Learning Disability

Clients’ Voices: Ali Nicklas Talks about #Failure and #Resilience

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Ali Nicklas, Founder and President, Different & Able    anicklas@differentandable.org    www.instagram.com/differentandable

Ali Nicklas, Founder and President, Different & Able

anicklas@differentandable.org
www.instagram.com/differentandable

 

INTRODUCTION:

Good evening. Thank you Dr. Kinsey and Renata Henry for this opportunity. And thank you to the graduating class. It is an honor to be here at Hewitt, speaking with you, at your alumni induction dinner.

FAILURE:

I was told that the “word of the year” is “failure.” I know a little about that. I’ve done it several times. At this point, I would say I’ve learned to “fail very well.”

I want to share some words about my experiences at Hewitt, my journey and my failures.


TIME AT HEWITT:

It’s been 10 years since I graduated in the class of 2008, but my memories of my time here, are as vivid as ever. I remember my first day of Kindergarten, coming into my classroom, greeted by Ms. Notham and meeting the kids in my class. As much as I remember the visual scene; I also so remember the visceral feeling. It felt warm and inviting. It felt like a community.

I came to Hewitt as a child with a unique set of gifts, as well as a unique set of challenges. I had physical differences and learning difficulties unlike many of my classmates.

I worried if I would fit in. I wondered if I would measure-up to my parents’ and teachers’ expectations. I questioned what my future life could look like. Would I fail? Would I be able to make-it through and succeed? And it was scary at times.


CHALLENGES @ HEWITT:

Due to my learning challenges, geometry was really challenging. I thought math was about numbers, and then it became all about shapes and figures. (Until we got to algebra and that’s when math became all about letters a, b, c and x, y z.) I remember my teacher sitting down with me, telling me “don’t give up” - “you got this!”

Sports were also harder for me. I couldn’t run as fast as some of my peers because of my physical differences. I remember how my teachers supported and motivated me to “stick with it” and persevere even though it was hard.

There were many times I was overwhelmed. I wanted a pass. I wanted to quit.

I am where I am today, because I didn’t quit.

I am where I am today because of my teachers.

I am where I am today because of my family.

I am where I am today because of my inner resilience - I would show the world who I am on the inside!

And I am where I am today because of my differences.

Along the way, I learned how much, one-person can make a life-changing impact for another person. My friends, my teachers and my family, made the difference for me. And I am forever grateful, and ever-eager to give back.


GOALS AND PURPOSE IN LIFE:

So, it’s no surprise, I dreamt of a career of helping others, and paying-it-forward.

In the upper school, I enjoyed electives like “Anatomy and Physiology” and “Intro to Psychology.” I dreamt of becoming a doctor or psychologist.

So, when I went off to college, I registered for the courses in sciences and psychology. But it wasn’t what I expected! I didn’t enjoy the course material and by all measures, I failed the class. Suddenly, I was confronted by the fact that my dream of becoming a doctor or psychologist wasn’t looking likely. I was back to square-one. I wondered, and I feared:

What course of study was right for me?

What career should I pursue?

Was I going to be a failure?

It was then, I remembered geometry, gym class and the many times I struggled and even failed tests. In fact, it got so rough, there was a time in Hewitt middle school when we were considering whether Hewitt was the best place for me. Needless to say - I dug deeper, and found resources and success I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. Sometimes, failure is like that: it forces you to dig deeper than you think you can. To tap into a reservoir of otherwise untapped power and ability. So, following my “failed attempt” with the sciences and psychology, I pivoted to linguistics and language disorders. These classes interested me, I enjoyed the material and I was excited by the career of speech language pathology. I declared my major in Speech Language Pathology. I graduated Marymount Manhattan College with my BA in Speech Language Pathology and thought to myself, grad school is the next step in my path to career success.

Well… I was in for a big surprise.

I succeeded in receiving admission to graduate school at Lehman College, AND coursework continued to be of-interest, AND even I performed well on coursework, BUT... the clinical practicum was really challenging for me. As hard as

I tried, I wasn’t finding my way and I wasn’t meeting my professors’ expectations. I tried my hardest the first time, and even after failing my practicum, I tried again, repeating the practicum a second time, and failing again. Double fail.

I realized I wasn’t able to succeed in the training - and the graduate program wasn’t a good fit for me. So I made the difficult decision to accept my failure, and I terminated my studies in Speech Language Pathology. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t a bright time for me. At this point, I had failed in my first pursuit of medicine and psychology. And now I had also failed in my pursuit to speech language pathology. 2 strikes. I didn’t know what to do. What kind of future was in-store for me? I was a flurry of ideas, doubts and challenges during this time.


STARTING D&A:

And then, a few experiences coincided:

1. My friend Valentine was creating a website for her nutrition practice.

2. And I was discussing my situation with a friend who is a speech therapist, and he suggested there might be a way to “give back,” doing meaningful work, making a difference and really achieving everything I wanted to achieve as a speech language pathologist - even if I wasn’t going to be a speech language pathologist.

And from these different experiences, conversations and insights, Different and Able was born in the fall of 2017.

I decided to use social media and a website to provide support and resources for people with “differences.” My passion grew; I invested more and more time collecting resources and personal stories; meeting leading professionals and celebrities; and starting a proper non-profit organization to grow Different and Able. My failures. My “near strike-out” actually laid the foundation for my foundation.

Through the Different & Able Foundation I am:

  • Empowering people who live with physical, learning, speech, emotional and medical differences;

  • Offering hope and inspiration, professional resources and a community of ongoing support;

  • Building a more diverse and tolerant community, with bridges of access for all people, irrespective of the differences in their abilities.

The website will launch soon. For now, you can follow-us on Instagram @differentandable

Now you see, I may have failed courses but I learned many lessons. I learned to reach high. I learned to work hard, and then when it gets tough… work harder. I learned to listen to myself. And I learned to lean-on others and listen to others’ journeys. And I learned that when you reach your limits, that’s where the real growth begins.

At my Hewitt graduation, I remember the speech delivered by Carolynn Erisman, the then Assistant Head of School. She called it: “Life is not a straight line”. Life isn’t a linear equation. It isn’t a straight line from here to who you become. Lean-into-it.

As the saying goes: “You may try and fail. Just make sure, you don’t fail to try!”

And if you do try, I promise you will find your meaning and purpose. And when you do, and whatever you become, come back to Hewitt to share your story so some 12th grade girls, and even younger ones, can learn from your life journey and find what path they choose to try.

Nurture kids' self-esteem, and you'll never need to "build their self-esteem"

 
 

Watch our video!

Parents often ask what they can do to help build their kids self-esteem.

Self-esteem on the one hand is such an important topic, and on the other hand it's really unclear what it is.  What is "self-esteem"?  As compared to- what is confidence?  What is self-image?  Are they the same, different...

 
 

I'd like to suggest a paradigm shift.  Let's re-think "self-esteem." Instead of being something we build into the child, let's recognize it as an innate gift, included within every newborn child.  Consider this: no baby looks in the mirror and thinks negatively of themselves!  In reality, every baby is born "in-love with themselves" wholly as they are.  At some point later on, experiences and feedback from their environment that can send them messages, and over time those negative/doubtful/critical messages chip-away at what was whole.

Let’s re-think “self-esteem.”
Instead of being something we build into the child, 
let’s recognize it as an innate gift, included within every newborn child.   
 
 

So when we think about self-esteem let's think about what our kids are born with, and how they see themselves. 

If they have differences (a stutter, speech- language-challenges, learning disability, communication challenge, physical anomalies) then the question we ask ourselves should be early and often, as they develop into childhood and adolescence:

TIP#1  HOW can WE amplify the ways they identify themselves with thier unique strengths, talents and characteristics

TIP #2 How can we influence the self-reflection they see when they look in the mirror of life; so their points of difference are not the defining or dominant characteristics

Certainly their unique completion of being make them no less and no more than anyone else.

If we can help young people grow-up with a sense of who they are, and what makes them unique - then we can raise them with a nuanced sense of self-esteem. This sort of self-esteem will lead to confidence and positive self-image through school years, teenage years, young adulthood and beyond - and most valuable of all, will lead them to grow-up as responsible citizens of the world with compassionate and understanding for themselves, and others.