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Finally, I’m Proud To Be Different




I am different. And for the first time, I can say that I am actually proud to be different.

It wasn't always this way. It amazes me that I had to go back to a second grade classroom to fully accept myself. My life has truly come full circle. Let me explain.

Recently, a 8 year-old second grader posted a video of his invention on Facebook and by chance I happened to watch it. Hunter had his little sister by his side as he passionately presented his toothbrush improvement.

Watching him brought an enormous smile to my face. I absolutely loved his pitch, which was fantastic! His video was short, to the point, and showcased the product beautifully. Even though his prototype was very rough, and held together by duct tape, it looked good in the video. At inventRight, we coach our students to do exactly what Hunter did — to make a powerful one-minute video that simply shows a problem and their solution.

My wife Janice (who used to be a middle school teacher) knew Hunter's mother. Through this connection, we were invited to visit his classroom during his school's invention week. After Janice and I checked in at the main office, we passed by the school playground where we saw a boy playing all by himself. Janice's humorous comment was, "He is taking the long way back from the bathroom." I laughed and responded to her, "That looks like me. I'd rather be playing."

As I walked past the playground, memories of my own experiences in second grade start flooding in. That's when I really began struggling in school and getting D's and F's on all of my papers, which I hid under the carpet in the treehouse my father had built for my brother and me.

It didn't take very long for my parents to find the papers, because the mound kept growing bigger and bigger. My school put me in a special classroom with other children who had learning disabilities. Because I was tall and my disabilities were not so obvious, they removed me and put me back with the other students not too long after. My mother found a tutor who helped me learn to read and write as I rocked back and forth in a rocking chair every day.

From that day on, I had many tutors. Being in class was a nightmare for me, because I was afraid I would get called on and my difficulty reading would be exposed. I found myself constantly looking out the window, wishing it were recess. Recess was everything to me, because playing was the only place I felt safe.

Kids can be very cruel at that age. I was teased so much that I learned to fight with my fists. My school wouldn't let me walk home with the rest of the kids because they were teasing me so much that I would end up fighting.

Somehow, I learned how to hide, and teachers passed me.

When I finally got to meet Hunter and his mother, we had the most wonderful conversation. He was so well spoken, I felt proud. And his passion blew me away. How ironic that we met in the special classroom at Whitmore Charter School, I thought.

When I was 50, I was fortunate enough to be formally tested for learning disabilities. The test was extremely difficult for me. Two weeks later, when I returned for my results, the instructor told me just how badly it had gone. That was no surprise to me. Then he said, "Mr. Key, given how poorly you've done we don't know if there is much you can do to make a living." It was a surprise to hear them question how I could make a living. That statement left an impression on me, and I knew it would be nearly impossible to forget or recover from hearing.

I wasn't proud of how I did, but in the end it was somewhat helpful to realize that I wasn't nuts — I was just having a hard time hearing the sounds of words. I cannot distinguish between the sounds of letters in the alphabet. Spelling is nearly impossible for me. It's always been that way.

Going back to a second grade classroom made me realize that throughout my life I learned to hide and memorize, and I also learned to play. I realize now that I have always loved to play. I was constantly imagining myself in another place away from the classroom.

It was a feeling of pure joy to be able to come full circle and share my inventive life with those second graders. I wondered if maybe there was another Stephen Key in the room that day. Was it Hunter? Was it the boy who was taking his time on the way back from the bathroom? That was me, the kid taking his time in the hallway trying to get out of class! It was more than a meaningful coincidence when I was later told that this boy was in fact having difficulties in school.

I can appreciate now that being different is perfectly fine. It allowed me to see things differently.

I'm no longer hiding. I'm no longer ashamed. I'm proud to be different.

It has only taken more than 50 years for that to be true.

The treehouse in Stephen's backyard growing up.
Hunter and Stephen
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Comments 5

Guest - Matt on Monday, 04 February 2019 09:01

Stephen-
I've always known that I too was different and didn't fit in with normal convention. Your post resonates with me to the core! School wasn't my big issue (coasted and made honor roll) but reading lengthy assignments and sitting still were alway my challenge. I figured shortcuts and relied on others for the things I couldn't, or didn't want to do.
Fortunately for me, I found exercise helped curb that over-exuberance enough that I could still in class and more importantly, learn better as a result. That set me off in my career path of exercise, and helping others as a massage therapist and trainer. I'm now so good at it that I have exceeded my pay-grade. Societal convention obstacles I've had to face: I cannot accept insurance, Big Pharma, the economy collapse 2008, has steered me into another path. Just as I fell into the therapy realm 30 years ago, I now too have turned Inventor.
It's nice to know that I am not alone in "being different". I've been trudging through this life and have finally accepted and embraced (most exceptionally) that difference, that uniqueness. All of the shortcuts I used to my advantage, I'm now expert in.

Thanks for your post.

Stephen- I've always known that I too was different and didn't fit in with normal convention. Your post resonates with me to the core! School wasn't my big issue (coasted and made honor roll) but reading lengthy assignments and sitting still were alway my challenge. I figured shortcuts and relied on others for the things I couldn't, or didn't want to do. Fortunately for me, I found exercise helped curb that over-exuberance enough that I could still in class and more importantly, learn better as a result. That set me off in my career path of exercise, and helping others as a massage therapist and trainer. I'm now so good at it that I have exceeded my pay-grade. Societal convention obstacles I've had to face: I cannot accept insurance, Big Pharma, the economy collapse 2008, has steered me into another path. Just as I fell into the therapy realm 30 years ago, I now too have turned Inventor. It's nice to know that I am not alone in "being different". I've been trudging through this life and have finally accepted and embraced (most exceptionally) that difference, that uniqueness. All of the shortcuts I used to my advantage, I'm now expert in. Thanks for your post.
Guest - Tim Brennan on Wednesday, 06 February 2019 22:55

Hey Stephen,

Thanks for sharing this very interesting experience.

It is the failure of the education system that the school didn’t recognise your potential. If there was a class on inventing, I’m sure you would have been an A+ student.

You reminded me of this brilliant TED talk.... https://youtu.be/iG9CE55wbtY “Do schools kill creativity?”

Is there a link to the toothbrush invention on YouTube?

Thanks!

Hey Stephen, Thanks for sharing this very interesting experience. It is the failure of the education system that the school didn’t recognise your potential. If there was a class on inventing, I’m sure you would have been an A+ student. You reminded me of this brilliant TED talk.... https://youtu.be/iG9CE55wbtY “Do schools kill creativity?” Is there a link to the toothbrush invention on YouTube? Thanks!
Stephen Key on Thursday, 07 February 2019 16:46

Hello Tim, thank you for reading. And also thank you for the kind words. Have a safe trip. I’m sure you will gathered a few great ideas at the furniture show.Let’s catch up when you’re back.

Stephen

Hello Tim, thank you for reading. And also thank you for the kind words. Have a safe trip. I’m sure you will gathered a few great ideas at the furniture show.Let’s catch up when you’re back. Stephen
Kathryn Rendon on Wednesday, 13 February 2019 15:02

Hi Stephen, I’m a new student as of a couple of weeks ago, and Arleta is my Coach. It’s very inspiring to hear how you have overcome the insecurities you must have felt! My first thought is: if you were 50 when that happened, that must make you ? I wouldn’t have thought you were over 50! Anyway, your humility and graciousness comes through in the videos, but most inspiring in your story is that you never gave up!! Thank you so much for your passion for helping others. Kathryn Rendon

Hi Stephen, I’m a new student as of a couple of weeks ago, and Arleta is my Coach. It’s very inspiring to hear how you have overcome the insecurities you must have felt! My first thought is: if you were 50 when that happened, that must make you ? I wouldn’t have thought you were over 50! Anyway, your humility and graciousness comes through in the videos, but most inspiring in your story is that you never gave up!! Thank you so much for your passion for helping others;). Kathryn Rendon
Guest - Bill McGee on Wednesday, 13 February 2019 16:52

Hi Stephen, thank you for the powerful message and for sharing such a super example of a young inventor! Let me plug your book, [i][]Sell Your Ideas With Or Without A Patent[/][/i. You spoke at the Inventors Group in Jacksonville, FL and I picked up your Kindle version. It has been quite helpful and is worth every penny!
Our patent was issued and we are pushing ahead. Thanks again!
Bill McGee
Farris Technology, LLC

Hi Stephen, thank you for the powerful message and for sharing such a super example of a young inventor! Let me plug your book, [i][]Sell Your Ideas With Or Without A Patent[/][/i. You spoke at the Inventors Group in Jacksonville, FL and I picked up your Kindle version. It has been quite helpful and is worth every penny! Our patent was issued and we are pushing ahead. Thanks again! Bill McGee Farris Technology, LLC
Guest
Wednesday, 26 June 2019

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