We had the good fortune of connecting with Otto Lana and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Otto, can you tell us about a book that has had a meaningful impact on you?
I read the book “Apeirogon A Novel” by Colum McCann. It was so beautiful. A story born out of loss, pain, and hatred and ending with love, compassion, and understanding. It is a story how the most tragic loss, the death of one’s child, can make two men who are supposed to hate each other, find not only common ground in their loss but a true friendship. This story shows us we are not square pegs incapable of fitting into round holes but apeirogons, geometric shapes with a countable number of infinite sides. We are all individuals who should not be defined by cultural pigeonholes. I was pigeonholed for many years. When I took geometry and learned what an apeirogon was, my life made more sense. I cannot let other people define me because I do not want a pigeonhole to contain me.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Inclusion is my brand. Everyone feels on the outside sometimes. And sometimes people push you to the outside because they are uninformed and afraid of different. “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Cool Hand Luke reference, hahaha. But this message rings true. Communication is key. Communication is the key to unlocking the door of prejudice and discrimination. It is the key to finding common ground. It is the key to unlocking hidden potential. I am the poster child for this. Without the tools of communication, I was misdiagnosed with an intellectual disability. But now, with my keyboard and functional communication, I am attending high school and enrolled in honors courses. But that is not all. With this ability to communicate I have been able to share my creative ideas and eye for design and produce an apparel line that people like. People purchase my merch because it makes them feel good not because they pity me or want to contribute to a charity. I am not a charity, I am an enterprise. Like any great piece of art, people assign their own feeling to it. My message of “Everyone Belongs Here” started as a message of inclusion of special education students integrated (mainstreamed) into general education classrooms. But this message has taken on a life of its own. During the racial protests of the Summer of 2020 I had people purchase my shirts because racial equality was the message they saw. During Gay Pride month I had people tell me my message was equality for the LGBTQ folks. And when women’s rights are legislated against my message spoke to them as well. That is the beauty of great branding…intersectionality. My brand and story continues to evolve.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My favorite place is Torrey Pines State Beach. There are miles of mountain trails to hike and miles of spectacular coastline for a leisurely beach walk. There are knowledgable docents who provide lectures on the history of the torrey pine and the state reserve and guided walks or walking meditation if that is your thing. There is tons of life you can watch while perch high on the cliffs. The pelicans flying in formation seemingly inches above a cresting wave, or dolphins bodysurfing next to surfers. If you are lucky you can see a great white shark breach as its chasing a tasty seal. After a day filled with sun, sand, surf, and topped off with a trail or two I head to The Grill at the Lodge at Torrey Pines. There is no better hamburger, french fries, or sunset view over the greens of Torrey Pines golf course. If you are here for the whole week, I say rinse and repeat.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
All the credit goes to Darlene Hanson, Speech and Language Pathologist. I met Darlene when I was at a low point in my life. The very foundation had cracked and I not only had slipped through that crack but was suffocating under mountains of concrete, darkness, and silence. She threw me a lifeline that she called a language ladder. She saw through the veil of diagnoses and saw the potential and light. I was stuck. I was given a life sentence in a prison of perpetual preschool. The “experts” said I had stopped progressing and had reached my highest potential. Darlene told me sometimes “experts” just make sh*t up to fill in the blanks of government forms. OK, well maybe those weren’t her exact words but that was my take away message. Do not let others define you. Take those negative labels like, flight risk, and wear them proudly. Oh course I’m a flight risk…my life is a moonshot! Darlene gave me a keyboard with twenty six letters and taught me how to type. The rest is history. I am a baller and a legend. Now I have paid speaking gigs. That right, a non-speaking individual earning money as a motivational speaker and self advocate. Ironic right?!!? That is not all. I designed letterboards that are waterproof and washable. I needed a low tech way to communicate. I live in sunny San Diego and the ocean is part of my life year round. You cannot take an iPad or a laminated piece of paper into the ocean. When the pandemic hit, the need for a letterboard that was washable was critical. You cannot disinfect a piece of paper or a bluetooth keyboard but both those things are possible with my letterboard. With my eye for design and my wordsmithery my website www.ottosmottos.com was born. I have a dedicated group of followers on Instagram (@otto_types) who I refer to as the citizens of Otto Nation. All this positivity and potential is do to a patient practitioner. You can find Darlene at her website www.gokindred.com.

Website: www.ottosmottos.com

Instagram: @otto_types

Image Credits
These are my photos. I had my brothers Addison Lana or Zach Lana take them.

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