executive that the man asked him to call him on Monday.  He brought him in for an interview and gave him a job as an options trader.

Gladwell explains: “Cohn was required in that taxi ride to play a role: to pretend to be an experienced options trader when in fact he was not.  Most of us would have foundered in that situation.  We aren’t used to playing someone other than ourselves.  But Cohn had been playing someone other than himself since elementary school.”  He had always been the clown in school, came up with funny things to hide his dyslexia.  Playing a role like he did in that cab was comfortable for him.

Cohn states: “My upbringing allowed me to be comfortable with failure.  The one trait in a lot of dyslexic people I know is that by the time we got out of college, our ability to deal with failure was very highly developed.  And so we look at most situations and see much more of the upside than the downside.  Because we’re so accustomed to the downside.  It doesn’t faze us.  I’ve thought about it many times, I really have, because it defined who I am.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without my dyslexia.  I never would have taken that first chance.”

As a coach that you have to embrace the culture of your own situation, regardless of how difficult (Granted, none of the challenges we face are as significant as dyslexia).  When you deal with difficulty, it allows you to come up with different pathways to success.  You can make your difficulties desirable ones and find ways to succeed that you may never have discovered.

Gary Cohn went on to become the President of Goldman Sachs.

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