The truth is I spent most of my childhood imagining I was anything other than the person that I was. I had two sisters, one brother and parents that divorced when I was around 7. If I wasn’t glued to the TV, I was off on adventures with no consideration for anyone around me, I was for all purposes in a world completely of my own. At some point in Kindergarten, I guess my parents realised I wasn’t making friends, so they decided to send me wearing a jumpsuit with lollies sewn all over it to attract the other kids to me. I remember being so angry that I had to share and the fear of being chased while they pulled and grabbed at me. I mention this moment, because it was one that solidified early in my head, that I’d rather be alone.
For the next 12 years of schooling, I bounced from one side of Australia to the other, never being able to stay with any one parent for any length of time. I stayed at each different school for between 3-12 months, never being able to understand why I was constantly rejected by my peers, my parents or the other people in my life. I went to 13 schools in total and did two years of home schooling. At one school, they tried to encourage my love of the outdoors by allocating a garden for me to look after. Problem was, when they said the garden was my responsibility and left me there, I thought that meant I could whatever I wanted with it. I dug the whole garden up, wanting to reorganise the plants in a more appealing way. No malice, I wanted the plants in height order with straighter lines and they had said it was my responsibility now. By the time the teacher came back and saw me standing in the middle of all those dug up plants, I was again told I didn’t fit in there. They had tried everything but now the was nothing they could do for me.
In my senior years, I was failing every subject other than math and science. I had spent most of my years by that point sitting at the back of the classroom, facing the wall, drawing. You’d think that would mean I’d have passed art, but while my practical work was great, I couldn’t motivate myself to do the theory work. Every time I tried to read or write long paragraphs, the words would just jumble in front me, like a swirling mess that I couldn’t understand or make sense of. No matter how hard I tried I just knew I wasn’t like everyone else. I figured as soon as I got outside of the schooling environment life would be so much better for me.
By the time four years had passed, after school life had finished, I was on the verge of despair. I couldn’t hold a job for more than a few weeks. I had no chance at going to university because school had already proven I couldn’t study like other kids. My relationship with my family wasn’t great, I had no friends and I was homeless, living in an old rusted van. I went to so many job networking agencies trying to improve myself, unsure of how to really communicate or figure out what I needed to do to get a normal life. People I knew from school were starting businesses, in careers, had girlfriends and apartments and I was failing at everything.
I started reading a book, Rich Dad Poor Dad. I’m sure I never finished it, but it made me realise that my life up to that point was a waste of space. I climbed up the scaffolding of a partially built high rise on the Gold Coast, considering jumping off because I knew life wasn’t worth living the way I had up until that point in time.
That night I was lucky. I didn’t fall off or decide to jump. I climbed down and realised that if I was going to be successful in any way, I was going to have to make myself uncomfortable and give life a new go. I had to stop trying to live everyone else’s lives and start living my own. The next day, I printed out resumes, went and handed them out at any employer that I thought looked interesting. That day I got a job at a popular woman’s fashion outlet. I worked there for a year and even got a second job so I could upgrade my car and get a rental house to share with my brother and one of his friends.
Ove the next 6 years, I would slowly read sales books, attend sales seminars and work to become the salesman of the year for the Vacation Ownership company I worked for. I went from retail and cleaning cinemas, to telemarketer, to promotional person in the middle of Surfers Paradise, to Sales Representative in that time. I also met and married my wife. It’s amazing what you can do with hyper focus, when you focus it on making positive steps in your life.
When our first daughter was born, I was 28, I decided to go out on my own having achieved the relevant qualifications and start my own Financial Services company from our garage. Along the path of personal development, I realised I could study, if I did things I was interested in and I persisted past what my low self-esteem told me I was capable of. I started at the kitchen table, but Vanessa said I was too messy and loud (yes, I do have a problem with modulating my voice when I’m excited and organising large volumes of paperwork), so out into the garage I went.
All my life I thought there was something seriously wrong with me. It took me so much longer to understand and process simple things that everyone else seemed to do so easily I just believed I was really stupid. Through learning structured sales and all its nuances like body language, first impressions and building rapport, I was able to build a very successful business that ended up moving us into a 7-bedroom waterfront home with luxury cars and kids in private schools. I never dreamed that my life was capable of what I achieved for my family. I also have built networks of friends, that share the same business and family interests as I do.
Up until 32 I was stupid and slow but becoming successful in sales. That was until our daughter who was 5 at the time, received her diagnosis for ASD. When I saw how heartbreaking it was for her, who had made friends being made to leave a school that didn’t want to accommodate her I realised it was time for me to look further into what had made my own school and early adult life such a mess. While I didn’t really want to know I have ASD, ADHD and Dyslexia because I had moved on, being able to tell her that she wasn’t the only one helped me reach out and support her in her time of need.
The diagnoses also explained why I needed to learn the structure of sales for my life to improve. The barriers of communication came down when I had a broad structure I could apply to speaking to people in any situation. I also learnt to see the cues of when a conversation needs to change course and I knew the exact words to competently do so, without relying on others to carry the conversation for me.
Three years on and both my daughters, and son are on the spectrum. I understand their challenges and behaviour, because most of it reminds me of mine. They have early support to help them overcome their anxieties, interact in a more meaningful way with the world outside their heads and more importantly they are learning that with a bit of support it is amazing what we all are capable of.