My name is Matana, which in Hebrew means “gift.” Today marks my Hebrew birthday, and I would like to share a little bit about me.
During my childhood, people often told me that I was a true gift. However, I never fully grasped the meaning of that statement because I was a shy and timid girl who didn’t believe I had much to offer. I thought that I needed to give physical gifts in order to receive recognition. Growing up, I faced challenges with reading and writing due to being dyslexic. Reading out loud was particularly difficult, and I struggled with writing as well. My handwriting was atrocious and resembled that of a third-grader, at best. I often mixed up the placement of letters within words and even left some letters out.
As a shy individual, it was hard for me to express myself verbally because I was afraid to use my voice. In addition, my difficulties with writing fluently created another layer of difficulty. However, when I turned 19, I embarked on a journey to Hong Kong for a year, where I taught at a Jewish Day School. It was during this time that I realized the power of using my voice. I discovered that I had a gift for connecting with other people. Initially, I had been embarrassed by my dyslexia and had hidden behind my silence. But as I began to open up and share my thoughts, I noticed that people were drawn to me. They wanted to engage in conversations, and many meaningful relationships blossomed as a result. I became a safe space for others to express themselves. It was a revelation for me when I recognized that my true gifts were my thoughts, my creative mind, and my analytical abilities but especially the ability to listen to others and hold space for them.
I was blessed with an extremely strong sense of intuition that allowed me to connect with others on a deep level. I often pick up on things and thought that most people can’t feel or see. Although I lacked the ability to write eloquently, my mind and my voice compensated for it. I am truly grateful for this compensation, as it has formed thousands of relationships, led to meaningful jobs, and it even improved my intuition. I came to realize that I, as an individual, am a gift. It’s not just about physical things I can give; it’s about my ability to connect with others as I am, and to enable them to connect with me as they are.
Throughout the years, as I embarked on my journey of embracing dyslexia, something remarkable happened. I fell in love with reading. With a determined spirit and an unwavering desire to acquire knowledge, I immersed myself in books. It became about finding the right tools and techniques that suited my learning style. Recently I also discovered audiobooks, which allowed me to absorb information effortlessly (and on the go). I learned some speed-reading techniques that enabled me to get through books at an quicker pace. With each book I consumed, my love for reading deepened, and my thirst for knowledge grew insatiable. In a way, I became addicted to information and knowledge, a thirst in yearning to just acquire more and more knowledge.
Becoming a book lover opened up new horizons for me for the past 25 years. It expanded my understanding, broadened my perspectives, and ignited my imagination. I found solace in the pages of books, diving into different worlds, exploring diverse ideas, and learning from the wisdom of countless authors. Reading became my gateway to new insights, inspiration, and personal growth.
It was through this profound love for reading that I overcame the limitations initially imposed by dyslexia. I realized that dyslexia did not define me; rather, it became a catalyst for my insatiable thirst for knowledge.
After researching dyslexia and making the decision to overcome its challenges, I realized that there are numerous successful high achievers who have overcome dyslexia and reached great heights in life. These individuals have achieved significant success in their respective fields while openly sharing their experiences with dyslexia, inspiring others and raising awareness about the condition. Some of the famous that have dyslexia: Richard Branson, Tom Cruise, Orlando Bloom, Steven Spielberg, Jay Leno, Anderson Cooper, Magic Johnson
This realization has motivated and encouraged me to push through and utilize whatever resources I need to overcome this obstacle.
A fact about dyslexia is that it’s not easy, but it is doable. I often mix up phone numbers and dial the wrong number, so I ask people to proofread what I write to catch any typos because I struggle to catch them myself. Thankfully, I have an incredible team and technology that allows for easy editing. When I read to myself, I get extremely tired after a certain amount of time because I’m using extra energy to form words in a fluent way. My eyes get tired, and I can even get headaches, so I need to pace myself, especially when I haven’t had enough sleep. This can be frustrating when I want to go through a lot of material or educate myself on a specific topic. Most of the time, if there is an audiobook available along with a regular book, I often buy both so I can alternate between them. On Shabbat, since I don’t use technology, I only read from physical books or magazines.
I’m glad I have found solutions to cope with dyslexia. However, it’s not as easy for me as it is for the average reader/writer.
However, I still struggle with deep shame from my childhood that I cannot let go of. There were times when a teacher would call out my name to read aloud, and my voice would literally get stuck in my throat. I would feel like the walls of the classroom were closing in on me, instantly feeling overwhelmed with fear and shame.
I would beg my teachers to let me read silently instead and test me on content not on the speed of reading (as I have a good memory and could read to myself much faster), but back in those days, the focus was not on accommodating the needs of children; it was about following protocols.
Even today, I can become overwhelmed thinking about the young Matana who lived in fear of being made fun of due to her inability to speak fluently. It was a sad and incredibly lonely experience. In recent years, I have been working towards freeing myself from this childhood trauma and the limiting belief that I am inferior due to my dyslexia. I have done a lot of trauma work, but there are still deep wounds that require further healing.
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and taking a walk with an incredible person named Daniel Mate. During our conversation, I shared with him my struggles with dyslexia and how I always felt inadequate compared to my exceptionally bright family. I believed that I was “less than” because I couldn’t consume information at the same pace as they could when I was growing up.
During our conversation, Daniel asked me what I considered to be my strength. I replied that living with gratitude and maintaining a full and grateful heart, even in the face of adversity, was my joy. It felt like my superpower. I shared with him that when I was struggling with depression and taking various medications, it was the practice of living with gratitude that eventually brought me back to a state of health. I incorporated gratitude into my daily life, making it a way of living—a lifestyle centered on having a full and grateful heart.
Daniel posed a beautiful question that sparked deep contemplation within me. He asked, “What if you fall in love with your dyslexia through gratitude? What if you approach dyslexia with gratitude?” This question challenged me to consider how I could use the tool of gratitude to overcome the shame and hardships associated with dyslexia. For the past few months, I have been reflecting on this question. I started expressing gratitude for my dyslexia and acknowledging the challenges it presented me with. I thanked my dyslexia for teaching me resilience, perseverance, and creativity. I appreciated my body for finding creative ways to acquire knowledge despite the obstacles I faced. I expressed gratitude towards technology for providing me with easy access to information and enabling me to learn in ways that suited my learning style.
I thanked my dyslexia for teaching me the power of my mind and my words.
Growing up, we had very strong core values in our home. One of my mother’s mantras that she instilled in us was, “Words have power, so be careful of what you say.” She is absolutely right. I have come to realize that it’s not only powerful to withhold certain words but also to consider how we use our words and the impact they can have. It was a great lesson that she taught me. How can we harness the power of our words to empower and connect with others?
Through speaking, I found my voice and discovered the gift of human connection. I recognized that my mouth became my power tool, allowing me to express myself, share my thoughts, and create deep connections with others. Instead of relying on writing, which was a challenge for me, I embraced the art of conversation as a means of expressing myself authentically.
I also expressed gratitude to my dyslexia for reminding me that I am not alone in facing adversity. It served as a constant reminder that everyone has their own struggles, and it’s through overcoming these challenges that we find our strength. My dyslexia humbled me and taught me empathy and compassion towards others who face difficulties of their own.
Every day, I take a few moments to sit with gratitude for my dyslexia. I acknowledge the setbacks and frustrations that come with it, but I also focus on the growth, resilience, and unique perspectives it has gifted me. I understand that gratitude and struggles can coexist, and I give myself permission to honor the pain and difficulties while embracing the gifts that have emerged from them.
As I visualize the future, I see myself standing on stage, delivering a keynote speech in front of thousands of people. I envision sharing my story of dyslexia, highlighting how my adversity transformed into my superpower. I want to inspire others to embrace their own unique adversities and recognize the hidden gifts within them. I believe that each and every individual possesses a superpower that can positively impact the world, and by embracing our authentic selves, being creative, and letting go of shame that we can tap into that power.
Throughout my journey, I have come to understand that every person is a gift, just like my name suggests. We are all unique gifts, and there is no one else like us in the world. I encourage everyone to embrace their authenticity, be proud of their unique qualities, and never hide behind shame. By doing so, we open ourselves up to a world of possibilities and opportunities for growth, connection, and impact.
I express my gratitude to those who have provided service and support throughout my life. It has been a lesson instilled in me by my father, who is also dyslexic. Though I may not have inherited his exceptional brilliance, I have inherited the value of expressing gratitude and kindness with my words. It brings me joy to be recognized for my kind words and for speaking up for justice and truth.
That is why my podcast has become a safe haven for me—a place where I can share and express my voice freely. In previous generations, I may not have had the same opportunities to share my thoughts so widely, but with the advent of podcasting and social media, I have been blessed with the means to reach a broader audience.
Today, on my Hebrew birthday, as I turn 47, I am profoundly grateful for the challenges and triumphs that have shaped me into the person I am today.
I am grateful for the journey of self-discovery, the moments of connection, and the lessons learned along the way. I am grateful for the support of my loved ones, mentors, and team who have helped me navigate the ups and downs of life. And most importantly, I am grateful for the gift of being myself—the gift of Matana.
In this moment, I celebrate my existence and embrace the beautiful tapestry of experiences that have woven together to create the unique individual I am today. I carry with me the lessons of gratitude, authenticity, and resilience, and I look forward to sharing these gifts with the world.
I hope through my words, actions, and advocacy, I will strive to create a world where individuals with dyslexia and other learning differences are embraced and supported. I will use my platform to raise awareness, break down stigmas, and promote inclusivity in education and society at large.
I am deeply thankful to my mentor, Rachel Dvir, for teaching me the power of delegation and bringing to my awareness that it is my superpower to hire people who can help me create my dream. I express my gratitude to my team, who support me in editing, preparing, and sharing my thoughts with the world. Their dedication and collaboration have been invaluable in amplifying my message and reaching a wider audience.
Thank you for joining me on this reflection and celebration. May we all embrace our uniqueness, cherish our gifts, and create a world where every individual is valued and appreciated for who they are.
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