Quinn Bradlee could have taken the easy way out.
Quinn, now 27, grew up in privilege, the son of Washington Post power couple Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee. He went to the best schools, lived in historic mansions and was surrounded by famous writers and politicians.
His father was the editor of the Post during the Watergate years, and his mom is a columnist and best-selling author.
From birth, Quinn had been plagued with health problems--illnesses, seizures, and migraines among them--and had even had open heart surgery while still an infant. He was sick more often than not and had a few close calls. Instead of accepting doctors' suggestions that Quinn be institutionalized or treated differently, Sally Quinn became her son's tireless advocate, eventually getting to the root of his health problems.
At age 14, he was finally correctly diagnosed as having Velo-Cardio-Facial Syndrome, or VCFS, a common but little-understood disorder that is characterized by various physical ailments and learning disabilities.
Quinn had a bumpy road through school and adolescence but eventually found passion for life and happiness. He loves surfing, genealogy (his family on both sides has an illustrious history), and film.
He attended Landmark College, a college designed for students with learning disabilities, along with American University and the New York Film Academy, where he made a short documentary film about kids with VCFS.
After film school, Quinn didn't work for a year, which he acknowledges was a dream come true at first--especially for someone who has always had to work twice as hard to get ahead. He knew he wouldn't end up at a typical 9-to-5 job and wasn't sure of his next move.
"After three months, I just started sitting around," said Quinn, now 27. "It's not fun. You waste your life away by sitting around doing nothing."
Quinn instead decided to write a book about what it was like to grow up different from everyone around him. With the help of renowned writer Jeff Himmelman, Quinn shares stories from his childhood and adolescence in an honest and motivating manner. (I recently had the opportunity to talk with Quinn about his book and his life now.)
Quinn has also launched a website called FriendsofQuinn.com, a site where kids with learning disabilities and their parents can find support, resources and friendship.
The idea came after Quinn spent some time on Facebook. A popular feature asking users to choose their top friends left Quinn feeling like the last kid picked during gym class. He had trouble navigating the complex site (and who doesn't, really?) and found that he wasn't the "top friend" of many people.
He would create a place for people just like him, where there would be no top friends and an easier-to-navigate website. Last fall, FriendsofQuinn was born.
About 15 million Americans have a learning disability, so Quinn knew he'd have quite an audience. And the media attention surrounding his book has helped the site tremendously.
One of his goals is to change public opinion about learning disabilities; Quinn said the term "learning differences" is more inclusive and accurate.
Quinn found great inspiration in an unlikely source: the David Spade movie Joe Dirt, about a man with a mullet who never quite fits in anywhere he goes and spends much of his time being laughed at and ridiculed.
Despite incessant mocking, Joe maintains a rosy outlook much of the time. Quinn cheered for the underdog.
He took one of Joe's quotes to heart: "Life's a garden, dig it?"
Instead of feeling sorry for himself or dwelling on his differences, Quinn focused on his strengths. Like SparkPeople members, he focused on a goal and achieved it!
Writing the book and starting the site has helped him find his calling, Quinn said. Now he's helping others just like him.
Growing up, he felt the pressure of life as a Bradlee--a family that has sent every generation of its men to Harvard since the 18th century. Quinn knew he wouldn't continue the Bradlee media legacy, but he knew he could create his own success.
"You don't have to be the best; you just have to have a big heart," he said.
I wanted to share an excerpt from Quinn's book that inspired me:
"The times when I am happiest are when I concentrate on the things I am good at. There are only two things I can do without screwing up: surfing and snowboarding. On the board, I can never screw up, I can only learn from my mistakes. That's how you should look at life."
I really think that passage can be applied to any of us. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and even when we make mistakes, we can learn and grow.
Did Quinn Bradlee's story inspire you? I read his book over a weekend and was truly captivated. You can read more about it here.
The photo is courtesy of FriendsofQuinn.
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