This is an ode to the human brain and its capacity to learn. It is my thoughts on changing careers and searching for a match for your skills and preferences. In the words of Albert Einstein ‘Learning is an experience, everything else is just information’.
Working in the field of adult Autism and ADHD has been a real privilege. I have been fascinated with the human brain ever since my dad had a traumatic brain injury and I realised its frightening power. Working within the fields of neuropsychology and neurodiversity requires you to consider what we as society hold as important and take it apart and think again. Autism is one excellent example, whilst people with this type of neurodiversity often struggle in social situations they can excel in other areas, such as, but not limited to having great stores of knowledge about particular topics and being more aware of the sensory world. Our brains are all exceptionally unique and working with people who think differently to you can only enhance your own perception of the world. Additionally to reach adulthood and still be searching for answers about why you appear to think differently takes a lot of courage and insight, as does the desire to work towards improving your life from this resulting knowledge.
The excellent book ‘Neurodiversity’ by Thomas Armstrong discusses various developmental and mental health conditions including Autism, Anxiety and Depression. Without dismissing the disabling effects of these diagnoses Armstrong asks us to take a step back and consider not only the difficulties associated with these conditions but the strengths too. This doesn’t mean believing everyone with conditions such as Autism have rain man like abilities or that all people with schizophrenia are creative but it does ask us to consider strengths and individual skills not reduce people to deficits. Not everyone has world class talents but not everyone needs to.
We all have strengths no matter how small they may seem. I refuse to believe there is anybody you couldn’t find an area of strength for and capitalise on it. It is the small chink of sunlight on a cloudy day, that little window of opportunity that can be grasped and built upon. When someone is feeling negative and despondent it is looking for that small piece of positivity, the flower thriving amongst the weeds.
Sometimes we don’t have awareness of our strengths and we need others to help identify them. I remember carrying out the Johari window exercise below with a young girl and the people who cared for her and she was amazed at what other people thought of her and where her talents lay.
To a greater or lesser extent we are all capable of learning and achieving personal growth. From the moment we take our first gulp of oxygen as a tiny baby our brains are creating connections. However we all learn very differently, whilst some of us fit into an academic mould, capable of reaching those high grades, others have more specific talents and areas of skill. I think it is well accepted that career services have not always risen to the challenge of thinking more creatively about this. There has certainly been slow progress in recognising the talents of ‘neuro diverse’ individuals. Although there are companies now positively recruiting individuals with diagnoses of Autism such as Microsoft!
The theme of this post is not neurodiversity however it is a general celebration of strengths and striving to better yourself. This is a common human theme and one that can be under recognised in us all. I think that whilst the phrase ‘you can be anything you want to be’ is a bit of a misnomer we certainly shouldn’t ever accept a lesser path for ourselves. To an extent you can be what you want to be, you might never have the footballing skills of Cristiano Ronaldo but if you love football why not work in that field.
I never initially set out to be a Psychologist. I had a place at Cardiff University lined up for me to study Journalism and I guess it is my wondering about my own career that made me consider the topic of skills and take inspiration from some of the people and clients I have worked with. Our capacity to learn is enormous as is our potential to grow and change throughout our lives.
Armstrong discusses people with neurodiversity needing to create niches for themselves. The idea of niches comes from biology and the idea that species need to create specialist habitats for them to survive, for example a beaver building a dam. Armstrong defines a niche as ‘altering the fixed and static environment to make it more suitable for your particular needs’. It is a wonderful concept in terms of neurodiversity but I think it can also be applied to everybody. We all need those places we feel happy, inspired and safe. We all have an element of control over our surroundings and we can take steps to make them feel more comfortable. Many people are driven to do job roles which play to their particular strengths and desire to work in specific environments. Not everyone has this ‘luxury’ but we can certainly try to modify what we do to make us happier.
I have now handed my notice in at work as I am keen to take on new challenges and feel that buzz of inspiration and excitement that I know I can get from work. I got it when I started this website and I get it when I see certain job roles. My mind feels fizzier with happiness and ideas. This move might well be away from Psychology, I am not sure. Whilst my skills appear to be working with people I enjoy and feel I am good at other things.
I will take from this role inspiration from the people I have met and the belief that no matter who you are or what your circumstances may be there is always room for personal growth. As Einstein said ‘Learning is an experience, everything else is just information’.