Blue Dragon Business Coaching

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Friday, July 14, 2017

How I Conquered My Learning Disability

  I’ve always been unbelievably bad at academia. My ninth grade report card was Ds and Fs. I failed out of high school my senior year and had to go to continuation school. I just couldn’t focus nor find interest in most subjects that didn’t involve reading about fun things.

The first college I attended, I took 2 classes. I earned a D and an F. The next college I went to, I ended up failing out of as well.

I enlisted in the military after getting a VERY high score on the ASVAB, the test measuring aptitude for military jobs. In military technical school, I learned bomber avionic fundamentals and was reprimanded several times for failing tests. I came as close as you possibly can to failing out of school yet again, but barely passed.

I had a learning disability. A processing disorder that doesn’t let me connect things like a “normal” person. My brain and attention LITERALLY shut off within 40 seconds if I am not completely involved in what I am doing. You can imagine how delightful this is for relationships and jobs.

My instructors constantly made fun of me, a pool was set up so they could bet on when I would fail out, and my eventual supervisors told me I was the dumbest person they had ever met, and that I was wasting my time going back to college during active duty.

I refocused on my studies, and realized something. Once I had a goal (you have to have a degree to become an officer), I could focus and learn.

My goal to become an Air Force Officer outweighed my limited attention span.

I ended up moving to SD and was hired as an Engineering teacher.

Let’s stop for a minute and consider this. I never passed Pre-Algebra. Never took my SATs, never got an Engineering degree and now I’m going to teach it to high school kids??

I then figured out that by reading the curriculum heavily, creating the projects first, and then making diagrams, that this stuff was doable.

I ended up getting my Masters and then a Doctorate in Education. What changed?

The way that I learned.

I used my learning teams more. Drew diagrams for everything. Asked more questions. Balanced my own happiness into my studies by working out, listening to comedy and hanging out with my funniest friends.

This is a diagram I drew. 

Yes, there’s a minotaur surfing. Yes there’s a talking shark. Jet plane and pine trees. This diagram shows the doctoral path and kept me in the right mindset to finish. Childish? Yes. Idiotic? Possibly. Tell that to the 50% of people that let their stress levels get high enough so they quit the program. Maybe everyone should be drawing minotaurs.

I knew that establishing my “Why” early on would help keep me focused during the tough times that break most people.

What was my Why?

If I could finish a Doctorate, I could inspire thousands that ANYTHING is possible.

I was conferred on Oct 19th, 2013 after 6.5 years of hell. Foreclosure notices, no money, no loans left, a relationship ending, and sometimes eating tuna fish on moldy bread. I took a picture of this day to remind me that things WOULD get better.

The final test of these techniques, my mental black belt, if you will, came when my boss in the Reserves said that they were sending me to military tactical data links school.

Imagine computer networking design………

For EVERY piece of military equipment in the US arsenal in EVERY branch of service.
I was more than terrified, but I signed up. These are two standard diagrams I found online.

I can actually read and understand these. Seriously. 

I went to the Joint Interoperability Center at Ft Bragg for the Basic Tactical Data Links Course.

Vets from all four branches of service were there, plus civilian defense contractors. I immediately realized on Day 1, that I would have to use every damn trick I knew and invented a few new ones. The basic course was a week long, one test at the end. It covered about 1200 pages of material. Eight hours a day. 122 slide Powerpoints from instructors that literally traveled the world teaching this stuff.

Here is how I did it:
1. Establish why. (This training pays a LOT on the outside/its necessary for my military requirements/if I fail, I go back to the unit with stigma)

2. Accurately assess the situation:
*Most everyone was Active Duty and had experience working with these systems for YEARS. I was a Reservist in uniform 36 days a year, and have NEVER worked with any of this stuff. I’m learning this stuff from scratch.

*Learning disability that tunes out anyone that starts lecturing after 40 seconds.

*This stuff is LEGIT hard. Its an unbelievable firehose of systems, programming, military operational orders written in a condensed format and more.

*Oh great, I not only have to learn Air Force, but Army, Marines, Navy, Foreign Service setups and more.

*I’m a speed learning expert. I have written a book on it, lectured in colleges, and teach PhD students how to use my techniques to crush their programs.

*I don’t have the limitations of soft ass people. I can give up basic comforts, devote HOURS a night and early morning to study, and have a work ethic that drops most people.

*I have the diligence of a complete psychopath. I take freezing cold showers daily, and once I have a committed desire for success, I cannot be denied.

*I have read Limitless obsessively and have also brought safe and natural brain drugs with me.

*I know how to supercharge my intelligence into a high learning state (jumping jacks plus cold shower plus brain drugs plus no breakfast plus about 100mg of caffeine)

I passed.

Then they upped the ante. The Advanced Course was legendary because it was something like 8 tests in two weeks covering everything from basic plus a TON of new content plus a group presentation. Fail two tests in a row and you’re gone. Fail any two tests in the series and you’re gone.

Bring it.

I was motivated walking around Bragg seeing Green Berets, Rangers and conventional Army doing PT at 5am in huge formations.

I buckled down. We formed study groups. I committed 3-5 hours a day studying EVERY DAY. Weekend off? I studied 8-10 hours a day. I drew diagrams, I made lists, I asked instructors about difficult concepts. I found Marines that were experts and pinged them for knowledge.

I created a ritual for tests, instead of fearing test day, I aggressively charged in. I didn’t engage in any of the negative comments many others did, didn’t complain, just took cold showers, studied and loudly played Paradise City by Guns and Roses when driving to school.

I passed all my tests first time. Then I got the call. “You’re signed up for the Planner’s Course. It’s harder than Advanced but you’ll be ok, you have a Doctorate.”

If Advanced was a nightmare, Planner’s Course was tactical damnation.

Not only would I have to take everything I had learned, I would have to pass a series of tests at high levels of comprehension at the PLANNING level. Our curriculum involved taking EVERY system from all four branches and creating a network architecture for a full scale multinational war.

In two weeks. So not only did we have to study like animals for all our tests, we had to plan a war, and create an OPTASKLINK for the whole thing. The OPTASKLINK is the document that lists every system in use and how they are connected. Its considered the hardest technical document in the entire project. Guess who had to write this 6-9 page monstrosity?

This is one page of an OPTASKLINK. It was created by the Devil. 

I asked for the damn thing. If I’m going down in flames, I’m going HARD.

I tapped my team more, drew HUGE diagrams on dry erase boards, even Googling topics that weren’t clear. I didn’t drink, barely had time to work out, just OBSESSIVELY got into it, FELT the process and grew.

We passed. Our presentation was strong, not perfect but strong. I got about 88% of the OPTASKLINK finished which is considered damn near Herculean for one guy. Our instructor caught me in the hallway and commended me for how much I got done.

I came back from Bragg with three certificates in tactical data links and something else I had never known:


Got questions? Need help designing speed learning techniques for school or work? Contact me at - Rob