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Self-ism as a scheduling tool

We’ve all had teachers (often more than one) who have little phrases and stories they use so much that while you’re in their class, you get really tired of them.

Alright already, we think, we’ve heard this story a million times. You’ve said that every day in class for a year. Move on!

And decades later, these phrases pop up in our minds, sometimes at the oddest moments.

classroomFor me, there was an elementary school teacher whose stock phrase was uttered in irritation as he stood with arms crossed, waiting silently for order to somehow emerge from the chaos that was supposed to be the line of children ready to go in from recess: “Any time now, folks!”

Later, there was the high school history teacher, who would walk through the halls swinging a pointer back and forth and growling, “Out of my way, you rotten, lousy kids!” and grumbling in class that teaching us was like “throwing pearls before swine.” (To be fair, we all knew he was kidding, and most of us adored him.)

There was the Latin teacher who always said, “Get ’em young and bring ’em up your own way.” Oddly, I have no recollection under what circumstances he would use this—just that he used it a lot!

The math teacher who answered any question starting with “Do we have to…” with “Miss Baker, you don’t have to do anything but die and pay your taxes.”

The one who comes to mind most often at this stage of my life, as I parent teenagers and coach clients, is “the Old Greek”—the restaurant management teacher from culinary school—who often claimed, “We’re all autistic!”

The first time he said it, the room went silent. Um. Nobody knew what to say, how to react. Not exactly a well-informed, sensitive, politically correct thing to say.

“Seriously,” he went on, “does anyone know where that word comes from?”

Now, had this been post-My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the room might have erupted in laughter. Come to think of it, perhaps he was the inspiration for the father in that story, who claimed that everything goes back to Greek.

autismThe etymology of the word autism is from Greek: autos, self. So—self-ism.

After 1911, it became used to denote a morbid absorption in the self, an inability to engage with the outside world, and from there it evolved to refer to what is now called the autism spectrum.

What in the world does this have to do with teenagers and health coaching clients, you might wonder.

Many parents wonder why their teens seem to believe that they are the center of the Universe—it’s all about them, all the time. (But enough about me, let’s talk about you: how do you like my new outfit?)

I sometimes think that sense of self-ism has a final hurrah in the teenage years, after which most adolescents do learn to engage productively with the outside world by acquiring an understanding of compassion and consideration for others.

And interestingly, that self-ism often mutates into its opposite—what I guess would be called other-ism: we become so externally focused that we forget to keep boundaries around who we really are, what we think, how we feel.

Somewhat paradoxically, we start to spend a lot of time obsessing about what others think … about us: if I do this, I’ll be perceived as cool; if I do that, I’ll be seen as a dork; ohmigodican’tbelieveijustdidthatwhatwillothersTHINK?!?

Many of us never reach an equilibrium, a healthy balance of attention to self and others, and often that other-ism—fed by a constant stream of Instagram-perfect visions of others’ lives—is the root of a lot of anxiety.

The irony is that if we are morbidly obsessing about ourselves in relation to others—they’re likely doing the same!

Perhaps the Old Greek was right: we are all autistic—in the original sense of the word?

So what?

So this: maybe nobody is even thinking about you at all because they’re so worried about themselves.

(Try that line out on your teen. Most of them won’t believe you, but for those that do? Mind. Blown.)

What would you do if you knew that your actions and words would not really make a huge difference in someone else’s life? Honestly, I think you’d do a lot less:

  • You might not answer the phone so often—there are definitely people who can go to voicemail.
  • You might not respond to texts and emails so promptly—is it really an emergency?
  • You might not say yes to something that someone else could do just as well.
  • You might not clean the house before having company over—is anyone really going to do a white glove test on the mantel?

The list is endless, and each time you do less, you open space in your life for what you want to do more of.

Don’t believe me?

Try thinking of it from the other side:

  • How did you feel the last time you couldn’t reach someone in a non-emergency way? Did you really think that they must be available to you at all times? Or did you think—oh, she must be busy, I’ll leave a message or try her again later?
  • How did you feel the last time someone graciously said no to a request you made? Were you completely deflated, or did you think—that’s okay, I’ll ask someone else?
  • How did you feel the last time you were invited to someone’s home? Did you go in thinking, I’m going to check out how clean his place is, or did you think, I love spending time with him!

I don’t generally tell coaching clients that they’re autistic—definitely not an appropriate statement in this day and age.

And when I have clients tell me that their schedules are completely overwhelming, that they really cannot prioritize taking care of themselves, I do ask them what they would remove from it if they believed that nobody else is spending any time thinking about them because they have plenty on their own plate.

Leave me a comment and let me know, what would you do less of if everyone really is autistic? And what opportunities would that open for you to do more of?

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