I have mentioned on a number of postings my learning disabilities and socialization problems (autism). Growing up in the early 1950’s when I went to elementary school was not a very rewarding experience. As a very slow learner with poor socialization and learning grades I repeated 1st grade. Even then I was always near the bottom of my class. Recess was my favorite subject. My younger sibling on the other hand was very smart and at the top of the class. We knew a mentally retarded kid so I always felt that perhaps I was a little mentally retarded like him. I was also the only Asian kid in my elementary and secondary school grade and occasionally encountered some racial taunting and bullying as well.
But I had a keen sense about figuring out how things worked. This duality confused me. Later it was determined that I had dyslexia which accounted at least for my inability to read at grade level. Keep in mind this was the early 1950’s and not much was understood about learning disabilities. Fortunately I had a very nurturing mother who never put me down for not doing as well as my sibling or other kids. She was aware of my talent for figuring out how things worked and encouraged me.
When the family moved abroad after my first year of high school I received a shock. The educational system there was highly competitive and the curriculum far more advanced and rigorous than I had experienced in the States. I was again held back to repeat my freshman year of high school and was typically one of the lowest ranked students in my class thereafter. I had to take special tests just to make it to the next grade. This experience did nothing to build my confidence but I did realize how inadequate our education in the States was.
College back in the States was also a struggle but because of the rigorous education I had received abroad I managed to just hold my own during the undergraduate years which span about 6 years as a full time engineering student. I had to repeat algebra and calculus because of poor grades. Graduate school was even more intense in math and science and I had to repeat several classes to boost my grades to the required B average. But after almost 4 years I finally graduated. One thing that stood out during graduate school was when I took a graduate project class. I was among the top students and I managed to invent a new way of measuring charge on MOS devices to detect ionic contamination. Here again my ability to figure out how things worked and to improve on it stood out.
When I started working things changed a bit. I was a little more free to exercise my creativity. When I was working in manufacturing I would tinker around with things I was in charge of and make improvements. I busted several myths that were standard practice at the time. I also got into software development and designed some test systems and software in the 1980’s to improve performance and usability. I got so good at software because of the freedom of creativity it gave me that I developed a God complex and almost changed careers. I developed some amazing algorithms. But I was hindered by the lack of confidence to change careers. Later I grabbed a chance to get into a new technology and I was able to develop something that gave a huge economic boost to my company. After that my career took off and I was able to exceed all my dreams.
Now that I am retired and have much time to reflect upon how I started out and where I ended up I can see a pattern that at the time I was not aware of. I was persistent when aiming for a goal and I always aimed beyond my capabilities. When I entered college I took up engineering even though I was very poor at mathematics and quantitative science. I always had a fascination of science and technology and knowing how things worked so decided to become an engineer. It took me about 10 years but I kept my sights high and kept at it until I got my degree. When I went to work I got a decent engineering job and created opportunities to improve on manufacturing processes or challenging myself to learn programming and develop very creative algorithms in the 1980’s. Later I saw an opportunity to get into a new technology and invented a very profitable technology for my company. In my almost 40 year career I worked at the same company and in the same division so insecure was I to change working environments.
All the skills required to be a good engineer and programmer usually required a good memory. But I somehow figured ways around the memory deficit problems and succeeded in doing far better than I had any right to believe. I believe the secret to my success was persistence in relentlessly focusing on a goal and creating my own opportunities “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” – Star Trek.
One of my hobbies has been writing, something I did in my spare time when working and now in retirement on this blog. Since college I have not read a book from cover to cover. I read very slowly with poor comprehension due to dyslexia. I quickly forget what I have read earlier due to poor short term memory. Good writing skills require prolific reading in the beginning to lean the techniques of other writers. So the fact that I am writing 2 to 4 articles a week on this blog having scarcely read a book all my life is quite amazing. But I could not write without spell checker. I make no pretense of being a good writer but at least I can write enough to communicate my thoughts.
I’m not trying to brag in this article, rather I am trying to inspire. There are many who have limitations in life which pose insurmountable barriers. But if one has the will to persist and the cleverness to find workarounds of one’s limitations the sky’s the limit. I’m amazed at what I started out with and how my life achieved the impossible dream. I think I was a bit naive in thinking I could do the impossible but perhaps that is what it takes. Ultimately I succeeded in turning adversity into opportunity, then opportunity into success, and so can you.
Frank, I just read your amazing article. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Thanks Larry for your kind words. Are you the same person I knew at work?
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