Diane Swonk is a financial commentator on national and international television. She is also an internationally recognized economist. Additionally, she is a resource for global business leaders, policymakers, and a popular choice for speaking engagements within businesses and youth groups. Swonk, who has dyslexia, struggles with reading speeches. ‘The art of communication’ is something that she has worked very hard trying to perfect. Swonk has found that it makes it much easier to spend time carefully thinking about what she is going to say before she begins--“I write out the thoughts I want to cover and make an outline, but I never look at it while I’m speaking. The art of communication is something I’ve worked hard at.” Dyslexia has given Swonk insecurities, educational difficulty, and countless challenges, but throughout the years she has found plenty of ways to use her learning style to her disadvantage. “I couldn’t memorize the times tables or add a column of figures, and I didn’t know left from right, but calculus and algebra were a piece of cake.”

Swonk began her education just outside Detroit, where she learned “made-up” languages of sounds and symbols. This unconventional way of learning worked to her advantage, allowing her to read more quickly. When required to read standard English in the fifth grade, Swonk says she “hit a wall,” and the next year, her teacher had zero patience for her trouble spelling correctly. Unsupportive teachers became a theme when a high school English teacher gave up on Swonk when she had difficulty with a book report on Lord of the Flies. Swonk’s father had his own view of her academic experience so far. “His view was, ‘If you can cut butter with a chainsaw, then cut butter with a chainsaw.’ After saying this, Swonk knew what she needed to do. “If I have to work twice as hard to do it, I’ll do that.”

Swonk prides herself on her strategic-thinking skills and found ways in middle school to get all A’s. In addition to working hard, Swonk says “I am always on. The way I learn is never to turn off, and the more I learn, the more I know I don’t know.” Swonk was able to determine what she needed to do in middle school and high school, but when she went on to the University of Michigan, her problems persisted. After almost failing freshman English and registering for extra classes to compensate for an F in German class, she hit her stride in higher-level math and economics courses. “Economics was easy and very intuitive, and that’s how my mind works,” says Swonk. “It was also intellectually stimulating, and I felt like I belonged.”

With over twenty years of experience in financial services, Swonk has become a household name to nightly business news watchers. Still she hesitated to discuss her dyslexia until around 8 years ago when Forbes magazine published a piece on famous dyslexics like Charles Schwab and Richard Branson. “I realized I wasn’t alone, and that there was a world out there where I could be accepted and be who I was,” she says. “Now I’m very open about my dyslexia. It’s part of who I am and it’s made me who I am. If you want strategic thinking, come to me. If you want linear thinking, don’t come to me.”