This month is a bit of a preview of a larger project that I am working on looking at:
Perspective taking and various outcomes for neurodivergent individuals transitioning from high school to college and beyond.
Doing this project has given me occasion to reflect on my own perspectives during that period of transition.
Growing up, everyone has struggles.
My mom reminded me of this often when I struggled with the ability to both play a clarinet and stay in step with my high school marching band. My friends had struggles with academic subjects and neither of these difficulties was better or worse, just different. With the laser-focus of 20/20 hindsight, I can see several inflection points in my own life where I was able to embrace a strength-based perspective.
“Being able to recognize one’s strengths and build a reality that plays into them for me has been healthier and more rewarding than slogging through challenges for the (often stubborn) sake of completing them out of a sense of external obligation.”
Obviously, there is a limit to this as adults there are certain things that we must do, whether we are good at them or not, but focusing on those things that are in the venn diagram intersection of high ability and high interest has served me well and this approach has been embraced by many of my clients.
For example, when I was in graduate school, I had a professor with whom I had fundamental pedagogical differences when it came to how gifted children should be engaged in learning. The mature Brian was able to drop the rope and play the long game. I realized that no amount of effort would allow me to earn top marks in her course, and coming to that realization I could eliminate a great deal of personal grief by getting an acceptable passing mark and moving on to other things.
I’ve had similar interactions in the workplace where a round neurodivergent peg didn’t fit into a square government job hole. I am thankful that my maturity caught up with my skill set. I am equally thankful that I had several early career supervisors who recognized my abilities and, “Let Brian be Brian”.
Now, when I do employer/employee trainings I use this example. Had I been “managed” in my role I would have been just an adequate employee and on a personal level not felt very happy with my work life. Given flexibility to work to my strengths, I forged partnerships, received grants, completed research, won awards and thrived. The only difference was the approach of a supervisor.
“The way that you treat people matters whether that is a teacher interacting with students, a therapist with a client or a supervisor with an employee, relationships matter.”
This was a huge contrast from an experience my younger self had when I was in a high school English course. I lacked the maturity to see a larger picture and I wanted to be right with a fierce sense of black or white reasoning with very little shading in between. I hadn’t learned yet to build on my strengths and choose people to be around me who empowered me to be the best version of myself.
At that point, dropping the rope and taking the long view were not in my functional skill set.
Looking back, this experience informed much of my current research on education and subsequent work with students in classrooms around the world. I learned (albeit by negative examples) the kind of teacher, supervisor and administrator that I didn’t want to be, because that approach didn’t work for the way that I was wired.
I’ll never forget part of the English course assignment was to do a weekly journal (this was back when journals were black and white marbled composition books). The assignment was couched as a means to foster creative introspection, not unlike the musings of Thoreau or Whitman. The reality was a set of concrete mandatory topics that had the effect of predictable formulaic writing. My high school self wasn’t having any of that, and my tenacity (or stubbornness) submitted writings on topics that caused me both academic and social problems. For example, my writing on the required topic of “Characteristics of a Nobel Ruler” included a very detailed description of a wooden measuring tool. Looking back it isn’t a surprise that my outcomes in that course were less than stellar and ended up involving building administration, parents, and the school counselor.
Now, as a professional working with clients from around the world, I endeavor to provide some personal context for the ability to pick battles and focus energies where they will be the most fruitful.
Many of my clients and staff who have been through the oft turbulent transition into adulthood report similar experiences. Knowing that there are others who have walked a mile in their shoes and being open to sharing ones own journey can be a valuable support for others.
For example, I have one client who finished high school and is now completing college, playing sports and getting good grades. His secrets are structure, organization and using every available resource to help him.
He has recognized ADHD as both a blessing and a curse and uses the available resources in order to set himself up for success.
“His advice to others with ADHD is both straightforward and insightful. James says, “You need to be your own advocate. When you are home, you have parents to help you and you might be embarrassed to tap into resources. When you are in college, nobody is checking up on you the same way. You have to plan to succeed for yourself.” The research supports James’ assertion.”
Taking time for meaningful reflection is another key point that James, and others in my larger project, have identified as an important consideration. This could be time unwinding with a book, making a pro/con list (I have a couple of clients who do this for major life choices from career moves to viability of ongoing relationships), meditation or music.
It is less about the vehicle of reflection and moreso about making reflection is part of conversation throughout life’s journey.
As we grow, our needs and perspectives change and taking the time to validate and embrace these changes will serve to make us stronger, more resilient human beings.
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