Succeeding After Trauma, with Jose Del Cueto | EDB 294


Author & self-advocate Jose Del Cueto shares his journey from a traumatic childhood with undiagnosed ADHD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia to a long and successful career in marketing.

Jose Del Cueto leads an ongoing mentoring internship program for university and community college students in Central Florida. He is actively involved in child welfare, serving on the board of community-based organizations that are dedicated to serving the adopted and foster children population of Central Florida. With over 30 years of experience in National and International marketing, Joe is considered one of the pioneers of Latin American Pan-Regional Television, having worked with both Univision and Telemundo, overseeing their National and International footprints. Joe’s business, DMG Solutions, works with small and medium-sized businesses, providing access to Big Data and technology for their marketing acquisition and customer-retention programs. 

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Note: the following transcription was automatically generated. Some imperfections may exist. 


DR HACKIE REITMAN (HR):  Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman. Welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains. And today, we’re lucky to have with us what Jose Del Cueto who was quite an interesting individual. I met him in a very interesting way I’ll tell you about too. But this guy’s got some life story. And his brain is a little bit different. Jose, welcome.

JOSE DEL CUETO (JDC):  Hi, thank you, thank you, thank you, love to be here Hackie.

HR:  Very kind of you to be here. So I’ll tell our audience now: Gretchen and I went down keys. And we’re at this very nice dining and drinking establishment. And we sat down with you because there’s no place else to sit down. And we just started talking and one of the more interesting people I’ve met. And what I’m gonna do, Jose, is I’m gonna let you introduce yourself to the audience before I mess it up.

JDC:  So, my name is Jose Del Cueto. And I am, I am an individual that has had a very textured pass to the use interesting words for like, for lack of a better description. But that somewhere in the middle of his life, or actually, yeah, little before the middle of my life, I things turned on, I started getting lucky. And, and then towards the last part of my life, I found out all things that I have a very different branding, I am in the absolute neurodivergent group, but medically tested to the umpteenth degrees. And that led me to actually the starting conversation to write a book about my life story. And I think my publisher picked a really good a name for it, because the book is called “Broken Like Everybody Else”, because we’re all a little broken, some of us more than others. But that’s in a nutshell, who I am a man that has had an interesting journey in life and continue having an interesting journey.

HR:  Tell us some of the ways you’ve been “broken”.

JDC:  Well, it’s interesting, because at age 59, I set on a course that many men, I guess, do, certainly business men like myself. They say that we all have a book inside of us. And we all kind of want to share knowledge when you hit a certain stage of your life. So I said, Well, I think I can probably get both of those done. If I sell my entire life in South Florida, everything I’ve worked for for a lifetime, sell everything and go live in a little town in northern Florida called Gainesville, Florida. So I basically went and I had 59 abandoned my life. And my wife and I moved to Gainesville, Florida, where I had unfinished business. First and foremost, I did not graduate, the University of Florida, I dropped out in my senior year in college, get this in advertising a career which I’ve had a stellar career without the degree. So here, I am going back to Gainesville, where I want to teach advertising, the college faculty and administrators are thrilled that someone with my experience would be willing to move to Gainesville and share knowledge and become a professor. But they said “But Joe, or Jose, there’s a small detail, you need to finish school”. So, I said wait don’t I get life credits for you know, having worked on a worldwide basis in in this industry. Well, we’ll give you some, but you’re still going to have to do some sort of work. And sure, we’ll let you teach right away. And but you still have to be a student so you can Imagine what that movie looks like a fully grown men, accomplished man that is doing this really out of a kick. Yet I’m riding a bike with a backpack in books in my bag, part of the day, and then I’m in the front of the the classroom the other part of the day, it was very odd.

HR:  Tell our audience if you would about your accomplished career prior to that.

JDC:  Sure. I mean, I like like I said, I I’m I’m one of those very, very lucky individuals. I was, I got into the media business without knowing a lick of media, matter of fact, that’s one of the courses I failed while while at the University of Florida 40. Some years ago, I failed media, and of all things. Now, as an adult, that 26 year old when I started in this whole this game of advertising and media, someone said, you know, you gotta be in Spanish language television. And I said, “what, what on God’s earth is that?” Because it wasn’t a thing, trust me. It was not a thing. It was 15. Guys, I call it 15 Guys, and some Mexican partners and a cable channel. That’s that’s what I that’s what I got myself into. In Miami, Florida. Well, that to make a long story short, that turned out to be Univision, which last time it was sold them sold for $15 billion with a B. Yeah, we took the company public a couple of times and stock split a bunch of times, then we all left really early in our careers. I mean, it must have been 30 years old. And we said we’re bored. Let’s do it again. And we found ourselves a kind of a sketchy financier. That became quite famous for financial instruments called Junk bonds, fellow by the name of Michael Milken, who raised who raised a few 100 million dollars because we had an idea that we wanted to start TV network number two, and I went to live in New York, and that’s called Telemundo. We started all around the country. So I mean, after that, we, you know, I’ve been basically on my own with my own firm, delving in media and in advertising.

HR:  Now, let’s go backwards now that our audience knows how successful and visionary you’ve been. Right? And you’re very humble too because you’re talking about “Yeah, you know, Univision, I started that. Spanish TV”, on and on and everything. Now let’s go back to the sketchy part, share with our audience about that. Because I want to inspire our audience. That something I tell our neurodivergent interns here at different brains. It’s the same we used to have a Jersey City where I grew up where my folks had a gas station. It’s not how you start the race is how you finish. Tell our audience a bit about how you started the race?

JDC:  Well, it Yeah, the beginning of my, my life was was a complicated one. I’m a I’m a, I’m a Cuban refugee. So basically, I was, you know, my parents left Cuba when I was three years old. And we bounced around quite a bit until we finally settled in Puerto Rico. Where I went to, I went to boarding school, I lost my father very, very young. And, and my mother was not well, she was unwell, she had a lot of mental health issues. She then created dependency issues on drugs, and whatnot. So I was pretty much on my own since I was maybe 10 years old, 11 years old. And all the bad things that can happen. All of them happen. I mean, from being, you know, assaulted and raped when I was young, young young men to getting getting myself in all kinds of trouble. And later on in life, you know, as I finished my my high school in Puerto Rico barely finished my high school in Puerto Rico. I decided to come come of all places to Miami, Florida, talk about talk about, you know, a bad decision in life. Miami in the mid 70s, was the epicenter of the drug world I mean it and here it was basically an orphan with no rhyme or reason really to be around, you know, any good, good any good reason to be in South Florida. And yet here I am right in the middle in the middle of this town that’s filled with all kinds of ethnic groups all vying for the same thing everybody wanted to buy or sell a drug. And very quickly my I guess my business skills kicked in and and I found out how to how to navigate all worlds from the Cuban clans to the Italian clans and the dual clients or the you know, New Jersey, you know, clans to you name it, I was kind of in between all of them. Because I was not exactly the, you know, the most stable of ships. I was doing a whole bunch of couchsurfing living with friends and and that led me to say, This is no good. A lot of my friends were incarcerated, a lot of my friends were actually assassinated, which is really, really tragic. And this is pre “Cocaine Cowboys”. So we weren’t even dealing with coke. We were dealing in weed, I mean, then, and bringing in all kinds of things from South America and whatnot. But, but it was dangerous or extremely dangerous. Something that later in life, I would find out why why I wasn’t afraid, which is, you know, kind of an intriguing point to the neurodivergent community, it’s, it’s a warning, but it’s also a very important superpower that we all have.

So later, I moved to Gainesville, Florida, where I where I attended to go to go through the University of Florida and like I said, I made it all the way off I almost graduated but really became dependent myself The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree became dependent myself on all kinds of substances and, and, you know, kind of messed up. So there is only a one option but to go back home to Puerto Rico, where I had grown up and, and see if I could figure it out, then that’s where I met my wife. When did you hit rock bottom? But Gainesville, Gainesville, Florida? December 1985 years later, I said next, I mean, if my friends are incarcerated and dead, I’m just next it’s coming. I’m not going to avoid this anymore. You can run but you can’t hide. And yeah, at that point, it just I just had I call it my my first mental breakdown or nervous breakdown that I can recall of just totally melting down and and and saying I don’t know what to do anymore. So home was kind of an elusive term my mother was very sick. She was she was dangerous to me as a matter of fact, but yet it’s the it was the only place I could go to so I I packed my bags, I burned my I broke my little black book, I my proverbial little black book and it actually existed where I had all my contacts burned it in the airport parking lot and I said I’m not looking back a little bit I know that 50 years later I’d be back in Gainesville trying to teach Colin in the very same place where I burned down but that’s that’s that live to fight another day.

But yeah, so that that rock bottom led me to what changed my life because after after meeting Cindy which you met Hackie? Cindy was already an adult because she had become pregnant when she was 18 years old. So she already had a child and I went from being a complete reckless careless human being to an innocent man. With no no no in between just Okay, now we have this child in our lives and and within a matter of a year, year, year and a half or so, we were getting married and having our second child now on the way and I said okay, game over, I guess I guess I need to figure this out. It has to be legal though. And, and that led me to, to the to the irony of returning to Miami so it seems like I returned to old places with different agendas. So I actually returned to Miami as as again an immigrant so when I when I hear these stories About the immigrants and Hispanic immigrants and whatnot, I am one, I myself, left my wife to two kids, two babies, one of them recently born 10 days old. And I came, I came north, I came to Miami to look for a job. And I left my wife behind in Puerto Rico with a promise of I’ll send for you, honey, kind of a thing. And, and lo and behold, I get a job at a cable network with 15. Guys. Yes, that. That’s the gist of it. So I got very, very, very lucky.

HR:  Well, that’s great. And, you know, I wanted our audience to hear because sometimes we mistakenly think that everybody just starts off at the top, they’re born into it, they do this and that. And your story is certainly inspirational. We’re not going to dwell on bad decisions he made early. And we’re not going to dwell on all the trauma is sustained on the way up, which you’ve only scratched the surface of and we, we appreciate you sharing that with us. share with our audience, how you would label yourself. I think labels are a lousy way to describe human beings. But what is some of the labels, you think that you have?

JDC:  Meaning labels?

HR:  Well on a mental health level on a health level.

JDC:  Well, I think I’m an extremely healthy human being now. But that’s because I work at it a lot. I mean, I say a lot, I have a lot of a lot of tricks that I use a lot of tools that I’ve learned to that I picked up along the way that helped me on my mental health I meditate every single day, I actually met a data right before this interview. But healthy I am healthy as a human being I go to the gym a lot, I work out a lot I work time, I couldn’t be retired, I could have been retired 10 years ago, and I still enjoy working a lot. I’m, I’m very involved in my community, I’m involved in foster care. I’ve been on the board of directors for the foster care system in the last seven years. And, and also for in Habitat for Humanity, which is, you know, housing for the barbers and whatnot. So I try to keep a balance of things. But if if we were to try to tell your audience, you know, some of the labels that I got, where I got to say, oh, boy, so I am neurodivergent No wonder you know, a lot of things came together when I got those labels. That happened in Gainesville, Florida, and I at age 59 years of age at 59. As a student, I was having difficulties with particularly with math with statistics. Now, here’s a media guy, a data guy, because that’s what I do these days, data driven digital media, it’s all math, but yet I was in college you notice that a Florida in a beginner’s like, like the freshman level statistics course. And it was melting me it was melting me down. I could not hack it. I appear I thought I was just rusty.

And of course, I’m already a pretty self made man. So you know, you can’t hack something. Try to buy it first. And then if you can’t buy it, find a consultant. That’s the that’s part two. And in college, a consultant means a tutor. So I heard of, you know, the super smart that status station as a tutor to help work on the segment five days a week. And it helped me pass this statistics course where it that’s where really ground zero of me finding out how broken I was, because we would do all the work. And when the quiz would would happen. They were online quiz. So you can I could have easily easily cheated on those quizzes. Because I had a tutor right next to me that was my that was on my payroll. He was a he was an honest, young man and he said not on you take the quiz himself. I’ll be right here for moral support. But take the quiz. I love to for you to at least learn to stop and he saw I started choking and how I started panicking and whatnot. And again I thought it was I’m just not used to this stuff. This is this is for the birds who needs this and after the quiz, my my my tutor actually in the library and University of Florida one of the main libraries we put up In a big screen the problems you know, so pretty long math and says Joe read it out loud. And I go data, data data data. Because it’s not what it says. Do it again. I was transposing numbers, decimal points words. I said, What is going on? What is this? He goes “I don’t know. But but you will never ever pass this course if you can’t read the question”. Because you can have all the answers you want. But if you can’t read the question, there’s absolutely no way you can pass the course.

So being an adult being part part faculty of the University of Florida, I went back to my dean, and I said, “Look at what happened to me, what do you think?” And they said, “Well, those are not good signs. Let me put it to you this way. Would you like to be tested?” I said, “How much is gonna cost me?” First question. And of course, the answer was nothing. You will be a guinea pig. And I was very fortunate. I was very fortunate lucky, because the University of Florida excels in, in many things, but one of them is medical research. And at the time, they had one of the most advanced neuro neurological pathway, research center in the country, perhaps even the world, where they were actually understanding and manipulating the way information is processed from being outside of your body all the way through to your ability to learn it, regurgitate it, hold on to it, and so on and so forth. So they put me through this grueling, crazy, crazy process took hours, man hours, and I don’t, I don’t deserve I don’t waste this upon my worst enemy. And at the end, you know, they gave me the bad news, which was, Well, Joe, you are extremely you have extreme dyslexia. I said, Okay, first time I’ve ever heard this. You also have extreme ADHD. I said, Okay, I knew I had some sort of attention thing. But what’s the age sample? No, the age, the age is the hyperactive disorder, which makes it more and more cute. And then it brings a lot of little travel companions with it. You also have this thing called dysgraphia yet, which means I don’t understand my handwriting. And it’s in and I got the fine.

Now again, being a student, a 59 year old student, I will take notes as quick as quickly as I can. And then I go home, and I couldn’t understand a thing I wrote. So imagine this now, this 59 year old Miami man that lives in the nicer part of Gainesville, but yet is a student part time is now now with his tail between his legs going to the disabilities Resource Center, the DRC of the University of Florida, because I need to now officially register myself as a disabled student. I said, this has got to be this got to be the lowest point of my life, how could I possibly be disabled? I’ve had a crazy good life. I don’t belong here, only to find out that? Well, I did. And there I found all kinds of neurodivergent students like me, song had other things that we’re all kissing cousins. They were related, somehow, some way. At that point is when I just figure, okay, well, what caused this? Because, you know, I’m, I’m a curious individual. I mean, you know, one thing is to have all these diagnosis and this empirical science say, this is what’s happening. And this is just math, it’s happening. It’s a definitive answer. But I want to know why, how, why is it there? And how come I never knew about it? Or if I knew about it, and how did I manage to sidestep it all. And within within that process of being the University of Florida, it was very stressful. Being a student was extremely stressful. Sitting next to a 20 year old, that’s just learning something you’ve managed to do a worldwide career on. It just doesn’t make any sense. So that that led me to, you know, really try to dig into to start taking notes. From my experience. I said, I need to chronicle this thing. I don’t know what’s going to happen here. I don’t know what I’m gonna finish stay go, I have no idea. I don’t need to do any of this. But one thing I’m gonna do is just for my own humor, I am going to chronicle my every day in Gainesville, Florida. And I’m a very dedicated person.

So I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote just day one, day two, day three day 200, right. And here, I thought I was writing a book, I actually thought it was writing a book. So because the college where I attended, and the college where I taught was a college of journalism and communications. I went to dinner with one of my colleagues slash professor, who is an author, and I said, I want to show you something and I showed her my manuscript, my, I don’t know, 200,000 words, some crazy number like that, that I had written about my, in my last five months in Gainesville, Florida, freaking out, and freaking out with all these diagnosis and all this stuff going through my mind. I said, I think I have a book here. She, she looks at me over there. He goes, No, Joe, that’s not a book. That’s a diary for crying out love it, okay. Nobody’s interested in that. “Tell me about your life”. And that’s how that started. And when I started once upon a time, and took her through, you know, a few of my, you know, decades. She goes, now that’s a book. And I said, but I’m not an author. “Well I am, so I can give you sort of the, the cookie, the cookie trail that you’re gonna follow, I’m just gonna tell you what to write, you’re gonna write them in your own words, but I’m just going to tell you what I what I like to know”. And that’s what led me to write the book. And in the quest of why I was broken the way that I was. I apparently I had bottled up repressed all the trauma in my childhood, I had repressed I sort of said, “Yeah, whatever. It’s just, maybe I just got dealt a bad hand in the early stages, but I made it up and the other innings.” But you just, you can’t just repress it. That’s the truth.

So I had to deal with it. And while putting it in words, I found and in my own research, I found what is now called the adverse childhood experiences the ACE, test, ACE scores, and found that, in essence, my my trauma was directly connected to my learning disabilities and, and that that just kind of broke my heart. And that’s what that’s what you know, really, really made. It propelled me into this new chapter in my life where, you know, being involved in foster care or being involved in giving back to my community, talking to the folks like me to say, look, it’s okay to be broken. It could turn out better, it could turn out better than then the institutions will tell you, it can turn out better than the people giving you these tests are telling you. And I’m living proof. I didn’t even know how broken I was. And yet it turned out okay. Does that make any sense?

HR:  It does, it’s inspirational, because, you know, things get tough. things get tough. And when you get dealt a bad hand when you suffer trauma, when you have all of these disabilities, what do you do? It’s a metaphor for life in general, you do your best and the way God makes you, if you do your best and you try as hard as you can it’s usually good enough but you have to do that and you have to have faith and you have to work hard and it’s so good of you to write the book to inspire others. Do you have a copy of the book with you to show our audience?

JDC:  Tada! Look at this little boy this this was kind of a heartbreaking little picture, “Broken Like Everybody Else”.

HR:  And where can people find out more about you more about your book more about your websites everything else? 

JDC:  Well the book is called bourbon like everybody else. So we have we have your prototypical website. Actually I believe my website is my name But if you just type broken like everybody else, you know it’ll show up an Amazon even though it’s not a print it we have an a and I still maintain I still maintain the the social media pages, the Instagram and Facebook pages for the book “Broken Like Everybody Else”. Because I feel a responsibility to For those that we we set about once we wrote this book, I was still in Gainesville. And along with my students we set about to go find out how, how, how big or how small or how regional or global this this thing is, and much to my and I must admit, it must have my own surprise. We have followers right now from from every corner every continent on this earth. And they’re typically suffer, they’ve typically people that have suffered trauma and somehow in dealt some pretty bad hands. And yet they, you know, life goes on you they get married, they have kids children that you know, their life life will will go on so. Yeah, I mean, I think I think my, my real big passion is is and, and talking to you hackie and and and in the Different Brains organization is is to talk to talk to the folks, particularly the young folks who still have so much left in life that are dealt a hand that sounds like a bad hand. Because that’s really what it is.

It sounds like a bad hand. Yeah, dyslexic, my God, wait, can we can we now just, you know, write on a sheet of paper, how many careers you just wiped out of the map? Because I can tell you a whole lot of careers that with dyslexia, you’re not supposed to be in, you have dysgraphia? Well, there goes writing and there go the whole lot of other things. You have ADHD, you have this, you have that. Yeah, that’s, that’s true. But what people are not telling us and I think it’s an important message is what’s on the other side of it. Because I mean, it was funny, because as I was writing this book, and kind of encapsulating my life story, I remember my, my editor, my co writer, for lack of a better word, and she didn’t write it with my words. But the professor, when I was going into chapters are really, really dangerous stuff. I was putting myself through saying “Joe, what were you thinking?” And I just remember vividly saying, I wasn’t thinking, maybe the trauma that I suffered in childhood, dulled the fear element. So if you stop and just look at that for one second, you say, Okay, wait, how can that be a good thing? Well, it wasn’t a good thing, then. I mean, I can’t say that, you know, childhood trauma led me to be in a room with machine guns and bad people. And I wasn’t nervous. Because it was pale by comparison to some of the other stuff that I had gone through, I could actually see these people and I could see the machine guns, I couldn’t see some of the other stuff coming and hitting me out of left field. But now I can see how I go into business endeavors. And some people say, but aren’t you afraid it’s gonna fail? Is that it? Is that your fear? Because, honestly, I don’t care. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter, does it? It almost doesn’t register. And therefore I can come at a brand new business endeavor that’s that perhaps a non broken mind would would analyze and analyze it to death and say, no, no, no, there’s so many dangers and unknowns here. I will jump in and say, Well, we’ll find out along the way, won’t we? And, you know, can we spell Silicon Valley because that’s 99% of those inventions out there are fraught with with with with, you know, dangers themselves. So, what could be a bad thing like childhood trauma will turn out to be a strength.


HR:  What is one thing, one thing you wish everyone understood about the effects of trauma?


JDC:  It learns it can dull childhood trauma, can dull and will dull your learning centers as you’re growing up? Actually, there’s there’s a very important woman I want to I want to say she is the Surgeon General of the State of California, Nadine Harris Burke. And she’s a pediatrician by trade. She’s the one that still doing some work on this area where she started saying, why are all my kids from the inner cities diagnosed with ADHD? Can’t be in the water? It just can’t be. There’s got to be something else here. And sure enough, I mean, they’re the levels of trauma were commensurate to, to the, to the degree of ADHD, and then and then commensurate to what was going to happen to those children and to those other young adults and adults in life. And I just think that the neurodivergent population, which I consider myself an integral part of, we don’t have to take whatever the system tells us, that we’re broken as a sentence. As you know, some judge came out here and said, Well, this is it, you, you can’t do this, you can’t live in this part of town, you can get a Mercedes that you like, now you can have you can have a watch, you can have whatever a plane, you know, that’s not for you, that’s for somebody else. It’s not true accident, actually, I would dare to say that we are the special ones. It’s, it’s the non broken brains that I think are probably the slaves of their own brain, because their brain gets in the way. I think things that much. I analyze them, I look at him, I read the risk. And I think that like my mom’s still to this day. I I very much let my soul my heart and my gut have an integral part in the decision making process. And and I refuse to take a label. So if there’s one thing that I would like this audience to know is, don’t take the label. We’re, we’re the special ones. Does that make sense?


HR:  And on that note, we’re going to we’re going to tell everybody that we got to focus on the strength based models and not on what your tough what things are tougher, and nobody should feel like the Lone Ranger because all of our brains are different. Jose Del Cueto, very modest guy, I mean, all the work you’ve done in Latin American pan regional television, Univision, Telemundo, your business DMG Solutions, we’ve only scratched the surface that because I wanted to concentrate on the other stuff, but really, really appreciate you being with this show. And hope you will come back keep up the Keep up the great work that you do.


JDC:  Thank you. Thank you for having me and my hope. I hope it helps, you know, someone.