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Ep128 Transcript: Interview with Steve Weaver

July 24, 2023

Andrea Vahl: My guest today, Steve Weaver has gone through a lifetime of undiagnosed, untreated dyslexia. He was recently diagnosed late in life, and we dive into how he has overcome fear, overcome his addiction to marijuana and how he has gotten through and survived and even thrived now.

We’ll tap into what he’s doing now as a comedian, actor, and other things that he is starting late in his life.

Hello, dreamers. Welcome to the Late Starters Club, giving you the inspiration, mindset, and tools you need to start something midlife and beyond remember, it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

Hello, Late Starters. It’s your host, Andrea Vahl. And today I am joined by one of my favorite types of guests, a fellow comedian. So please welcome Steve Weaver. He is a retired IT professional. He is a 38 year husband, father of three, grandfather of one, undiagnosed dyslexic student, and he has recovered from a marijuana addiction, graduated Summa Cum Laude, army veteran and aspiring actor and comedian.

So, welcome Steve!

Steve Weaver: Thank you. Thank you very much. I’m glad to be a part of your show.

Andrea Vahl: I connected with Steve here in the Denver comedy scene and heard his story and was like, oh, you’ve got to come on the show and talk about the things that you have been through and overcome later in life and discovered later in life.

I think one of the most major things was discovering you’re dyslexic. When did you discover that?

Steve Weaver: I was 59 years old when I found out I was dyslexic. I mean, the symptoms are always there. That’s part of my routine. I should have known that time I got pulled over for running a spot sign.

I talk a lot about dyslexia in my comedy routine. But I officially got diagnosed and then I could put a label on it. And then pursue avenues to understand it better. It

Andrea Vahl: And what was that like when you finally got the diagnosis? How did that feel?

Steve Weaver: Oh, it was so much of a relief because for the first time in my life I knew it wasn’t me. I knew there was something more to it than just me because it’s typical for a dyslexic. They get told that they’re either unintelligent or unmotivated and those are both things that lead to shame and things like that. So I was able to put a label on it and then understand it and research it and discover it and see how it affected my life.

Unfortunately though, it didn’t take long and I took on a victim mentality. If only I’d have been diagnosed early, if only I’d have known when I was in first or second grade, my whole life would have been different. And that’s what spiraled me down into some real difficulties in life. But I recovered from all that and now I’m having fun with my comedy.

Andrea Vahl: Yeah. I definitely find that comedy is a great connector, a unifier, a way to get through a difficult time. It’s hard because you sort of have to get through it and then you can poke fun of it after you’re right in the middle of the trauma, right?

And, and I think we need to laugh at this thing called life, right?

You graduated Summa Cum Laude even though you were dyslexic, how did that come about?

Steve Weaver: Well, I didn’t know I was dyslexic. I graduated high school second in my class, second from the bottom of my class and I thought I was destined, as my father said, you’re never to amount to anything.

So it wasn’t until I was in my thirties and I just wanted to prove that I wasn’t stupid. And so I worked really hard. I discovered how I learned my own process of learning. I’m a visual person. I’m an active learner. I learn to figure out what the teachers want and just focus on that. Because I don’t have a lot of time to cover everything.

And so I just worked real hard, focused on it. I had established good relationships with the teachers, I made sure I knew exactly what they wanted and understood it. And this is a degree in software development as a programmer, which is not an easy one to get. But the whole concept of figuring out what they want is exactly what you need to do as a software developer.

You figure out what people want and then you develop the tools for them. And I started getting A’s and I thought, well, I’m going to just keep this thing rolling. And I did. And I graduated Summa Cum Laude.

Andrea Vahl: That’s amazing. And then that kicked off your IT career, right?

Steve Weaver: I was a software engineer for around 10 years and the dot com bomb hit and I could not find any work and I was getting older at that time. So now I’m in my late forties. And I started finding out about age discrimination, although they wrote laws that you can’t, but the key was to get in somewhere before you turn 55, because after 55, it’s not likely you’re going to get hired, especially because of age discrimination, because they might be able to get rid of you.

So then I shifted to more of a tech support for the University of Colorado at the Manchester Medical Center there. I went in, had a lower position and worked my way up and got into server support system administrator and ended up retiring there. I retired in 2020. One month before COVID hit.

Andrea Vahl: Wow. That was good timing!

Steve Weaver: Yeah. I had all these plans. I’m a planner. Oh, that’s true. I had it all planned out, I was going to be busy at all these activities, volunteer work, all these things to do. And it all just…

Andrea Vahl: I know that’s all of us, right? We all have plans.

So out of high school you went right to the army, right? And then after that to college?

Steve Weaver: I went to a tech school and got a degree in electronics and worked on mainframe computer for 10 years and that’s when I went in to get my degree in software development.

You have to reinvent yourself. So I started in my mid thirties a whole other career as a software developer. And I went to school for that and worked really hard.

Andrea Vahl: And then where did the marijuana addiction come in to all of that?

Steve Weaver: It started at a young age and it’s very typical, and this is why I say it’s so important for children to be diagnosed early in life because in the classroom, they’re not going to have success.

It’s just not part of the formula because it’s very academic based and dyslexics have other creative ways, lots of them are very smart in other ways, which are not emphasized in the academic world. So what happens is they start venturing off into other things, some of them very risky activities, so they feel like they’re accomplishing something.

And I did the same thing. I started getting into some trouble. I started getting in with the outcast group kids. I started drinking and doing drugs at about 14 or 15 years old. And I thought it was an environment I fit in very well and could do well at.

And so I continued. I had no problem with drugs. I had no problem with alcohol. Just marijuana. And then I went into the military thinking I’m going to get away from this. I’m going to get a fresh start. And then you discover that the military is just a microcosm of society.

It’s going to have everything else that society has. And there was plenty of that there. And so I got right back into it, got out. I have another story that I could tell. I was in a car accident, and it was pretty bad. And that caused me a lot of health issues, and psychological issues.

And things were spiraling out of control for me. And I went to school in the electronics, but I did well. Had a career, moved to Houston. But I knew I needed to get away from that. I found a group of people, some young Christians. A lot of them came out of the drug culture so I could fit in really well and they helped me a lot and I got out very quickly.

One day I just decided I’m going to quit and I did. That’s actually very rare. I mean, no cravings, no, nothing. It just ended overnight. I ended up meeting my wife, having my kids and then back into school for the electronic school and then programming 30 for years.

I wanted to raise my kids. I had three different careers and then I drifted back into it after I found out I was dyslexic. And I took on that victim mentality where I started feeling sorry for myself and thinking about how life would have been different. And I was in a toxic work environment, empty nested.

And then I found out that marijuana was legalized. What a novelty to be able to smoke it legally. I started dabbling into it and then it got out of control again and this time I was determined not to go back to it. So I got involved in some programs, two different programs.

One of them specifically for marijuana addiction. The other one specifically for tapping into your higher power. I ended up taking the 12 step program four times. A couple of times as a leader in a group of men and,I got it completely under control. I have no interest at all. I have different ways to deal with struggles and difficulties, and hopefully we can get into some of that too, because getting into this industry, as you know, is not easy.

Andrea Vahl: Exactly. There’s plenty of mind stuff that happens and struggles and you’re like, why am I doing this? Before we got started, you had talked about the role fear played in all of this for you.

So touch on where that has played into this whole journey through your life and how you’ve gotten through that.

Steve Weaver: It started very young and it has to do with dyslexia, undiagnosed, untreated dyslexia. Just imagine for a moment, Andrea, that you’re 6 or 7 years old, 1st or 2nd grade, and you realize for the first time that you cannot do what all the other kids can do effortlessly, and you can’t even memorize the alphabet.

And I remember that moment, exactly when that moment happened. And it was when I was supposed to be memorizing the alphabet, and I could not memorize the alphabet. I could see it was across the wall above the chalkboard. And they had all the pictures and all that. I could go through it, but I couldn’t memorize it.

And everybody else was whizzing through it. And for the first time I felt isolated from everybody else. And then other situations where I would always go down early and spelling Bee’s and I would jumble stuff. When they do out loud reading, all these sort of embarrassing moments that made me look pretty bad.

And so I developed, and I realized this when I went through the programs, I was able to identify. Exactly what it is, and that’s the fear of failure, rejection and isolation. And I developed all that through elementary school. When I was in the academic environment, I was afraid to fail and be rejected.

I was afraid I’d get isolated. So I wouldn’t do things because I didn’t want to fail. And the default for not doing anything is failure. You have to do something if you want to succeed at it. If you don’t, you’ve pretty much failed. But nobody knows about it and you’re going to hide. And so I did a lot of that too.

And so this went with me my whole life, it was like a backpack of rocks that I carried everywhere I went. Everything I did there’s always this in the back of my head, this fear of failure, of rejection, of isolation. That leads to a fear of success too, because once you’re successful you have to keep going.

And so it can be crippling. So I identified that and COVID hit and I retired. We’re getting towards the end of COVID and it was my son in law’s idea to give me a commercial acting class. It was a virtual class, one of the top commercial acting schools in LA.

It was great. And they live out there in LA. And that was great, because I’m into this commercial acting thing. And that’s when I got bit by the bug. And I was able to do some things acting wise and I was amazing myself. But I struggled with memorization. I struggled with figuring out what the script should be.

Because you have to figure a lot of that out on your own. And the fear of failure was just gripping me. Through all of that. But I kept pushing through it and then one of the sessions was on improv, and there’s no script. You just improvise. And they’re bringing a special teacher for that, who’s a big time improviser in LA.

And we went through the whole process, and he told me that I had some really great instincts. I had some great responses. And he’s kind of discouraged virtual improv that really needs to be done live. So I asked him, well, is there any place in Denver? And he knew right off the top of his head – Rise Comedy, the two guys from that, I know them both, they’re very good, they’ll take good care of you.

So I started getting involved at Rise Comedy. And he was correct. The two owners there, they’re great people. And they were hunting for some staff. And they had an intern program. And I volunteered for the intern program.

So I do lighting and sound at Rise Comedy once a week. Usually on Saturday. And because of that, the classes are all free. You earn credits towards classes. So I’ve never had to pay for one class. I’ve taken five improv classes. Because I’d take the same one twice. Because my fear was gripping on me.

It was hard for me to work through the process of being courageous enough to just go out and start creating a scene. And so I was still struggling with that. And I thought, well, maybe I should take some acting classes because that will help me understand character development. So I started taking classes at Denver Center Performing Arts.

And by the way, they have a great scholarship program. All my classes were 50% off. Nice. So if people are concerned about money, there’s ways that you can get around the expenses that it costs to make changes in your life. And that’s where I really flourished, as far as being able to do some acting.

And I had great teachers there. One, Timothy McCracken. He’s an expert at this stuff. He takes people wherever you are, and starts moving you up. He knows how to do that so well. He’s so encouraging. I let him know I’m dyslexic. He, thought that was great and worked with me and I learned a bunch of techniques on memorization.

And for he last technique I was paired up with this established actor in the area. We did a scene together and I was telling him about how hard I’m having it doing memorization and he pulls out some flashcards. This guy is an established actor guy. He says, I use flashcards just like in elementary school.

We’re using flashcards and that was the final piece that I needed. So the last class I took, the last scene that we did, I was nailing it. And Timothy McCracken, he does notes after each one and he’s giving these people notes, but he’s not giving me any notes. And I’m thinking, listen, I paid the same price as everybody else.

And then all he did was look over at me and says, the whole scene you were in the moment, but keep digging deeper. And that was the last thing he said. My role that I was playing was believable. I was actually playing the character. And that’s what you want to strive for in acting. In the moment. So I knew that I had gotten to where I wanted to be.

Andrea Vahl: That’s good. I think we had talked about fear, there’s a lot of fear in starting all of this, putting yourself out there.

Steve Weaver: And I’m still having the fear in the improv. I’m overcoming the fear in the acting because I’m using these techniques, which I figured out are how I can memorize lines, which was to understand the objective of the character, understand the visualness of the scene, and I even came up with my own props that would help me to remember what I’m doing, what the next scene is, what my next lines would be. And it all fit with the scene. And the instructor was pretty amazing. How did you come up with that idea? It fit well. But I was using it to help me to remember my scene, my next line and stuff like this.

By the time I finished the acting, that fear that I had of not being able to memorize lines and being able to understand the scene, I was able to squelch that completely. Eliminating that fear, which is the barrier that was holding me back.

Andrea Vahl: Yeah. And I think that it is really about finding what works for you because we’re all different people and finding that you use the little props to help you along and had never even heard of that before. Even just the flashcards.

I know that’s worked for some people who are in my acting class too. They use flashcards a lot. Other people use a different recording method where they’re recording themselves and things like that. It’s all about finding the method that works best for us and trying different things and trust then trusting that you have mastered that so that you don’t have to be afraid of it anymore.

Steve Weaver: Yeah. And there’s a process that I discoveredand it was understanding thi simprov stuff. For me, there was fear. I could do the exercises in the class, but when I got on stage in front of a live audience, the fear would take over and I couldn’t step out to start a scene or to jump into a scene or I would overanalyze it.

Because I didn’t want to fail, it would move on before I could even say what I had to say. But as I’m reaching these stages, the fear is getting less and less. And then the next stage for me was being confident. And then the final stage is trusting yourself to just step out.

And so I went back to the improv and I was able to get to the comfort stage where I could come out and interact with the scene and start doing things. But I hadn’t gotten to the trust. And that’s where stand up came in and a stand up class that runs and it’s a very good stand up classes, Christy Butchley, she’s very good.

So I started her class and all this prep stuff that I did that led up to that. I just took off with this. You write your own material so I could easily memorize it. You deliver your own material. You’re the everything. You’re the producer. You’re the director. You’re the star. You’re the writer. You’re everything. There’s no one else to play off of. There’s nobody to hide behind on stage. It’s just you up there. And so I was real comfortable with some material that I wrote. And so I was able to then start taking the experiences from the acting classes, the spontaneity from the improv classes and tie that all into the standup.

And as I’m doing all this stuff the fear is just fading away. It’s just going away. I used to have fright that was crippling. I couldn’t be in a meeting at work. I’d have to write notes on what I’m going to say.

Andrea Vahl: Right. Well, definitely the fear of speaking is huge. A lot of people are really afraid of speaking in general, , even in a small meeting. Then you take it to the whole next level with performing at comedy works in Denver with 250 people. You just started your standup career, , a couple of years ago?

Steve Weaver: No, I actually started it about eight or nine months ago.

Andrea Vahl: Wow. So, even sooner.

Steve Weaver: I’ve worked really hard. I have good work ethics. I’ve worked really hard. The classes have helped a lot. I really started about two years ago when I started improv and acting. So, I had all that foundation.

So it kind of started a couple of years ago.

Andrea Vahl: That’s awesome. Some of the prep work, it’s always a process, right? So tell me how did you finally go in to the test about being diagnosed with dyslexia?

What led to that moment of testing?

Steve Weaver: Well, I learned in technology and software development that when you go about something, there’s a process, you gather information, you organize it, you analyze it, you come to conclusions, you start taking action. And that works well for my dyslexic mind.

And I’d been doing that my whole career. this young guy who is like a corporate climber kind of guy. Things weren’t happening fast enough for him. Everything had to be fast, fast, fast, fast, fast, fast, fast, fast. So he’d throw me into these positions and I was supposed to start on it right away.

But this is not how you approach things in technology. And it was so stressful that, at my age, I was breaking out with acne and it was tearing me up and my fears were just so bad. The fear of failure, rejection, isolation. And I worked through all of that. I did some amazing stuff. I did some upgrade stuff, took the system into the cloud.

Once that was done, an opening opened up in another department. And it ended up being a promotion for me and it was less stressful. And the manager there lets you do your own process. They were just interested in what you were going to deliver. So I’d be able to get into my own element to do my own stuff.

And it ended up the guy that was there before let a lot of stuff slip. So I had to do a lot of things to get everything back in order. So it took about two years. And then I thought, well, I’ve got everything under control. I can think about what’s going on here. So I started researching. Cause I knew something was wrong there that I had to struggle with this stuff.

So I started researching my symptoms and it kept coming up with dyslexia. And there’s these sites where they provide training, well it’s all for children, everything’s for children, nothing for adults. And you take this test and they evaluate you – no concern, moderately, major concern, extremely concerned.

So every test I took, it was extremely concerned, so then that pointed me towards dyslexia as some sort of issue. So then I started finding out how to get tested. And there’s nothing for adults – students, kids, college kids, there’s all kinds of resources for them for free.

But as an adult, it’s like $2,000 to $3,000 to get tested. But there are programs. Now I was trying to understand it. I was contacting psychologists to see if they could help me understand this and the psychological effect it had on me. And there’s no money for that either because the insurance companies, they say it’s self correcting.

Dyslexia is self correcting. I’m like, what’s that mean?

Andrea Vahl: You’re just going to grow out of it.

Steve Weaver: But I talked to one psychologist and she said, well, you can get tested cheap at the universities that are training people to administer the tests. So UCD downtown here in Denver and Denver University both do that but Denver had a three month waiting list and I couldn’t wait that long.

UCD was able to get me in right away. It’s a grad student that administers the test and gives you the results. And that’s when I found out. The test starts with an IQ test and then they do the academics. And at first with the IQ test I’m thinking, I’m not dyslexic, because it was too easy for me.

And then the academic one was when the shame kicked in. I’m like, oh gosh, there is something wrong here. I mean, it was terrible. And that’s what dyslexia is. It’s a gap between your IQ and your academic abilities. Because everybody’s about the same. When there’s that gap, your academic is below your IQ at a certain amount, then it becomes dyslexia.

Andrea Vahl: Interesting. Wow. Well, that’s great that you were able to, get tested much earlier and get tested for a more reasonable amount than $2,000 or $3,000. That’s crazy. We’ll definitely have to link to some of the resources in the show notes about getting tested and some of the things that you you found with that, that would be great to help others.

Because I know you were talking about the importance of getting tested and diagnosed when you’re young.

Steve Weaver: Right. I would encourage any parent that as a child is struggling academically to get them tested and it’s free through the school system.

They’ll pay for it. They’re not always cooperative. So you have to really advocate for your children. And you have to be a strong advocate because those are added resources, added things that they have to do outside of their regular classroom stuff. And not every school is set up to do that, but that kid has a right to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA Act, but they need a strong parent to advocate for them.

And usually it’s the mom that does that.

Andrea Vahl: It’s great that you finally got the diagnosis. I wonder how much do you feel like your Dyslexia contributed to your comedy and your outlook later in life or was that just maybe unrelated?

Steve Weaver: One of the things about dyslexics is they tend to think outside the box.

And part of it is learned behavior because you can’t do well in school if you follow the academic rules. You have to think of other ways to do that. So you naturally become someone who is going to think outside the box. You have to, to be successful. For me in the IQ test, I rated in the 92nd percentile in four categories.

And all of those had to do with abstract reasoning. It’s basically problem solving and thinking outside the box. That’s what I try to put into my comedy, is looking at things from a different angle. Which a lot of comedians do.

Andrea Vahl: Yeah, exactly. Find something different about it, something that you enjoy.

Steve Weaver: Yes, for sure. I think that some of the best comedians were dyslexic. Tim Conway was dyslexic. Robin Williams was dyslexic. Jim Carrey is dyslexic. And I’m sure the list goes on. I’m at an open mic. I say, is anybody dyslexic in here? And if no one raises their hand, I say, come on a room full of comics and none of you are dyslexic.

Come on!

Andrea Vahl: That’s interesting. Well, this has been so much fun getting to hear your story and I’m sure that it’s helping someone out there who may not even know that they or their child are struggling with potential dyslexia.

As always, I like to close out our session here with one of your favorite quotes or inspirational sayings, because I’m a little bit of a quote junkie.

So I’d love to hear what you find inspirational and what keeps you going.

Steve Weaver: Well, I’m a bit of a quote junkie myself, all kinds of quotes because they’re very powerful. They’re a short little thing that has lots of power to them and lots of wisdom. I love quotes. And so I have lots of different quotes, but I thought about two of the ones that I have, I use a lot in my life.

One is to help me when I’m struggling, and the other one is to help me to be a better person. And the one that helps when I’m struggling, I got it from one of my recovery programs about higher power. And my higher power is a Christian higher power.

So it’s in Hebrews 12:2. And I did a bunch of research on it, because I’m kind of a geek, and I looked up the Strong’s Concordance, and what the words mean, and Strong’s Concordance. So I was able to come up with a, sort of a definition, that is very, very powerful. It’s Hebrews 12:2, and this is not the full verse, but it’s part of it, it says:

For the joy destined Him, Christ bravely and calmly endured the cross. Thinking nothing of the shame that was put upon him.

And if you think about the story that went on, what Christ accomplished and what he did and what he had to go through, and he didn’t want to do it either, because it was going to be a pretty tough struggle, tougher than anything I will ever experience.

So I look at that. First of all, people will always question you. They’ll put you down or they say you’re not funny enough or you go to an open mic and you bomb, nobody’s laughing. You do a show and it bombs, you just have to think nothing of that stuff, nothing of the shame.

And then when you run into struggles, you approach it bravely and calmly. Don’t let it fluster you. Like for me, I have to not allow this fear of fear, rejection, isolation to have any influence at all. And if I’m brave and calm about whatever the struggle is, that fear has no room. And then the end result is there’s great joy afterwards.

And joy comes from a hormone called dopamine, which your body naturally secretes. And that’s what everybody wants when they do drugs. It’s the dopamine that gets secreted in their body. It’s what the drugs does for them. But they don’t do anything to earn it, because dopamine is something you get when you accomplish something very difficult.

Like an athlete who wins the Super Bowl. That dopamine has to be at its highest level. It’s all natural. And so that joy that you can experience after you work through the difficulty if you’re calm and don’t let anybody negatively influence what you’re trying to do.

The second one is a quote and a lot of people have said it, but I first heard it with Steve Harvey. That’s one accomplished guy. He’s very humble about it too. And that’s what I like about it. He’s very humble. He’s very vulnerable, very transparent about everything. He’s the real deal type of a guy. And he says, I’m just trying to be the best version of myself I can be.

And that, I think, is all you can do. Just be the best version of yourself that you can be. And in comedy, it’s really big because you can’t be another comedian. You may pick up some of their style, a little bit of their technique, but you can never be some other comedian. You have to be yourself. And that’s what everybody loves to see, the authenticity, the vulnerability of you just being yourself, the genuineness.

So if you get the best version of yourself that’s what’s going to help you. And I had struggled with persona because I’m new at this. What’s my persona? What’s my persona? Nobody helps you because that’s something you find out on your own. Just be the best version of myself.

Andrea Vahl: Exactly. Just be you. And that’s definitely how I resonate with some comedians. I get a vibe when I think the person on the stage is going to be the same person that I would meet off the stage. And I always liked that because I always feel like it’s a great way to connect to someone when you can have them share their real self.

Well, Steve, thank you so much. This has been great. Thank you for all of your thoughts and your ideas around overcoming fear and getting through your dyslexia diagnosis later in life. I wish you all the best for your acting and and comedy and grandpa’ing!

Thanks so much.

Steve Weaver: There’s so much life to live, no matter what age you are.

Andrea Vahl: That’s right!

Hope that was helpful and make sure you grab the free guide top tools for late starters on the website at latestartersclub.com and let’s turn dreaming into doing.

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This is the place for inspiration, motivation, and mindset resets. You will walk away ready to take action with practical and informative advice from some of the most amazing “Late Starters” on the planet.

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