Jonathan Mooney – Find Your Strengths
Jonathan Mooney was always the slow kid in class. Called ‘stupid’ and ‘lazy’ most of his life, he believed that because he was different, he was deficient. His inspiring redemption story will make you reignite the flames that burn within you and find your gift.
And I struggled in school. I was the kid who spent most of the day chilling out with the janitor in the hallway. I was the kid in middle school who had such a hard time keeping his mouth shut, that I grew up on a first name basis with Shirley the receptionist, in the principal’s office. I was the kid in high school who had such a hard time learning to read, that I spent most of my high school days hiding in the bathroom to escape reading out loud with tears streaming down my face. I was diagnosed with dyslexia, or a language-based disability in fourth grade. I was diagnosed with ADD, or attention deficient hyperactivity disorder in fifth grade. I dropped out of school of a year in sixth grade.
I was a kid who believed that because I was different, I was deficient. That I was the stupid, crazy, and lazy kid. You can imagine by the time I re enrolled in high school there were a lot of low expectations that surrounded me. I was told by my dad that I would probably be a high school dropout. I was told by a teacher, unfortunately that I would most likely end up in jail or incarcerated. But you know what? I beat those odds. I transcended those low expectations.
I want to spend my time with you talking about, what are the things, investments, commitments that help young folks like me beat those low expectations and prove them wrong. In my life it was really three things. I’m here today because of multiple teachers, but I want to tell you about one of them. A guy named Father Young. I met Father Young at a tipping point in my life where I could a went left, but I went right. First college before Brown. I went to Mary Mount University. Went there on soccer scholarship. Thought I was a dumb jock. Couldn’t be anything but that. On the first day on campus the soccer coach made us go around to the different departments and listen to the presentations. I went around, and I didn’t listen to anything, until I got to the English Department. The chair of the department, Father Young, was up there talking about literature and learning like his head was on fire. I was moved.
I went up to him afterward, and I said, Father Young, you moved me. I think I might want to be an English major her at LMU, but I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t read well. I don’t write well. I don’t spell well. And the guy looked right at me and said, I believe in you. Some of the most gifted thinkers in the world, W.B. Yates, John Irving, they were thinkers like you. You can do this. So, I was changed. That moment I walked across campus to the other side, to the Dean of Academic Enrollment. I walked into that guy’s office, and I said, I’m going to study me some English literature here at LMU. It is game time. Let’s do this. You know?
That guy, he pulled out my file. The individualized education plan, the IEP. It say, KGB, got nothing on the IEP. Okay? They’d been doing deep intel on me my whole life. It ain’t good news in that file. It’s this thick. He flips through it. He laughs and he says, English literature, I won’t approve that major. You should consider something less intellectual. I was deflated like a balloon. Back to the kid in the hallway. Walked back across campus to Father Young, and said, not going to be an English major. He said, why? I said, that guy thinks it’s too hard because of my disabilities. Father Young was real quiet. Then he looked at me and he said in a way that only an old school Jesuit can, he said, well son, I guess you’re just going to have to prove that bastard wrong.
The next day, I enrolled in four literature classes. That guy who told me I should consider something less intellectual, let’s just say that he has an autograph copy of both of my books on his desk right now. I was a kid who believed that because I was different, I was deficient, that I was the stupid, crazy and lazy kid. But I’ve come to believe to my core, that these things that we have labeled to be deficiencies or disorder aren’t that. They are differences in the truest sense of the word. The thing that really disables individuals is the way that those differences are treated by others. A foundation of my journey of change was a deep commitment to not just fixing kids problems, but finding and celebrating and scaling their strengths.
If you listen to any journey of change by somebody like me who grew up in the hallway, it’s all about finding that thing that they are good at. I want to spend my time celebrating the potential of those kids that learn and live differently. Every single human being has a strength, talent or interest that you can find and you can build a life on. Find your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses.