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What’s Important?

Anybody who knows me personally (and some who don’t) are aware that I have an Autistic son. As a result, I tend to pay attention when folks (especially adults) who have Autism or deal with Autistic folks, speak about their experience and give advice on things you can do to help in the process of giving Autistic children (and soon enough, young adults) tools to help them to cope and deal with the “non-Autistic” world around and about them.

In doing this, I have found a moderately young adult blogger who has a website called “Autistic Not Weird” who has given me insight into what it is like growing up with Asperger’s Syndrome (which many account “mild Autism”). My son is, for want of a better term, considered to be “moderately Autistic.” This means he has things like speech delays and cognitive “issues” above and beyond those who would be considered mildly Autistic.

Nonetheless, though I hardly agree with everything the (primary?) writer of AutisticNotWeird.com says—for example, a person can be (and usually is) Autistic and weird, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that— I find his insight to be very much worth considering. To be clear on my former interjection, weird is not in itself bad, just different, a thing I find myself personally to be in many regards.

In any case, reading the blog in question, I found a piece of advice which is timely for all young people, but on consideration, I began to realize more needed to be said.

Essentially, Mr Bonnello—the fellow who writes the blog in question—related that he had a much harder time dealing with life in general until he learned to “play to his strengths.”

For young people, this is not at all a bad thing to do. As you get a bit older though, you realize there are some other, pretty significant truths.

Perhaps the first of these is, what I am good at is not necessarily what I will need in my “tool-chest” if I am to accomplish those things in life that are ultimately really important to me. That means, where it’s entirely fine to “play to one’s strengths” (in fact, I submit that—to some degree, and certainly early on in life—it is all but essential), it becomes necessary to learn new, and perfect existing skills that would not be considered one’s strengths.

Now to be fair, looking at Mr Bonnello’s blog, it is patently obvious that he understands this well, and in some senses, he even says as much. But this realization is every bit as important as the realization that you should gravitate towards those things at which you excel.

The next realization is one I have had presented to me by a variety of sources and in a number of different ways. Essentially, it is, “success is almost always preceded by failure.” That is to say, if you want to be able to do something you haven’t the ability presently to do, you should accept and expect you will likely fail at it (and possible quite a lot) before you succeed. In fact, you may never succeed, but as the old saw goes, you won’t ever succeed if you don’t try.

One additional point, virtually no two things will take them same amount of effort to master. Further, you may need to master one thing to a lesser degree than another (making the “potential gap to mastery” even greater).

An important “takeaway” from the realization that success often follows failure is the realization that failure is not nearly always a bad thing. Another good lesson, is that the more successful somebody is, the more likely that person has been anything from a mild to an abysmal  failure on an ongoing basis (at least for a time). Put simply, I would say to (particularly young) people, “If you want to succeed, particularly at things at which you haven’t been successful in past, you had better at least be prepared to fail first.”

The funny thing about life is, just when you think you’re beginning to “get things down,” you come to realizations that, if properly considered, entirely realign your thinking. Sometimes it takes a few knocks on the head, or even a persistent pounding, for me to “get” the lesson (forget fully internalizing and implementing the results).

One example of this is a lesson I have been dealing with recently. The beginning of this lesson is, “You must have a solid, viable definition of success before you can decide what is needed to be successful.” This sounds obvious on the face of it. What I realized though, is that I do not have a sufficiently strong definition for success.

I coined an axiom for life (which I’m more than sure others have stated in other ways far before I ever considered or came up with it) that I think one of the more important I have ever come up with or even considered coming from others. It is, “It’s not about what I am able to do, it’s about what I ought to do.” Put simply, you can do a large number of things, and that’s lovely, fine and good. That being said, the real question is not what you can do, it’s what you should do.

In order to decide what one should do, it is first necessary to know a couple (maybe more than a couple, but we’ll start with these two) of things. The first is, “What is morally, ethically proper?” The second is, “What on Earth am I trying to accomplish?” This brings me full circle, to one’s definition of “success.”

To add to the complication of this question, I’m pretty certain that success cannot be defined the same way for two different people. As such, it is necessary for each of us to ponder, then eliminate and include in our “life plan” those things that will lead to the definition of success at which we arrive.

Obviously, it is necessary to refine that definition as time goes on. This is true for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into here due to time constraints (mine and yours).

Final words:

  1. Play to your strengths is a good starting point
  2. Not all things we want to do or be in life allow us to play to our strengths
  3. Growth and acquisition of the skills needed to accomplish what we wish to accomplish generally require that we deal with and learn things at which we are not talented or able.
  4. It’s hard to succeed if you haven’t a good definition of success.

Okay, maybe I should revise my self imposed word limit up to eleven hundred, since that’s roughly what I seem to get to when I write. That having been said, allow me to wish you the best of times, and thank you profusely for having read this far.

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