Thomas Edison, on his first day of kindergarten, was brought home by a teacher who told his parents, “He’s an imbecile and unteachable.” When Edison looked back on his school years, he said, “I was always at the foot of the class. I felt my teachers saw no potential in me and that my father thought I was stupid.” His mother home-schooled him.

During childhood, a bout of scarlet fever and untreated ear infections left him deaf. He was fired from countless early jobs. Yet he saw beyond conventional thinking and was active in business up to the end, leaving us with 6,000 inventions that changed the world.

Not bad for an “imbecile.”

Richard Branson, the owner of the Virgin Group, once said, “We are Britain’s largest private company, and I still can’t work out the difference between gross and net. I look at a crossword puzzle and I just go blank.”

As a young boy he was dyslexic and “number blind,” meaning he could not perform simple mathematical computations. According to him, he was “pretty hopeless” when it came to traditional learning and he dropped out of school at age 16.

Today he operates the Virgin Group, which consists of more than 300 companies. The Forbes 2011 list of billionaires reports that he is the fourth richest citizen of the United Kingdom and has an estimated net worth of $4.3 billion.

“For me, business is not about wearing suits or keeping stockholders pleased,” he said. “It’s about being true to yourself, your ideas and focusing on the essentials.”

Are you true to yourself? It takes courage to know yourself and then reveal who you are to others. Society does not encourage it. From early on we’re taught to look alike, dress alike, act alike and think alike, ad infinitum.

Innovation does not happen when you’re hiding or fighting who you are. Yet we struggle with this all the time. We remain under the influence of antiquated messages from our past. You know, the old tapes that habitually play over and over in your subconscious mind, causing you to play it safe and remain in your comfort zone rather than tackle new challenges.

When we find the courage to honor our originality, we re-energize and become passionate and excited about life. We begin to follow our individual path.

I believe the human spirit is naturally adventurous, ruled by a higher intelligence that wants us to express the fullness of life. When we allow it to flow through us our inner curiosity leads us to amazing discoveries and ways to fulfill our dreams.

Our responsibility is to accept and honor who we are. Don’t look at what you can’t do — develop what you can. Just for today, challenge yourself — and then the next and the next.

You may not change the world with 6,000 inventions or own a multibillion-dollar company, but I guarantee that your legacy will leave an original and eternal imprint.

It beats just fading away.

— Through her business, Mindset Management, Susan Ann Darley coaches and writes for businesses, entrepreneurs and artists from all disciplines. She offers a complimentary coaching session. For more information, click here, email her at or call 805.845.3036.