‘Shark Tank’s’ Barbara Corcoran Says This Disability Helped Make Her a Millionaire

Real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran is one of the most sought-after investors on ABC’s reality show Shark Tank. Corcoran’s success is truly a rags-to-riches story, where she built her real estate empire from a $1,000 loan and sold for $66 million in 2001, according to CNBC.

While Corcoran clearly has business smarts, she credits this disorder as the motivation for her drive to succeed.

“Shark Tank’s” Barbara Corcoran | Eric McCandless via Getty Images

Mother and son diagnosis

According to Forbes, Corcoran came from humble beginnings and was raised in a tiny two-bedroom apartment in New Jersey with her nine brothers and sisters. “We didn’t know we were poor and struggling because both of my parents were phenomenal lovers and they loved us to death.”

Struggling with insecurity at an early age, Corcoran could not read or write until she was in third grade. “I’ve wrestled with letters and numbers my whole life… My biggest fear all day long was that I would be called on to read out loud,” Corcoran said in her recent podcast on her series “Business Unusual.” It was only when her son Tom was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was in second grade that Corcoran realized she also had the disorder, Entrepreneur reported. Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects your ability to read, spell, write, and speak, according to WebMD. 

She spoke to Entrepreneur about the insecurity that comes with dyslexia. “I feel like my whole life I’ve been insecure about looking not smart,” Corcoran said. “So I feel like everything I do is a constant attempt to prove to whoever’s around me that I can measure up. I’m also proving to myself that I’m always running around with insecurity.”

Turning weakness into strength

Corcoran told Entrepreneur that she refuses to use the disorder as a crutch, but instead focuses on the positives that grew from dyslexia. “It made me more creative, more social and more competitive,” she said. “There’s a great freedom to being dyslexic… if you can avoid labeling yourself as a loser in a school system that measures people by As and Bs. And the kids that are so good at school, that don’t have to fight for it, very often they don’t do as well in life and business because they’re not flexible. There’s no system dictated to them out there like it is in school and they certainly tend not to make good entrepreneurs.”

Corcoran often sees those who have had to struggle as more ambitious, driven leaders, saying some of the top entrepreneurs she’s invested in on Shark Tank had to overcome some type of learning limitation like herself. “A lot of them were lousy in school, too,” she said of some of her entrepreneurs. Corcoran, a St. Thomas Aquinas College graduate, commented that entrepreneurs who had a tougher road end up on top due to their drive to prove themselves, “that they’re not dummies after all.”

Other sharks have the disorder

Corcoran isn’t the only one in the tank that has dyslexia. According to Entrepreneur, Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary was diagnosed with the disorder at 6 years old.  He credits his therapists at the time for helping him look at the disorder in a different light, telling him to think of himself as a “mutant with super powers” who has “the ability to read backwards, read in a mirror, read upside down.” He told this story to his alma mater, the University of Waterloo, saying, “And that actually got me back the only thing I really needed, which was my confidence.”

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Shark Daymond John is also dyslexic, yet seemed to take the same approach as Corcoran and O’Leary. “I have this attitude about any challenges you have in life,” John said in an interview with the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. “You highlight it, address it, and then find out how to work around it. Figure out how to live with it.” The Yale Center said that John never “let his difficulty with dyslexia define him. Instead, he used his strength to get ahead.”

Corcoran is an inspiration to those who struggle with learning disorders, where she encourages them to see it as an advantage. “And what an advantage this so-called weakness is,” Corcoran told Entrepreneur. “Dyslexia and its insecurities… It sure is challenging mentally, but it sure can keep you motivated, make you money and get you places nobody else is going to get.”