I have always been a glass half full kind of girl. My loving husband often teases me for saying, "Wow, that was great!" about movies, shows, and various other things. I can't help it! I like to see the beauty and benefit of everything. Yes, I know, this sounds a bit ignorant. I assure you; I am not. I just like to look at things from the upside whenever possible.
I believe it is this outlook that I have in life that has led me to this project, The Positivity Project. Recently when I was doing some research into interviewing and resumes for individuals that are neurodiverse, disabled, or intellectually challenged, I found a website with the top ten things "I hate about being autistic." I won't lie, it was a big downer, and I know many parts of being autistic are difficult. No, I'm not autistic, so I'm not speaking from the first person. But I am a parent of a son with autism and have spent a good part of the last sixteen years trying to empower families that are impacted by autism. With that said, I decided we need to make a list of "Ten things that are freaking amazing about being #autistic!" I know this is a bit too positive as some of my LinkedIn contacts with autism pointed out. Luckily, many others agreed to join my project and write their list of ten things why #autism has made them better. This post is the first installment of several articles looking at things from the upside.
Have you heard of positive psychology? Unlike the name sounds, it is not about being overly optimistic or believing that all things are good. No, it is about looking at the world and seeing both the positive and the negative and seeing where they balance out. One of the founders, Martin Seligman, often starts his presentations on positive psychology with the statement, "I'm thrilled they didn't put a smiley face next to the words positive psychology!" I'd like to introduce you to positive psychology. I believe it is an excellent approach to looking at the unemployment and underemployment challenge, as I will refer to now as the "challenge," many individuals are facing these days. Throughout these posts, I will discuss Martin Seligman's PERMA model: Positive Emotions, Engagement (or Flow), Positive Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment/Achievement.
I am a firm believer that we must attack the challenge from multiple angles. One angle is educating people on the full range of traits that come along with autistic characteristics and how they have enhanced the lives of the people that own these traits. The Positivity Project will introduce readers to individuals that identify with autism spectrum characteristics and are willing to dig deep and share about themselves.
There is a "no one size fits all" when describing any person….we need to remember that with everyone we meet.
My next article will focus on Positive Emotions and share with the readers another delightful autistic perspective on their "positive side" to enhance the understanding of autistic traits and their uniqueness. Today I would like to introduce you to Robert "Bob" Carlston. Bob was extremely reticent with sharing his accomplishments and talents. As he called it, "tooting his own horn." Many of us don't like to talk about what makes us great, and that supports the need for The Positivity Project. Enjoy Bob's perspective and subscribe to stay up to date on #ThePositivityProject.
My positive Autistic life by Robert Carlston
My Autistic life has always been confusing & challenging. But, it has also been rewarding. Like most Autistics I have met, I always knew I was “different”. Recently, I realized those differences, misunderstood & discounted by non-Autistics, have been the key to my success in work & life.
My Autistic differences have led me to believe that “All problems are solvable”. My life history suggests that, & I have proven that assertion to others many times.
I began my career as a technologist. I started my first company when I was 27. I hired & led our entire technical team. My hiring created a very unique team. I was unaware of that uniqueness, until recently. Our business focused on solving business problems utilizing IBM mid-range computers. IBM became a large customer & partner of ours because of our success & expertise. Over time, IBM brought us more interesting work…challenging, & different from our traditional work. We became their go-to team for innovative technologies & alternative solutions. At the end of one challenging project, where my team, on paper, looked incapable of success, they told us “You know, we didn’t think anyone could solve that problem.” My response was “I knew you thought that, but I never thought it was impossible.” Many more projects came our way that were similar. IBM’s retail systems still utilize an architecture my team pioneered 35+ years ago.
Today, I am as technical as ever, but my work focuses on growing teams & organizations, as a change catalyst. My approach, as with my technology work, does not follow prescribed patterns. I have a far higher success rate than the industry. I catalyze change by partnering with teams that need help to be successful, focusing on the help that leads them to change themselves.
People…much more complex than technology but more interesting & rewarding to me.
I recently began to analyze how those successes were possible. I would not have understood them as I do, without coming to the realization that I am Autistic. What I have discovered, of course, is that I think very differently. My top two differences are visual-spatial thinking, & my alternative creative problem-solving approach. I suspect these might sound familiar to many Autistics. Let me explain why these are “my superpowers”.
I am a visual-spatial thinker. I do not think in words. I think exclusively in still images. Whenever I am thinking, about a problem, a person, a conversation, music being played, or something else, I see everything as a series of images. That difference allows me to analyze things in 3D. I see everything from a multitude of perspectives, & I see patterns invisible without visualization. It allows me to see things others cannot, such as reasons a person might be acting the way they are, why a situation evolves the way it does, & alternative paths to solve problems. This capability is a large multiplier to success combined with my second superpower.
My second superpower, the one I love the most, is that my thinking is not limited, in any way. Organizational structure, history, politics, statistical projections, culture, family, gender, physics, biology, age, ethnicity, location…pretty much any limitation is of no consequence when I consider a problem needing resolution. We have all heard the saying “Think outside the box.” That saying never made sense to me, because of my non-limiting perspective. I always thought “What box?”…not seeing the limitations most people focus on.
So, how do these superpowers work for me? When I analyze any problem, I begin by visualizing places/ecosystems/universes, without limits, where problems might be solvable. I quickly see many possible solution ecosystems…hundreds…thousands…? I never count. I see these in my mind, of course. As I visualize them, I quickly evaluate them to discover likely versus unlikely possibilities. From that, I begin to evaluate my initial choices more deeply. I look at them visually from many perspectives, looking for issues, causes, limitations, & potential paths to the solution. Sometimes, something triggers my thinking to go back & look at one I earlier discarded. Eventually, I choose the best options, & I experiment with them. I typically begin to collaborate with others at this point, & I create illustrations such as mind maps to share the ideas & visualizations with others.
Importantly, experimentation & modeling must not let limitations intrude. Limitations exist, of course, but they are just other problems that can be solved.
That is all for me today. My last thought is…
I am Autistic, & I am blessed to be so.
Thanks for sharing, Bob! You are positively amazing!