In celebration of disability awareness week, the graduate program would like to highlight MBA alumnus Charles Tanksley (’16 MBA). Charlie discusses his journey throughout education alongside what he explains as, My Potential. According to Charlie, “My Potential isn’t an actual thing. It’s just the term for the alternate persona that was the expectation of what I should have been capable of.”
My kindergarten teacher was livid when standardized tests revealed I had a high IQ. I’ve always been different, and at five that meant I sat at the “slow” table with other kids who were confused by the world. But that test announced the arrival of My Potential. No longer a “slow” child who needed coddling, now I was lazy, disorganized, and not living up to My Potential.
My Potential was my own personal monster. It followed me all through my K-12 experience. With a concerted effort, I could manage to be a C student, but My Potential was always an A+ student. My Potential had excellent executive functioning, paid attention in class and understood the social minefield of lunchtime. Meanwhile, I struggled to pretend I was just good enough to not get kicked out of the special prep school My Potential had doomed me to attend. I graduated high school dead last in my class.
Of course, My Potential insisted I attend college. Many disabilities start or worsen in your 20’s, and I was no exception. During undergrad, my differences were finally given labels, which helped me secure accommodations. Extra time on tests and a parking spot in the same postal code were helpful, but to me, the labels confirmed that my differences were subtractions from normal.
At least the argument wasn’t about My Potential anymore, the new fight was about whether my brokenness was an excuse to get away with stuff. One teacher seemed to think Multiple Sclerosis was like the flu, demanding a doctor’s note every month to prove I hadn’t been miraculously cured. It never occurred to me to even address my Asperger’s issues. I already knew the problem; I was a lazy, excuse making, broken waste of My Potential.
I decided I just had to school harder. I needed to school like I had never schooled before. And I did it. I went to class, I went to doctors, and I slept, that was it. Thank heavens I was fortunate enough to have a loving family who could afford to pay both my rent and my astronomical medical bills while I did this. I didn’t work, I didn’t see friends, I didn’t see movies. My mental health went down the tubes, but I graduated my university with B average, kissed academia goodbye and swore to never return.
I was soon to be forsworn. Later that year I married the love of my life. Using spreadsheets (my favorite language), she made the case for an MBA from Iowa State University. Her math was solid, so we set our compass for adventure at Iowa State University.
As usual, she was right. From the moment I arrived, the faculty at Iowa State University treated my differences as strengths, an addition to “normal” rather than a subtraction from it. They told me I had a unique perspective and could contribute in ways no one else could. Instead of excuses, Iowa State saw accommodations as a secure investment, given the value my differences added to the program and the world.
This inclusive attitude changed everything. Three years later I left with a 3.65 GPA and two Masters degrees. But more importantly, my future isn’t just potential anymore, it is real.