Deeply understanding yourself is really hard

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 8, 2020, 12:00 PM | comments: 0

There was an opinion piece in The Times about a woman, 27, who officially received an autism diagnosis, with a side of ADHD. She's clearly found life to be more challenging than I have, but I still relate, because as I've written before, I really want to know if ASD and ADHD are me. The answer is probably yes, but sometimes I just want it to be official.

When I look at my grades in high school, and especially college, some of the things that she describes would certainly help explain a lot. Even now, I look at my college grades and think, "How did I get to a place where I could write software for a living, and actually ship things?" Of course, that wasn't easy either. I remember periods of time at Insurance.com and Microsoft where my output wasn't great.

As if being 40-something wasn't reason enough to be constantly introspective, we have a pandemic where the things we may have done for leisure are less possible or impossible, so we've got time on our hands. I've learned a lot about the events and people that have shaped who I am, which has unfortunately led to feelings of anger, resent and sadness for things long in the past. I can objectively look at my step-father's role in my life as net-positive, but he did a lot of damage to my self-esteem, too. In fact, it's startling how often that "adults" tried to tear me down, with plenty of examples in college and during my first real job. One of the lasting themes is that far too many of the people who should have been there to lift me up did exactly the opposite.

There were also a lot of missed opportunities that would have improved my social development when I was in high school and college. I was so naive and incapable of understanding romantic relationship dynamics. Of course, many therapists ago, I learned that you need a good blueprint to work from, and children of divorced parents rarely have that. There was one woman in college that I "dated" (read: made-out with) for a couple of weeks, and she was pretty aggressive physically. I liked spending time with her, but she never really said, "It's OK for you to be aggressive back and let this go where it's probably going to go." That was a lesson that sophomore me needed, as I think it would have started me down a road of discovery around what I needed from relationships that didn't really happen until after I got divorced and was forced to think about it.

In more recent years, I've learned that it's OK to seek praise and recognition, to a degree. I can't tell you why I was put off by the idea of this, but maybe it's because being "known" can attract unwanted attention. Stalkers in my radio days were creepy, and then when I built web communities people wanted them to be about me instead of the content. After leading others for many years now, I understand that people want to be respected, valued and appreciated, and as much as I try to recognize the people I work with, I know now that I need some of that too. I can believe that I'm pretty good at what I do without being arrogant about it, and if no one acknowledges that, or tries to actively counter it, that's a little like being in the professional equivalent of a toxic relationship. Work can and should be challenging, but if it's hard, that's probably a symptom of people. I had to get into a good situation to really see that.

Maybe the hardest thing to understand is that I'm parenting for the first and last time, and no one has ever parented my child. Every situation is unique, and while you can draw certain lessons from the experiences of others, no one has ever faced exactly the same scenario. To that end, one has to extend a little grace to yourself when you get it wrong or you're just overwhelmed or feeling defeated.

When I was younger, I never thought about understanding myself at all, I guess because when you're younger you don't have the wisdom yet to understand why it's important to how you exist in the world. Even now, I wish it were easier.


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