The Life Autistic: Stand and Deliver

This last week I had one of the most intense, searching, and revelatory experiences of my professional life.

EXECUTIVE PRESENTATION TRAINING

Even for you neurotpyical folks, this would have been a daunting ask. Getting each “uhm” clipped, every extra qualifier pounced upon.

For me, I knew what was coming.

I’ve polished my “presenting version” of Hunter Hansen down to where there’s only one thing left to refine.

Me.

I’ve cut out all the big words when I need to present to directors, leaders, etc.

I don’t ramble in circumlocutionary, concentric circles of narrative excess.

But eye contact?

Oh man, if I had a nickel for every time I was reminded to keep my eyes up, eyes down, eyes on the audience, I’d have a lot of nickels.

It’s so hard for me.

It’s like I need a BREAK, because I can only hold a gaze while speaking for so long.

And I almost need a stopping point to look away and “download more content.”

It’s a lot to process!

*But before any of you would cry foul here or think this is some attempt to change part of what makes Hunter, Hunter*

Here’s why I was given that advice.

I’m extremely expressive.

Apparently my face alone does so well to read, reflect, and react to an audience that it draws people in.

And it’s good enough to where I shouldn’t kick them out.

Imagine that. Young H2 would never have believed I was in any way captivating.

In fact, I was told I couldn’t Botox my forehead because of it.

In the end, I was happy. Exhausted, but happy.

The best piece of advice I got?

“Stop performing and just be you.”

Ok, I’ll be me.

You ready?

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The Life Autistic: Here in the Dark, Gone in the Light

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I fear this may be one thing I never conquer.

There is a peril of a thread that runs through The Life Autistic.

An ice-cool needle leads it through, unrepentant, coursing through the fabric of our lives and needling us at the intersections of thought, actions, emotions.

Logic. Reason. Frigid. Rigid.

In some ways we are too ordered for our own good.

And as such, we think the world should work in that order.

I remember being younger, more impetuous than I am now, thinking that I should have advanced further based on the strength of my skills, my accomplishments.

“Oh, that’s not how the world works,” I’d correctly surmise.

“That’s how it should work,” my autistic self would clap back.

He’s as wrong as he is right, but I’ve since convinced him to play the hand.

It’s not about the strength of your cards, but the strength of the player.

But this is a game I cannot play.

At my lowest, I face the conundrum value.

My own value, to my family, families, friends, acquaintances, and those beyond.

The ice-cold needle and perilous thread wrap and warp my mind away from the altruistic reasons that I fail to grasp, to comprehend.

So I ask:

If I no longer serve a purpose to those around me, what then?

Out of a heart and mind perhaps misguided, I seek to be of some benefit to others, whether for my family, friends, those I know.

Something tangible, brilliant.

A needed light in darkness.

What if the darkness fades, and there is no need for me in the light?

It’s a daring, haunting question.

It’s a frame of mind and feeling I’d rather take apart and rebuild into something better.

Perhaps I’m the accent to otherwise perfect interiors, the blazing comet to balanced galaxies, the shady cloud above compact forests.

“This is how your value should work,” my autistic self asserts.

But this is not the way it works, I continue to repeat, hoping to believe.

The Life Autistic: Is This What it is to Be Human?

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I was once a colder man who cared far less.

Yet since I’ve thawed, I am still bewildered.

Now I’m less a robot than before. Whether by design, intent, or happy accident, I’m not quite sure; I now find things provoking responses in me that are more human.

To a normal life, it’s “being a person.”

But on The Life Autistic, it is discovery.

For example, I was on a conference call that went so far south, it crossed the equator and beyond the tropic of Capricorn.

One of my customers was put in an extremely difficult spot. The exchange was testy, awkward, and alarming. The palpable tension strung taut among the audience until it finally unspooled, detangling in a nervous mess.

Where the Hunter of years ago would have considered it bad, this time, it evoked a different feeling.

I felt bad.

Not just about the situation, but for the person.

Is this what empathy is? It was as if their discomfort and hurried resolve to save face echoed within me. I went from observation to seeking their consolation.

Mind you, I’m just support personnel. The Business Analyst. The data cruncher. The numbers guy.

I am the robot by role, by design.

But I care now.

The next day, I took a deep breath. My gut said “write a note, be encouraging, use your words and not just your data for support.”

It might have penned one hundred words tops, but it took me almost half an hour: 10 minutes to write, 20 minutes being all anxious about sending it.

And off it went.

It may sound trite, but for me and people like me – this is novel.

It gives me hope.

As the great sages of our age, Daft Punk, reminded me: maybe I am indeed human after all.

The Life Autistic: Why We Don’t Do ‘Resolutions’

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It’s New Year’s Eve, and if you haven’t started your parties yet, you should do those and come back to this.

But if you’re here: we autistic folks are not ones for ‘cheap, tacky, trendy resolutions.’

“Gee, that’s odd,” you might think. “I thought you all loved routine!”

We do. At least I do.

Which is why we’re pretty much set in our ways, and resolving to do things differently is a carefully measured choice and long-term effort.

For us, resolution is not a “thing to do” to ring in the New Year.

I’ve carried out two major, life changing actions as an autist, and neither of them could wait until some popular, traditional point in time.

See, we like being unique.

Undergoing (and often failing) some annual ritual of life change is too mainstream, popular, and the wrong kind of normal. For me, I need more successes, and a New Year’s Resolution isn’t giving me good odds on one.

When I resolved to cut down from being a whale to a moderate walrus, I needed to make it personal, not popular – and I needed it on my terms.

By New Year’s, I had something better than a resolution.

I had a habit.

If you’re the type for resolutions, good on you. Maybe you’ve done well. If so, awesome.

But if not, take a page from the autistic playbook:

Snap. Change. Continue. Forget about when and just go with what. Be different, personal, private, but purposeful.

Happy New Year. 

The Life Autistic: Why I Made the Mistake of Summer Camp Only Once

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Oh man, Hunter’s got a SUMMER CAMP story!

A poorly adjusted autistic teenager, packed in a bus with a church group who rarely talked to him, going to a camp more than three states away.

What could go wrong?


 

Folks, I hate to disappoint, but the camp story is boring.

It was uneventful.

I didn’t embarrass myself, didn’t fall off a zip line, never had someone stick a lobster down my swim trunks, didn’t sit on a vaseline-covered toilet seat, and didn’t melt down in an awkward, autistic mess.

Not yet.

After a week of camp, my family came to pick me up and drive me back home.

I was elated – nothing went terribly wrong, and I felt like I got along and went along with everything that went on, so I babbled on during the car ride back home.

As we drove, I noticed my folks taking a different way home.

“Mom’s got to handle something at work,” Dad said, as we drove onto the nearby Navy base.

So on we drove, keeping on in conversation, when I noticed something in the distance.

“Oh, look! That person has a New Beetle just like Mom’s—”

At that moment, they all (all six of them) shouted:

“WE MOVED!”

Yeah.

My family literally moved houses while I was gone for the week.

Moved.

Up and relocated without me knowing.


 

On the plus side, at least they came to get me.

I did have my own room there.

Did I have an awful, abject, autistic meltdown and weeping fit?

Yep.

And did I ever go back to summer camp?

NOPE.

The Life Autistic: Before Kicking Fear in the Face, Kick This

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It took just one line in one email to heap a dollop of dread on my Monday.

“Sorry folks, I’m out of office – hope someone can carry the torch and host today!”

If you haven’t heard of a thing called Makeover Monday: check the link, re-read this post, and —*voila*—now you’ve heard of Makeover Monday, a weekly social data project where folks gather to visualize data better.

I’m a stickler for routine, learning, and talking, so I ended up being one of the “regulars” for our sessions at work.

But I’m still in “learning” mode, soaking things in, far from where I’d step up and lead peers who are way better at data viz.

I had a thought. But I was apprehensive.

Now – this is where three things converged; I’m sharing this slice of The Life Autistic to help put steel toes on a boot that kicks fear in the face.

The show must go on

Some people think I’m a “take charge” person, naturally keen on stepping up to the plate.

Uh, not quite.

A LOT of this is due to my absolute and nigh-inflexible dedication to routine. Someone’s gotta keep the chains moving, and maintain order. I’m less “go-getter” and more “not-stopper.”

Fortune favors the brave

Thank you Sir David Attenborough and Planet Earth for echoing that phrase–audentes Fortuna iuvat–when lizards jumped for prey, tigers leapt for kills, or whatever predator vaulted for things just beyond reach to reach success.

But it was this final point that has led me across this Rubicon:

Before kicking fear, kick YOURSELF

“I should host,” I thought.

“That’s a bad idea,” I thought back.

But this week’s Makeover Monday at work couldn’t just not happen.

Maybe it’d be an awesome session, something that wouldn’t happen if I didn’t try.

I readied an email, swallowing that welling lump of fear, ready to take the torch.

Then I got a text:

“Hey Hunter, you’re gonna lead today’s session, right?”

Right.

 

The Life Autistic: Why Your Skills Can Only Go So Far

IMG_1404.jpgEver feel like you’ve done everything right and still end up like it all went wrong?

Where you’ve mastered every facet of your work, acquired new skills, checked the boxes, and yet — failed?

When you look around and realize, while you may do everything better than everyone else, you are not the best?

This is a hard lesson in life, even harder in The Life Autistic.

“There should be logic to this,” we think. “The whole should consist entirely of the sum of its parts — that’s how it works!” we plead.

That’s not how it works.

Early in my career, I thought that mastering my current job would be the gateway to the next level up. Surely, being a top Advisor would open the doors for me to manage, right? (Don’t laugh.)

But it took a different set of skills (like coaching, motivation, leadership, organization) to progress.

“Ah, so that’s it — it’s all about the DIFFERENT skills!” we think.

As I picked up skills that helped me move beyond to organization leadership, I was motivated to “learn all the things” and fortify every deficiency for success.

Presenting? Check.

Forecasting and staffing? Check.

Employee engagement? Check.

Reporting? Check check check CHECK.

Hopefully your neurotypical minds figure out what took my autistic mind too long to discover, only after I’d stalled.

It’s not about the skills.

It’s about attributes.

Respect. Tact. Diplomacy. Patience. Approachability.

Not just what you do, but who you are.

I was dismayed. I’d done so much, and I thought I could solve it all by doing. But as it turns out, it’s about being. 

Your success must go beyond your skills.

In The Life Autistic, it’s so much easier to do, do, do. The idea of being is not impossible, but it’s tough! To practice things that would normally be just someone’s personality – that’s difficult.

It still doesn’t always make sense to me.

But I’m still making sense of the world. Making better sense of me and people like me to the world.