5 questions with Sean Douglas, media maker with dyslexia

Sean Douglas wasn’t diagnosed with until his late 20s. Growing up, all he knew was that he did “very badly at school and failed everything except for gym and music.” But he didn’t let his struggles stop him from building a varied career in media. His latest venture is The Codpast — a podcast for and about people with dyslexia. Here, Douglas shares what has enabled him to take risks.

1. How did you get into TV work and video production?

I was walking around a shopping center in London several years ago and saw kids with cameras shooting video. They couldn’t have been more than 15 years old. Turns out they were with Youth Cable Television, a charity run by Sabrina Guinness of the famous Guinness family.

The program teaches underprivileged kids all about TV. I signed up and that experience allowed me to get into Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication.

At the end of the first year at Ravensbourne, I became a runner for the then-popular Des O’Connor Show, making tea and doing other odd jobs. (O’Connor is an English comedian and broadcaster.)

I also worked at the Chinese Channel, part of TVB Europe, following a cameraman around. And on the weekends, I worked as a delivery boy and a checkout boy.

After university, I decided I had to get away and see some of the places I’d only heard or read about. So I traveled to Australia and became a jackeroo, herding sheep through the hills like a cowboy. When I went back to London, I got a job as a cameraman for the BBC in Leeds.

Eventually, I got a call from the Chinese Channel and went back to work as a cameraman in news, and eventually as an editor.

2. Who is the one person who made the biggest difference in your dealing with dyslexia?

I’ve always been quite independent. My mum didn’t realize I had dyslexia when I was growing up. But she knew I struggled with my studies.

So she scraped together the money to get me a tutor. That was quite helpful. She would never get angry with me if I got bad grades. She was OK as long as I tried hard.

Not having that pressure to conform to someone else’s expectation helped a lot. My mum would support me in whatever I wanted to do. She made sure I stayed active, and put me in judo lessons, swimming lessons, and even Scouts. She encouraged me to do things.

Being given that kind of freedom nurtured my adventurous spirit. And it was instrumental in my decision to go off to places like China, Australia, and Ecuador. That spirit has also helped me be adventurous in business.

3. You’ve had success working for other companies. Why did you start your own business?

I’ve never really done anything the conventional way. I actually started my own company in 2004 while I was working for these other places. I started out doing wedding videos on the side.

But in 2008, I had a chance to work as a contractor for a major banking company that had its own TV studio. Working for them allowed me to bypass the traditional route and go from being an editor to being a producer.

The banking company closed its studio five years later, and I took a job as an assistant producer with an independent production company that piled loads and loads of paperwork on me. I couldn’t keep up and the company wasn’t happy with me. After my three-month probation was up, I left.

By then, most of my clients had gone. That’s when I started to rebuild my business. I don’t do wedding videos now. Instead, I do a lot of corporate and events videos and a little bit of advertising.

4. How did you get into podcasting?

I joined a dyslexia awareness group and was fascinated by the amazing stories members told about their successes and their challenges related to dyslexia. Many people still have a very weird concept of what dyslexia is.

I started The Codpast, Right Brained Stories From Interesting Individuals as a way to raise the profile of dyslexia. It’s a series of podcasts featuring people with dyslexia.

The name is a play on the word “podcast,” because I sometimes mix up letters. I was looking for a catchy name, and one night, a friend and I were batting around names and The Codpast was born.

The kinds of people in the stories we are telling are quite mainstream. The Codpast has also been an eye-opening experience for me that has helped me access parts of myself that I did not know existed.

I discovered that I love writing — and that I’m quite good at it. But I’m not sure how long I can keep it going. I work 20-hour days and it’s just me and a friend doing everything.

5. What’s your advice to other young adults with dyslexia?

My main advice is don’t be afraid to do things your own way. I guess I feel that way because I made so many mistakes when I tried to fit into someone else’s way of doing things.

Learn and be experimental in the way that you do things. And find ways that work for you. Don’t be afraid to say, this is the way that I want to do things.

That way you’ll be as good as everyone else and sometimes even better.


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