Perseverance and Potential

As I write this I am sitting on a train with half-full of people I don’t know and likely never will. I don’t know their names, their jobs, or their hopes and fears. I don’t know why they are on this train. But I do know one thing about them all. Every single person in this carriage is full of untapped potential aching to be released.

Nobody ever reaches their full potential. We can all always do better, even the very few that ever come anywhere near realising their full potential. For potential to be realised takes 2 things: opportunity and effort. But more than that, if you keep putting in the effort then the opportunity will come eventually.

The trouble is that most of us find it very hard to keep putting in our best efforts for an extended time without a shred of encouragement or any sign that we are making progress at all. I know that this can be a big issue for me. Unfortunately we now live in a world that demands instant gratification and that is really not helpful to how life generally pans out.

Playing the long game is hard but it is often the only game in time. There are countless examples of people winning awards for being the best newcomer in a field they have worked in unnoticed for many years.

So I think there are 2 things we can do. Stick at it. Keep trying even when your dream seems to be going nowhere. Success comes through perseverance – overnight achievement will likely be gone just as quickly. Secondly, recognising that we all thrive on encouragement and positive feedback, let’s all try and do better at encouraging each other. What’s even better than realising more of your potential is seeing others come on that journey with you.

Is It Really Good to Talk?

Now don’t get me wrong. It is absolutely good to communicate. But from my perspective as an autist, speaking seems about the worst form of communication imaginable these days.

Before we had the technology we do now, I can see why speaking would be preferable in many circumstances. It would have been the only real time method of communicating available, either face to face or on the phone. A back and forty conversation by letter would be long-winded to say the least.

But I struggle to see why people prefer to hold important discussions verbally these days at all, though I am probably biased as I find them extremely difficult.

For me, some form of written communication is far preferable for several reasons.

Firstly, clarity. Writing something down even by text or instant messaging takes a bit more thought and effort to do and forces you to clarify what you are saying at least a little bit (unless you are using teenage text speak of course!) You also have to make sure that you say exactly what you mean without expecting the others in the conversation to pick this up from things like tone of voice and body language that many of us struggle with. I know that there are issues with written messages too – sarcasm can often go wrong – but these are generally avoidable by being clear and saying exactly what you mean.

Secondly, communicating in writing gives you just a little bit more time to think about your responses. You don’t feel bounced into talking rubbish to fill the silence or giving in to pressure because the conversation is awkward. It is much easier to stand your ground in writing.

Thirdly, there is a record of what has been said. This can be useful both during the conversation to check back on what has already been said and to refer back to in the future, which is useful if you are making arrangements for a purchase, delivery or so on.

Putting things in writing involves a bit more effort so tends to keep the conversation focussed. Now I know this is largely an autistic thing, but the amount of chatter I hear around me about basically nothing of any substance is astonishing. I know that some people love to chat about anything and everything and I would never try to stop them but please recognise that it’s not for everybody and it’s nothing personal.

So to conclude, I really think there are ms y benefits from holding important conversations by text or similar. We are all wonderfully different so I am sure others will disagree. But I’d much prefer you disagree with me by email or text please!

Each Day is a Gift

I really dislike those twee little sayings that are apparently supposed to be motivational. “Teamwork makes the dreamwork”. Please. Of course teamwork is good but it really is a bit more complex than that. There may be no I in team but there are 4 in irritating platitude.

But like so much in life, there is often an element of profound truth well hidden by the counter productive layers of sugar coating and spin. I am particularly fond of recognising that every day is a new opportunity. I wouldn’t go so far as to say a blank canvas, as each day is inevitably preshaped in part by what has come before and to deny this is to move straight back into sugar coated nonsense land.

But however you arrive at each morning, every day gives you time that no one can take away from you. Time to be you and to make progress in your life. Perhaps time to clear up some of the mess you arrived with in that day so that tomorrow you will start off in a slightly better place. Perhaps time to make plans for days in the future, to lay invisible foundations for achievements to come.

Perhaps you need time today to rest or to think. These are equally important. None of us can go flat out the whole time, much as we would like to. I believe that the world would probably be a better place if people took more time to think quietly rather than talking or acting constantly.

Whatever you do, each day is an opportunity. Making progress in catching up from being way behind or working to rectify past mistakes is still progress. Even the greatest minds did not have world changing ideas every day!

Take that opportunity. Use the day to try to do better and to do what you need to do. Take time to think and appreciate how far you have come and what you have achieved, rather than being daunted by how far you may think you still have to go. It’s your day, and even if it doesn’t go well there will be another one along tomorrow.

Maintaining Productivity

This morning I have got a lot done at work, rattling through a number of tasks which were on my mind and I thought might have taken longer to do. I feel really good about achieving things. So why can’t I do this all of the time?!

Being productive is important to my mental health. I feel much happier if I can see that I have been productive and achieved things whether at work or at home. I tend to feel down if I feel I have done very little even if I know I need to rest, as I did yesterday.

Yet on so many mornings it takes me ages to get going. I could procrastinate for England. I know that some of this is autistic inertia but this morning I overcame this without a second thought. I wish I knew what was different and that I could bottle it for future use!

But then I suppose consistency is a big issue in many areas of life. There are plenty of sports people who can be absolutely brilliant and beat anybody occasionally. The champions and superstars are the ones that can do it on a regular basis.

The lesson, I suppose, is to keep trying to train myself to be more consistent in my good days. It’s not easy when I can’t tell what triggers a good day but I can work at overcoming the barriers that seem to appear on a bad day. The thoughts that tell me not to bother trying, it’s all a waste of time and so on, however pleasantly self-indulgent it can be to give into them.

Like so much it is a work in progress. I just wish every morning was like today!

Changing Perceptions

People are frightened of anything different. We all are. Different requires us to think, to evaluate and may be dangerous or challenge ways of thinking or doing things that we are happy with. This can be a problem for autistic people because we are different. Not better or worse than other people, just different.

Many parents fear their children being autistic. Fear is what has driven the anti-vaccination movement and all the consequences that have come from that. But is autism really something to be feared? I fully accept that some autistic children and adults have enormously difficult lives, but I think that a large part of this is because they are misunderstood and the world is simply not set up for the way we think and live. Thankfully that is changing but there is still a very long way to go.

Fear of different is understandable, but a progress is different at first. Electricity was different from fire and doubtless terrifying for many. Cars are very different from horses but who would rather ride everywhere now?

Autistic people see and think about things differently, and that is a good thing even if it can be scary. It has been said that the secret to the survival of any species is its ability to adapt to change. Adapting needs new ideas and autistic people with our hyperactive brains can supply those in abundance. Autistic people are all different and have a wide range of talents and gifts that can hugely benefit society if they are given the right environment to thrive.

What I am trying to say in a very roundabout way is that autism has a public relations problem. Like everything it has positives and negatives, but the positives can hugely outweigh the negatives if proper adjustments are made. I am not suggesting that we want people wishing they were autistic, but there is nothing wrong with being proud to be an autistic and of the abilities it brings.

Much of this is down to ignorance, so those of us who are autistic and have a voice, however small, must do all we can to change these incorrect perceptions and promote the positives. It is easier to communicate than ever, and there are plenty of autistic friendly ways to do so. So if you are able to share your experiences and the positives of autism with others please do so. The negative perceptions are not going to change themselves.

Power For The Sake Of Power

I have written before about the sparsity of real leaders and leadership at many levels of society. On thinking further about this, I think that a major part of this problem is the pursuit of power and authority for their own sake without a plan or vision for how they will be used when obtained.

Power is a tool, and like all tools it is most effective when it is used properly. It is utterly useless when it is not used at all and it can be deeply damaging when used incorrectly, like using a chainsaw to cut your hair.

Power and authority also come with massive responsibility. Responsibility to protect and get the best from and for whatever or whoever you are in authority over. Leadership and management are about far more than just telling people what to do and berating them when they get it wrong. The responsibility to do the best you can for those beneath you seems to be being forgotten more and more often. Managers do not stick up for their staff, but instead look out for their own interests. Political leaders seem completely uninterested in what the people want, until there is an election.

You can make a very good case for anyone that wants to be in a position of significant authority to be automatically disqualified from holding such a position. We need to move back towards the concept of those in charge being there as servants of their people, not vice versa.

A good leader is revered and adored by their staff because of how they act and use their authority. Their staff know that they have someone sticking up for them, fighting their corner. In turn, their staff will do anything they can for their leader.

Not everyone is a leader. I am certainly not and I despise the widespread belief in today’s world there we should all be leaders. That is quite ridiculous. Power should be taken on with great apprehension and humility. We are far from all cut out for it and we do not need to be any more than we all need to be fast or strong. Leadership is one skill among many others.

It is high time we got back to real leadership and recognised the pursuit of power for the sake of power for the dangerous selfishness and arrogance that it is. We need real leaders more than ever, yet there seem to be very few around.

Where’s The Safety Car?

In formula 1 motor racing, and possibly on other types of motor racing too, they have the helpful feature of a safety car. If there is a crash of some sort leaving a mess on the track to be cleared up, an official car comes out onto the track and all the racing cars have to follow it at a much slower pace than normal and with no overtaking permitted. While this is happening, it is the perfect time to make a pit stop for new tyres without losing touch with your rivals. When that mess on the track has been cleared up, the safety car leaves the track and the race resumes.

Unfortunately there seems to be no real equivalent of a safety car in life in general. Sometimes something bad happens and we want to focus on that and clearing up the mess, but other things keep happening in the meantime. It is like juggling 5 raw eggs, dropping one and having to clear up the mess on the floor while still juggling the other 4 eggs.

This is one reason why bad things sometimes seem to come in groups. Life does not seem to respect the principle of not kicking a man while he is down. When we hit crisis, and everybody does, no matter how perfect their lives may look on Instagram, all you can do is pare your life back to the essentials for a bit. That is the closest we can get to a safety car for real life. Catch a few of the balls or eggs we are juggling and put them down for a bit. There will be time enough to pick them up again in the future.

Life does not have a pause button but lots of things in our lives do. We all do so many things and often spread ourselves too thin. When we hit a rough patch we have to slow down and get the key parts of our life back on track. Then the other things can gradually be reintroduced, though it can also be a good time to assess if we are juggling the right balls anyway.

Pause buttons are made for a purpose – to stop for a bit with the intention of resuming, not stop for good. So when you need to, hit the pause button, call out the safety car and get yourself straight.

Don’t Let The Past Control You

Leaving the past behind can be very hard. Whether we have been badly hurt by others or done things we are ashamed of, it can be difficult to move forward.

We are shaped by what has gone before but we do not need to be defined by it. The past may not be without consequences. We may need to take action or seek help to find healing and release from things done to us. We should certainly take responsibility for things we have done and do what we can to put them right.

But guilt and resentment help nobody, and I say that as someone who feels responsible for almost everything that ever goes wrong and who bears grudges for years. As is often the case, I am writing this to myself as much as anyone else.

Though I am absolutely hopeless at doing it myself, it is important to try to move on from the past and make the most of living in the now and shaping the future.

We can and should learn from the past. Not repeating wrongs done to others and not putting ourselves in positions where we continue to be wronged. But the future is, if not a completely blank page, full of possibilities.

There has been much commotion recently about the way in which Game of Thrones was brought to a conclusion. Even if you have never watched the series, what is interesting is that something as confined as a television series could have legitimately led to many different conclusions.

Our lives are infinitely more complex than any fiction. The possibilities remain endless. The key factor is us, and the decisions we make. We will keep getting some of them wrong, but there are always more options. We do not forget the past, but we move on.

Tiredness Comes With The Territory

Playing a part, acting, pretending to be someone or something you are not is exhausting. Constantly having to consider how the person you are pretending to be would react to every situation while suppressing your natural reaction takes an enormous amount of energy and focus.

If you want to feel how hard it is, try playing a game where one person gives simple instructions like stand up, step left and so on and you must always do the opposite. That extra though before acting every time quickly wears you out. As you get more tired, you then make more mistakes and revert to your normal reaction if following the instructions.

For many autistic and mentally ill people, pretending to be somebody else and second guessing every action in advance is how we live much of our lives. It becomes second nature in that we do it automatically, but that doesn’t make it any less tiring.

I regularly get frustrated because I am so tired and feel I haven’t done very much to merit this. I continually underestimate how much energy it takes to live in a world that is not set up for me and how I think.

Knowing this is why I am so tired does not give me any more energy, but it does make it a little easier to accept. I have a tendency to feel lazy no matter how much I do, so to feel tired after an unproductive day can be very demoralising.

But it’s part of who I am. I’m not sure I will ever be able to fully accept it, but it’s something else I need to learn to accept and live with, like many other people do. So let’s be kind to ourselves and each other. You don’t have to run a marathon to justify being tired. Thinking can be the most tiring thing of all.

Stay Within Your Breaking Point

It’s a common saying. “You bend but you don’t break.” And in general it’s a sound philosophy. When bad stuff hits we get knocked back, we try to roll with the punch and bounce back, even if it takes a while.

That’s great, but in my experience nothing can keep bending forever. In physics there is a concept known as the elastic limit. It is how far you can stretch something before it is unable to snap back to its original shape. You can break the strongest of materials if you keep striking it and weakening it in the same place, if you keep piling on the pressure.

I believe that we too have elastic limits. Certainly not on our bodies – I would love mine to snap back to the shape of 30 years ago but that just isn’t going to happen. But also on our spirits, minds, selves whatever you want to call it. None of us can take an infinite amount of punishment or ill treatment and keep bouncing back.

So we have a choice. Either we accept this and wait to break or be irreversibly misshapen, or we do something to relieve the pressure. Move yourself out of that situation, or start to push back. Reclaim your life and yourself. Make it clear that you are at your limit whether others think that is reasonable or not. Only you can know your limit.

It is never selfish to do what you need to do to protect your mental health. We all have limits and we are the only ones that can stop them being reached. Bend, but be sure not to break.