Anna Koppelman is an angel. She’s the angel I wish I had looking over me back when I was being bullied.
When I was a kid, it was “Lord of The Flies” on the playground. Nobody cared at all. Kids would kill each other at recess and whoever survived went back to class.
But it’s different now. Bullying is a thing. It has a voice. And there’s a way out of the world of “you’re not good enough” and into the world where you belong…
I read an article on Facebook that was going viral: “What I Know Now As a Teen With Dyslexia.”
Anna Koppelman wrote it. Then she kept writing.
When I read the article, I thought Anna was one of those alien millennials taking over the world. But even worse, she’s not a millennial. Ever since birth she’s been on the Internet. She’s an eleventh grader. Which makes her 17 or so. Generation Z… it’s a totally different animal.
Anna started a charity when she was 12 years old. At 14, she asked the Huffington Post to publish her work. They said yes.
Then she wrote about dyslexia, bullying, intelligence, her crushes, her rejections, and each article felt like it was going a level deeper. Her writings were read everywhere by teens who had been through similar experiences.
I wish I had this as a kid. A world where I could talk to people going through what I was going through. A way to connect to my “tribe”. Or a way to reach out to people and we could all figure out we weren’t alone.
“I couldn’t not say it,” she said. “I had this feeling at school and in my life of just not being able to connect with people… I had a feeling of isolation since first grade, like there was Saran wrap between me and the rest of the world.”
Here’s what I learned from Anna Koppelman about finding out where you belong…
1. Figure out another way
When Anna’s “friends” discovered she couldn’t read, they laughed. “You’re not smart enough to be our friend,” they said.
She was pushed out of the tribe.
But then she learned from a moose.
“I was watching the children’s show, ‘Arthur.’ And there was this kid on there. He was a moose. He had dyslexia. So I turned to my parents and said, ‘I have dyslexia.’”
“How did this moose exhibit the dyslexia?”
“It was all just about the same feelings that I was feeling… where he was behind in his class, but he had all these great ideas he wanted to get out but couldn’t. And the feeling of being trapped because there’s something in your brain that’s processing differently.”
But she found another way. And learned how to read. But kids kept making fun of her. For the next 10 years.
“I just wanted to connect with people,” she said. “When I would write, I would be able to connect with people. When I would perform poetry, I would be able to connect with people.”
“What do you mean perform poetry?”
I was confused.
Because it sounded like her life was miserable at school. And instead of going to school with the eye patch and going straight home, she’d head back out to go read slam poetry in front of a dozen+ strangers.
“What made you do that?”
“I knew that no matter how awful school was there was a world outside of school and I just needed to find that world.”
2. Use your skills
Anna started out writing about her interests. People spend years writing about things outside themselves.
I did too.
But for years I was afraid to write about the things that really scared me, or drove me, or kept me up at night. I was afraid to write about the things that shamed me. Or I was afraid because I wondered what people would think.
So I wanted to learn, what did Anna, at age 14, do differently?
Start with craft. Write everyday. Use your brain. Develop your analytical muscle. Build your skills.
Talent is the ignition in the car. Many people have talent. Many people never turn on the car. Many people never drive the car to get to their destination.
Skills are just talent in its infancy.
3. Create from one layer deeper
I asked Anna about courage. A lot of people want to change their lives. But few take next steps .And I feel that even fewer young kids, dying to fit into their close-knit world of school and popularity, take those next steps.
I wanted to know what triggered that point. “How did you hit publish? Weren’t you afraid?”
“I didn’t have any friends,” she said. “I was eating lunch alone pretty much everyday. I was just in a really sad place. And the kids in my grade were really mean to me. I just felt that there was no real happiness. But when I would sit down and eat lunch alone, I would start to write in my notebook or I would write on my computer.”
She didn’t know the risk.
And in a strange way, these horrible experiences helped her become the writer she is today.
“The things that have happened in my life,” she said, “got me to a place where I have more of an ability and belief in myself…”
The transition came when she revealed her scars. She showed the deepest sides of her struggle. And bled on paper.
Only by taking risks can a person unleash the hidden talents inside.
Vulnerability bleeds. And connects you to the world… your world. It connects you to where you belong.
4. Always be kind
A boy at school tricked her. He was always mean. But she thought things could change. “I was throwing parties for children in need,” she said. “I had been doing it since middle school.”
He said he wanted to throw a bake sale for Birthday Fairies.
“And I believed him.”
He got all the popular kids to “help.”
“Then the day of the bake sale came. None of them baked anything and they all just kind of laughed.”
“This is like Steven King’s ‘Carrie. Did you psychically spill blood all over them?”
She didn’t… I guess angels don’t spill blood on people.
Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to be a kid now. For my entire life since birth to be connected up to a much bigger world. I’m jealous of the kids born now. How they can turn to this global tribe to develop their talents.
But it’s not connectivity that makes you a better person. Or connects you to better relationships. Or builds up your latent skills. Or helps you find your passions.
No matter who you are, it’s taking those next positive steps, those first risks that turn talent into skill, those first vulnerabilities that connect you to others – this is the key to unleashing that bigger world, that brings you to a tribe bigger than who you are.
This is what I learned today from Anna.