One of the things that I occasionally think about is the way that I am good at a lot of things but I don’t excel in anything, a kind of Jack of all trades but Master of none. As a school leaver this made life difficult because there were just too many choices to choose from. The easiest thing was to continue my academic education. In those days in England somebody like me studied nine subjects to be examined at 16 years old. These were called GCE (General Certificate of Education) O (Ordinary) Levels. To continue in education, one then studied three A (Advanced) level GCEs, a two year course which was examined when one was eighteen years old. That was the end of secondary education. Higher tier students would often do an extra examination and it was not uncommon to do four A levels. Indeed this would have been the case for me if I had not decided to retake the one O level course that I failed.

My school finished courses when the pupils turned sixteen and so I had to change to another establishment. I didn’t want to stay in a school environment and so chose to go to a new fangled College of Further Education. In my first year at college I studied A levels in Maths, Physics and Chemistry and retook an O level in French. Looking back now I seem to be a lot more adventurous in those days. It amazes me now that I chose an education establishment that was much freer in how it was run (with a much greater variety of people) than one I was used to and I also chose to retake a subject I found so excruciatingly difficult. I wonder how many autistics find second language learning in the classroom difficult particularly as in those days one was expected to hold a conversation and discuss a scene without learning the lines off by heart? Whether it was just me or not, those two decisions changed the course of my life. By going to college, I stumbled upon the idea of going to university whilst passing my French exam gave me confidence to once again feel that if I applied myself, I could do anything.

I came across a line today from a book written by Margaret Elphinstone called “The Sea Road”. It can be found near the back of the book and says:

However much you learn, however far you explore, you have no way of seeing beyond where you are.

The line seemed to be telling me something about myself and my limitations. I wondered if it might give me an insight into why I was a Jack rather than a Master. I wondered whether my desire to understand myself and the world around me pushed me on to learn things to a certain extent before moving on to examine the world form a different viewpoint. It is the certain extent that is the sticking point really. What makes me decide that I know enough before moving on? I am not sure that I do decide really. I suspect it is more likely that I study something until I get to the point where I have trouble assimilating the knowledge and because I don’t understand what I am studying, my brain goes into meltdown and I withdraw from seeking. I would tend to say I got bored of a subject but I wonder if that is just another way of saying that I found the subject too hard and the personal cost in energy was too much for me to carry on picking it apart.

I think I was and still am quite hard on myself when I become less interested in something. There is a sense that I self-limit my progress but I used to think that I did it because I feared finding out that in fact I couldn’t understand everything and be good at everything. There is always a voice in the back of my mind telling me I am a failure, I don’t put enough effort into things and to ignore the success because they are random accidents rather than due to any effort I have put in. The voice says that I will never be good enough and I suppose I interpreted this into “why bother? You are never going to be good enough to do this”.

Does it matter if I am limited due to a lack of energy, a lack of application or a fear of failure? I don’t really know but I think it would be helpful if I didn’t feel bad about it. Sometimes I wonder if the ability to do many things gives me too much choice and then the decision over what to do becomes overwhelming and so I retreat and do nothing.

So what do I do? It seems to me that I could draw up a list of things that I like doing and to put them into broad categories like physical activities, passive activities, creative activities, thoughtful activities or other such things that come to mind. From the list I could number the activities and then use a random number generator to choose what activity to do. I know when I am writing that I need to take regular breaks, some are rewards for finishing a piece (coffee and biscuit perhaps) some are for thinking things through (dog walk) and some are just household things that need to be done that day (cooking tea). If I kept a record of the things I do and how I felt about doing them, it might give me more focus on the activities that might be concentrated on a bit more and therefore progress a little. I wonder if I could also record how much energy they required to get going, and how much reward was given for that effort. There is a sense in me that knows I have to push myself sometimes and that pushing uses up more energy, but the benefit to me is worth the short-term cost.

That feels like a quite a big to-do and I think I should do a bit of brain dump to get those categories started. I am not sure that there is really any need to excel at anything, but I do know that like the line in the book, I want to keep exploring and seeing beyond where I am now.

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