If not being able to read were a disease, it would be an epidemic. Millions of Americans can’t read, but illiteracy often goes unacknowledged or unnoticed. If you’re a parent or teacher of a child that struggles with reading, you know the painful way that illiteracy steals their confidence and robs them of the joy that comes from learning.

William Manzanares IV, a member of the Puyallap Tribe in Washington state wrote I Can’t Read to give the literacy conversation a much-needed jump start. He’s sharing his incredible story with us today.

William Manzanares IV: It began with my companies that I founded. I have them read a book to get a job—The Customer Rules by Lee Cockerell—and I made it the standard over the last couple of years. You will not work at one of my companies if you haven’t read the book.

At one point, there was a bunch of employees who got really frustrated and said, “Well, we can’t read as much as you read, please stop pushing books on us.” I always try and push them to do one book a month in different areas of life.

I sat them all down and told them why books meant so much to me. That’s kind of why this message and why I wrote this book.

Rae Williams: Tell us a little bit about your journey.

William Manzanares IV: I think everyone out there has a story to tell and a story to write about, and my journey is about leaving a lasting impact for the next generation or people around me. My story is just simply stated is in school and throughout my life, I can’t read. I struggled with a reading disability, disadvantage if you will, my whole life.

I kept it secret up till that time when I sat my employees down and told them, “I can’t read, I’m the kid in school that everyone yelled out words to in public reading.”

I’m that guy. My discovery of Audible five years ago changed my life dramatically, and I wanted to then let the world know or people in my community know that you can overcome any obstacle in your life if you take on the persona of someone else. That’s what I’m saying with reading.

If you take on a persona of someone else’s existence by reading, take on their consciousness and live the life through their memoir, their story, you can get a different perspective on your own.

Why I Can’t Read

Rae Williams: What is the unique idea or story in your book that people can take action on or draw from?

William Manzanares IV: I think in school, we’re told you have to get good grades and go to college to get a good job. I mean, nothing against the teachers and classrooms are telling that, but it’s the problem I see is with the system and the way we teach people today.

One in five people are dyslexic in this country, and over 32 million people in this country can’t read. If the school system works, don’t you think those numbers would be different? You think they’d cater to that?

If this was any other business model, it would fail. That’s what I’m out there talking about, is the school system failed me. I found a way around it with technology and Audible and putting a lot of hard work into that idea that I was too stupid to read. I thought I was too stupid, so I didn’t tell anyone.

I only told three people in my life, and I never told anyone until that moment of frustration with my employees who said, “We’re not you, we don’t want to read this much.”

And it finally hit me, “My god, I’ve changed. I’m a different person than I was growing up. I’m pushing books down everyone’s throat.”

I’m saying, “You got to read this, you got to do this, this will change your life.” Someone comes to me with some drama and I say, “Have you read this book?” If I hear employees fighting about something, I say, “You guys read How to Win Friends and Influence People because you all need some help. This is not how you should talk to people.”

I would totally interject myself in too many situations trying to throw books at them. That opened up my eyes because I started doing more research and then thinking about it is, there’s a bigger problem.

More people are affected by illiteracy in this country than any other disease, and that’s my frustration. That’s why I wrote this book, to bring awareness. I shocked my employees because they always saw me as this brilliant business guy. I’m not like stroking my own ego with that, but that’s what they would say. I wanted to share and put some light to the subject that intelligence can be in many ways.

The school system failed me, and I successfully made it. How many other people did it fail, but they think they can’t make it because they were told they were too stupid to pass?

Read with a Purpose

Rae Williams: What do you mean by Read with a Purpose?

William Manzanares IV: Reading with a purpose means, what are you trying to solve? What problem are you trying to solve? When I was overweight, I hurt myself and gained a lot of weight back after years of getting it off. I thought to myself, “You read a lot of business books and you preach this lot. Pick up a diet book.”

So, I picked up the highest rated diet book that I found on Audible, and I just applied it to my life and lost 40 pounds in two months. It made me think about the food system, it made me think about a lot of things, and it helped me become the change that I wanted to see in the world. I closed down an unhealthy business and am trying to make a healthy convenience store.

The reason I said read with purpose is, I had a purpose to want to lose weight. Well, I went a little bit further than that. If you want to be rich, quit blaming the system. It’s a science. Read books on wealth.

If you want to lose weight, read books on how to healthily live. If you’re coping with the loss of a loved one, there’s books on grief and loss. If you’re having relationship problems, there are books on how to mend those and how to talk to people differently.

There really is a book for everything, but I don’t think the school system’s necessarily teaching that way. They’re teaching you how to pass tests nowadays, rather than how to actually use it to live.

The purpose is to find your why, like in Simon Sinek’s book. That was really profound, finding your why. My why is I want there to be a lasting legacy of a reading epidemic instead of an illiteracy epidemic.

The Doors Books Can Open

Rae Williams: What happens if we are not reading in whatever way we choose to consume books?

William Manzanares IV: A mantra I live by is “learn from other’s mistakes—you can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” Reading for me is with a purpose. It’s not just reading to read, it’s reading to learn so you don’t have to go through the same struggles that others have gone through.

When I talk about Audible, that was my solution five years ago in April 2014. I debated over getting Audible. I’m cheap and I thought, “Man, $14.95 a month, that’s a lot of money.” And I debated and I got two free credits. I got The 48 Laws of Power was my first book, and I digested it and I said man, “I can retain everything from this book, I have every memory of it. It’s great.”

And then it brought me back to this mindset of “Oh yeah, when I was read to in school, when the teachers were really young, would read at the class. I remembered every story.”

It made this connection, and I debated over it and I ended up dropping my Netflix account so I could have the extra money to do it. I did the $14.95 a month and I started just digesting one book after another. At first I was like, “I’m not going to read a book a month.” Well then, it became a small goal line, like finish this book by this time, finish this book.

When I talk about illiteracy, I think people think immediately, stupid people. People who are dumb, people who failed or the school system failed them.

No, there’s more people out there who don’t know how to read or even take the time to take each word in and figure out the meaning of it without jumping into conclusions first.

We all are trying to survive in this world, and we think of survival first so we think of what someone’s game, what are they doing, why are they doing this against me? Rather than stopping, taking breath and saying, “What can I learn from this?”

Finally Reading Out Loud

Rae Williams: Your book is going to actually be available in audiobook form?

William Manzanares IV: Yeah, I think so many times, an author sees an e-book or a paperback book or even a hard cover as that’s a book. Well, it has to be in audio form for all the millions of people that use Audible.

I had it justified early on like yeah, Audible, Audible, Audible. You’ve got to be on Audible and it makes hundreds of millions of dollars and Amazon wouldn’t have acquired it if it wasn’t a legit thing.

Yes, it’s going to be on Audible, and the greatest last bit of oomph of motivation I had was I had a narrator lined up and everything because I need to release my audiobook at the same time that I released my physical book, and I know that’s not usually the standard.

Usually you’ll see the physical book come out and then the audiobook will follow up in a month or two, I want to make sure that it was all available.

I actually got the motivation because everything was scheduled, but it fell through. I ended up reading my own audiobook. I talk about the problems I had in school in my book and the fear of public reading, and I conquered my last fear with this audiobook.

I read it. I read it out loud.

I hope that could be an inspiration to those who still struggle that even my last bit of fear was still motivated by, “I got to get this done.” And that’s why I read my own book for this one.

It was very important to me because when new books get released and the audiobook isn’t available, I mean, I can wait a couple of more months. I can read a physical book, by the way. It was great because of all my audio reading, I was able to read a couple of books cover to cover.

I was like, “Heck yeah, this is working.”

But for me, for the demographic of who I’m targeting and those who struggle, it was very important that they could have the audiobook and the physical books so they could read it along together, otherwise they’re just waiting.

Why We Should All be Readers

Rae Williams: What is on the other side when we’re able to get into reading and overcome the obstacles that we have?

William Manzanares IV: I phonetically can’t read, I can’t sound out words. I found work arounds and I talk about it on my book how to get worked around all of that. So, if it is a brand-new word that I have never heard before, I have to do some techniques so I know what the word is. But we can all hear right? We all listen, for those who aren’t hearing impaired, we can listen and we can follow instructions.

What I talked about the other side is and to touch back the previous question, when I went around try to do more research and going to illiteracy groups and trying to help out and tell them my story, when I talked about my struggle, they keep hearing it as a negative, “Oh he can’t read.”

Well, I am on the other side. I can read. I have used all my techniques. There is not a word that is commonly used in the English language that I can’t pick out now. I can speed read. I can read faster than people I believe who are more intelligent than me. One of my most intelligent friends that I talk about often but don’t give his name in the book, who helped me along the way, he had to stop me once and said, “Hold on, hold on, hold on you think faster than me. Give me a second to catch up.”

And that’s what I talk about the other side is. It will take a long time. It is not going to happen overnight, but if you slowly work at it, you can look back one day and say, “Oh my gosh I know how to read.” And that is what I hope this book will do for the millions of people out there.

You can read. Quit telling yourself you can’t.

You just have to take a step in the next direction towards the side you want to go. When I talk about the other side, I am there. I can read. I have used all of my workarounds, and I am there and I am waiting for you guys who are still struggling. I will see you on the other side when I’m here, waiting for you.

No More Excuses

Rae Williams: All right, so circling back to your employees, besides shocked at your revelation, what was their reaction after you’d explain to them why this is so important to you?

William Manzanares IV: In general, now years later these employees just know it. Brand new employees just know that it is the standard. It was employees that I had at the time who I started throwing this out at them. They stopped complaining to me because now they realized Will was a take no excuse kind of guy. Like, “No, I don’t want to hear it. There is Audible, there is Amazon. There are books, you have e-books. YouTube has some free books out there. Take the time to learn.”

So, what happened for me personally was the excuses stopped. To me there are no more excuses. The other thing that started to happen was people would come to me and tell me about their loved ones, their spouse, their kids who have a learning disability or challenge. That’s what actually founded the idea of this book.

I didn’t realize that I was not alone.

In fact, I am surrounded probably around more people who don’t know how to read than I ever knew before, and that was profound to me. I heard more stories about everyone else’s struggle because of sharing my story than if I would have kept it a secret.

Shifting Your Mindset

Rae Williams: How do we go about shifting our mindset to not make these excuses anymore?

William Manzanares IV: I can do a quick simple answer and say you just got to do it, but then people get mad. When you give the simplest answer people get mad. I think in so many techniques, people want me to give you this long winded profound 300-page answer to this question, when it is just as simple as snap your fingers and get your mind off of that and be in the now.

I guess that is the answer—be in the now. Be in the present moment and don’t worry about what will happen or what has happened. Just focus on now and what you have to do right now.

All our worries come from past or future, there really isn’t a worry in this present moment. I mean now when I say things like that I know there is always going to be that person that says, “Well actually I am driving the car right now. I need to pay attention.” Well yeah, obviously you need to pay attention to road. I am talking about be in the now.

Be in the moment and quit worrying about the negative people, because those negative thoughts are just people who made a comment because of their life’s journey. The thoughts you have are yours and yours alone.

The countless nights that I had negative thoughts about me not being a good reader and crying myself to sleep, not telling my parents I was too scared, thinking I was too stupid that I messed up that I did something wrong and that it was all on me. How could I dare tell anyone what I was dealing with?

I am glad kids are more open today. I have been on a lot of social media groups where I could see parents talking about their kids and struggles and I wait to comment because they are asking groups about parenting questions. My kids aren’t dyslexic. My kids aren’t having any reading struggles, so I don’t have to know what that is like, but I know what it’s like to be the person.

When I say anything you want in life is possible, I truly believe it.

I truly believe it because the greatest accomplishment I have ever done in my life was learning how to read. So many others can learn so quick, especially in grade school, especially in second grade, first grade when you are supposed to learn that. It took me a lifetime, so everything else just seems like what is the big deal? What is the big deal?

If you read my book, there is a lot more personal loss and tragedy that I’ve had to endure.

I think everyone in this world has their own story to tell, but mine was I used those times to look to someone else. That’s why I talk about taking on other books and reading because I read with a purpose. I read to visualize what I want to be in five years, and I got there. You don’t get there by just sitting back and asking for it, hoping that it will fall in your lap or wishing for it. You get up and do it every day.

A Challenge for Listeners

Rae Williams: With that being said, if you had to issue a challenge, one thing that we can do to change our lives today, what would that be?

William Manzanares IV: Well one thing that I would tell myself is, “Your future self, your present self and your past self.” When I was going through martial arts, I have talked to myself. I said, “Okay my current self right now, can I kick the butt of my younger self?” If I can’t say yes, then I don’t want my younger self to beat me up. You should always think that your older self might get a little weaker, but you should keep practicing.

So, it’s the same thing with reading, and the correlation is challenging yourself.

In your current state of mind, the current place of where you are, intellectually speaking, can your present self intellectually outwit your younger self? And if the answer is no, then you’d better work on that.

About your future self, wouldn’t you want your future self to be smarter than your current self? Wouldn’t want to say future you, wouldn’t you want to be able to pick up the phone and call your future self, five years from now and say, “Hey, all of these problems I am dealing with today what would you do?”

If your future self said, “I did nothing, I sat there and complained,” wouldn’t you be pretty disappointed?

But if your future self came to you and said, “Hey I actually read all these books and everything is cool. My life is so much better now. I talked to all of these people, I got new friends, the loved ones who supported me I helped them back when they had times of loss or sadness.”

Challenge yourself. Is your future self, even if it is a month from now, going to be able to spar intellectually with your current self? Who is going to win?

I didn’t talk about this in my book because I thought it would one, for people who out-read me, it wouldn’t mean anything. For two, if you looked at my employees, I challenge myself. I said, I’m going to do 30 books in 30 days, and I did it. I’m going to do a hundred books in a year just because I saw one of the authors of a book I admire and I put in my book—Yeon-mi Park, who was a defector from north Korea—she read a hundred books. I said, “I’m going to do it because she did it.”

After I did those challenges, I realized, if you tell and brag about it around people who don’t read, they’re going to go, “Yeah, Will’s just talking about more books he’s reading.”

If I told you to read 30 books in 30 days, you’d go, “My god, that’s impossible.” If I talk to my younger self, I would have looked at myself and said, “You’re crazy.”

But you can challenge yourself, and that’s what I’m saying with everything. Challenge yourself to be the better you that you want to be, and you will become that person.

Connect with William Manzanares

Rae Williams: How can people contact you if they want to get more information or learn more or connect with you in general?

William Manzanares IV: My last name’s hard to say. It was one of the things you had to pick up when you’re in kindergarten, right? Writing out your name. So, I changed it for my personal brand for Will Talks Biz.

You can find me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, my website, the dot com. Yeah, you could find me in all those areas, and I put out different content about business.

This book’s my own personal memoir about reading. But I have many years of experience in business and all the joys and roller coaster and pitfalls of business, and that’s kind of the advice I like giving out to is career advice to young entrepreneurs and to young people.

If you want to learn anything about that, you can go to my website. I have all kinds of content and blogs and everything about that.