On Owning our Strengths

I had a text yesterday from a friend, “focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t.”

That’s not in my nature. Is it in yours? It makes sense though doesn’t it. Sure, you need to acknowledge those areas in which you could either improve on, get some help with or just write off; but why do we dwell on what we can’t do to the detriment of what we are, actually, pretty damn good at?

For years dwelling on the things I can’t do has held me back from offering what I can do for the world. Real issues with executive function stopped me from persuing academia; limited social skills meant I lacked confidence to push my business forward; and others mistaking holes in my knowledge for a lack of intelligence began to rub off on me. There’s nothing like others seeing you as crazy or lazy for you to start believing the hype!

I’ve watched friends take huge risks with their careers, living arrangements and long term plans over the last twenty or so years and by-and-large these risks have massively paid off. When I asked,  “Why?” they confidently replied, “Why not?” Meanwhile I’ve always played it safe with the sneaking suspicion that I could-do-better but an unwillingness to risk failure and be laughed at. 

But here’s the thing. More recently I have made some exceptional friends. Off the scale artists and wordsmiths with depths of intelligence and insight that have blown me away. But I couldn’t understand why they didn’t have the glittering careers that they deserved. I would sell my right arm for their talents. 

But. Three things…

1) Each of them is also autistic.

2) Each of them is dismissive of their own gifts. 

3) Each of them is equally in awe of the abilities I have that I had dismissed!

If you have had a lifetime having your flaws and inabilities being pointed out to you – Just be friendly! Smile! Concentrate! Stop doing weird things with your hands! You’re so disorganised? You’re too old for temper tantrums! Why would you even say that? You’re so bad with money? Why won’t you answer me? Oh stop crying! What do you mean it’s too bright/noisy/busy/smelly? Just eat it! Just wear it! Just make the phone call! Stop fussing! I thought you were supposed to be clever? I thought women were supposed to be able to multitask! Everybody else can manage that – why can’t you? – then it is incredibly hard not to focus purely on the things you can’t do.

I am in no way dismissive of the similar trials that allistics (non-autistics) go through. Confidence is often an elusive thing for many, many people. But this theme seems to run considerably stronger through the autistic women I have come across than for most others. 

Because while we can do some things that very few other people can do, we can’t do a lot of things that nearly everybody else can. 

So what’s the answer?

I’m not entirely sure. On a personal level it takes a major shift in thinking to flip the can’t do: can do ratio to something more positive. But we can also all remember in our transactions with others to remind them both of their strengths and of our own. And we all need to all see beyond someone’s more obvious achievements, recognising that the playing field is not always level. A lack of achievement is not always down to a lack of talent. (And, while you’re at it can I please recommend you read this rather brilliant post from Luke Beardon?)

I’m out of words! Tell me yours. What do you think?




14 thoughts on “On Owning our Strengths

  1. Omg! Lost for words at the moment (in a good way)! I’m totally high-fiving you girl! I remember we were talking about this a few months ago and I was secretly hoping you’d write about this and I’m so ecstatic that you did!! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

    Thank you, btw ๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜˜โค๏ธ

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is lovely food for thought. Thank you!

    I had a conversation recently with a friend about business and was dismissing an area of massive expertise I have because it had nothing to do with my current goals. He said: it’s part of your story and makes you sound experienced, interesting and talented. Why would you write that out of your bio/discount it in what you are doing now?

    I had compartmentalised it. I had also taken all the memories of failure to experience that career to the fullest, to get the recognition, to go to the level someone with my intellect but not affected by ASD or other issues might have gone to…and I’d internalised that and made it part of my story. I’d forgotten that I had a talent worth celebrating because of all the little, everyday things I stumble with.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes!! That’s all exactly it! Beautifully put.

      Compartmentalising is a real problem. Gives us the opportunity to internalise the failures even more.

      I hope you are learning to appreciate your talents – all your talents – more these days xx

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Hey Flo. There is another aspect which can be overlooked. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean to say you should do it. Often if you say “yes, I’ll do that” it has an impact and detriment to health or stress levels.

    I’m not saying don’t do it, accept your limitations at this present moment in time but still have aspirations.

    Naomi xx

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is everything. I have so much that I can do, a crazy number of actually useful real-world competencies, from growing my own food to making my own clothes. But can I earn a decent living, hold down a full-time job, figure out socially appropriate clothing? Nah.
    The list of things I can’t do is weird and that cry of “Everybody else can manage that โ€“ why canโ€™t you?” Seems to have been echoing through my whole life. Only knowing other autistics like you have I come to realise I’m actually ok. Flawed yes, but ok.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I wish we could pool resources!

      And those beautiful toys you used to make? Oh My Goodness that was creative and practical talent right there. Amazing!

      Realising you’re ok is a great start. Flaws are entirely human. I don’t see you as flawed though. We just have some extra challenges in life xx

      Liked by 2 people

  5. You’ve articulated my feeling so well Flojo. It is true we let the continual criticism over rule the occasional, like very very rare, compliments upon our abilities….the continually reinforced negative mirrors of self stick strong, so strong that we can all too easily down play, or fail to recognise our strengths.

    Do you also wonder if, on those occasions that all works well and you’ve been recognised for it , if it was a ” fluke’ or feel a “fraud” because you know ” they’ll” soon see the ” real you” the one that doesn’t cope well socially etc.

    We so easily forget that the successes are also the “real us”.

    I still feel all this strongly and it is so easy to realise that what is ” weird” to some may actually be a wonderful gift. I’ve less to lose nowadays and am keenly aware of mortality so am a bit more inclined to take risks … revealing myself.

    Of course I’m aware of the possible criticism/lack of understanding the I could/may receive from others particularly the non-autistic. But also at times the autistic who are in a different place and time in their lives….. when appearances in this ” image driven world” are more important than substance or experience.

    I can honestly say that at times I surprise myself ……. my ” abilities” and in my ” follies”, but I guess risk will produce learning experiences if we are game to launch forward.

    Thanks for sharing and helping me articulate may feelings, experiences etc of the hidden self.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so glad this post resonated – thank you!!

      I was thinking about the feeling like a fraud issue. I do get that but more because I’m aware that other people tend to value hard work. I am often confused as to what is being recognised – the talent or the hard work. I can’t quite get those two routes separated out in terms of value for myself and others. Does that make any sense? I wasn’t proud of finding music easy because people resented that I didn’t work at it. But I was proud of doing a 10k obstacle course because I trained for it and people told me I was “good” for training.

      I hope you feel able to proudly share more of your abilities with the world. And that you appreciate that those abilities really are the real you! xx

      Liked by 3 people

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