On Friday Matt, TouchPoint's Community Liaison, and myself had a presentation with a group of counselors and psychologists. I have talked about these types of meetings in the past, but this was the first time I had been along with Matt when we talked to that type of professional. As I wrote on Friday, Friday was my birthday and this presentation we did may have been the perfect birthday gift because the two hours (I think it was supposed to be only one, but they kept asking me questions) were very eye opening for them, as well as myself.
It was my birthday and I was rather reflective on my life, but there is one saying I have in one of my books that says, "Whatever is now is forever." How this applies to this story is that I often forget where I came from. It is hard for me to realize that 14 months ago I had a fear of public speaking and no experience doing it. Fourteen months ago I had no job and had been jobless for a couple years. That was then, but because now is now I have a hard, if not impossible, time thinking about what those days were like.
I apologize for the long intro to this story, but I had to lay down that groundwork to make this story meaningful.
As the two hour presentation went on I could tell that the group listening to me describe my experiences with the autism spectrum were hanging on every word. Often I am oblivious to the impact I have, but the way the group was engaged and the questions they asked made the impact obvious to me. There was a question that was asked that I had never been asked before and it made me think outside of my "everything is now" mind set. The question was, "I'm amazed that you are here doing what you are doing, but, how long did it take for this to happen? I mean, you didn't simply become a public speaker, right? How do you think you got to be so proficient at this?"
In my normal presentations I explain my "Alias" concept that is in my book to explain this, but this was not a normal presentation. I had to think about everything that had to happen and I was amazed at just how much work it took to get to where I am now. The question made me realize that I often overlook the amount of effort it actually took due to "everything is now." I mean, I am aware, but the time it took is lost on me; that is until this question.
My answer to this question was not a short one. I think I began shaking, just a little, in my realization that where I am now started all the way back in school. I gave a quick explanation of being banned from some academic games in school because I won too much, but my 2nd and 4th grade teachers allowed me to be the presenter, the game show host, and this, perhaps, may have been the seed that was planted to allow me to be a public speaker.
I then talked about my love of games and the amount of Monopoly I played. I usually would not socialize outside a game environment, but within a game I would start to talk. Games were always a safe Kansas environment (don't know what Kansas is? Check my glossary by clicking here) and by proposing trades and talking about the game, I slowly learned how to interact in a way that the other person would listen.
In my answer I skipped ahead to my first true job interview at a place that getting the job wasn't a given. It was a video game store and in my job interview I said a limited amount of words. In essence my only answer was, "I don't know." Truly, I was asked if I had any retail experience and I said, "I don't know." Somehow I got the job, but once I was on the floor and the rules of "the sale" were explained I was able to fall back on all the years of playing games. While the company saw each sale as revenue that affected the bottom line, I saw it as a simple trade, much like a trade swapping Baltic Avenue and St. Charles Place.
I worked at the video game store for about a year and each day, unbeknownst to me, was practice. Slowly I was gaining the confidence to talk. Granted I didn't socialize to well with my co-workers, but the simple fact of talking was becoming easier.
After that I explained how I started to write my book and the years of solitude that I experienced. It was in this part of the explanation that I realized just how instrumental each process of my progression was. Each step along the way built on the next. Without any one of these steps would I be where I am now? I would say, with much confidence, no.
As I finished my explanation to this group, I couldn't believe the amount of time and all the elements it took to get me here. For once, I probably explained something better orally than writing it as I feel as if something what I have written is lacking. What I do want to say though is that progress may not come overnight. If a person starts reading my blog in the middle they may not realize the prologue of my story. It didn't just happen out of the blue. It was a long road, but I didn't travel this road alone. Having the support from my family certainly helped me as they tried to understand me the best way they could and this is something that I feel is essential for growth.
At my birthday dinner Friday night I asked my dad, "When I was in fifth grade would you ever have imagined I would be a public speaker?" and his response was just laughter as it was something he never would have thought of. It did happen, but it didn't happen overnight, or with a finger snap. It happened because of all the support I received through each day of my life and my experiences along the way. Each seed that was planted took time to grow. It may have taken twenty-something years, but this just proves what I have said all along, "There's always hope."