AJ is a high school student, hockey player, and women’s jewelry entrepreneur who attributes his success at design and business to his dyslexia. He’s also generous; sales of his hats at his online store here benefit the work of NoticeAbility to empower other students with dyslexia. We caught up with AJ recently to share his dyslexic journey.
[Note: since we first spoke, AJ writes: “I want everyone to know that I will always struggle with dyslexia, but have found ways to work with and through it. Also, I am looking to hire an intern to help on the business side and expand.” To reach AJ, you can contact him here.]
NoticeAbility: Thanks for making time. How did your dyslexia shape your experience in school?
AJ: Right now I’m starting 11th grade, but in elementary school it was hard for me to learn because I was not as fast learning to read as the other kids in the class. That was true for me all the way into middle school. Then in 5th and 6th grade, I discovered jewelry making through a shop class. Over the summer I got a job with a silversmith. So at that point I got exposed to ways of doing things that I felt I was good at. That was important to me then, and it’s led me to invest more time in getting good at those things. Now I am doing wedding rings, gold, silver, diamonds, all types of stones. I’ll always be dyslexic, it’s a big part of who I am and why I’m on the path I am, but I don’t really struggle with my dyslexia any more.
NoticeAbility: Why not?
AJ: Well, I worked really hard, and throughout the summers I went to summer school programs for students with dyslexia. My dyslexia is there, and sometimes I struggle with it, and working with my school so they understand how I learn they helped me find new strategies to deal with it. It’s easy to feel anxious or different, but the main focus for dealing with that is to feel good about your performance in school and not to worry about it so much.
NoticeAbility: Tell us about starting your business.
AJ: I’ve been doing it for 4 years now. At first it was a few custom jewelry pieces, and then it was getting more official and organized and branding and selling my work on my website: https://www.madebyaj.com/
More recently I’ve been working on getting a better website, setting up manufacturing out-of-state working with partners, getting pieces displayed and carried in stores. I’ve had lots of help so far from family & friends.
NoticeAbility: You know that one of NoticeAbility’s courses helps students identify how they might tap their strengths to innovate, or start a business. What advice do you have for other students with dyslexia starting their own business?
AJ: My dyslexia helped me create the business and get it going because it taps into my creative side. I had to come up with different pieces of jewelry and find my own style. As an example, I loved working with crystals from Sedona, and working in a creative mode I was able to make them into earrings, pendants, and other fittings.
So, when you are starting, the advantages of dyslexia help you get past the challenges of dyslexia: I found it was super helpful to have an outlet for something to do that you find fun, and bypass the struggles you have in school.
Other advice I have:
Brand your business.
Never settle for good – go for great.
Keep working hard, and get the basic steps, and then slowly build it up
Find good advisors- my mom has been a key help
Pay it forward, support things like NoticeAbility
NoticeAbility: Do you have any advice for your younger self?
AJ: Keep trying harder and harder, and learning new strategies for overcoming your challenges.
NoticeAbility: Thank you!