I remember the last time I wrote on this subject, perhaps it was two years ago, I had a comment along the lines of, "that is so sad, I feel so sad for my child." The last thing I want to do is to do is create an aura of sadness yet at the same time this aspect of being on the spectrum is one of the major hurdles that I have to deal with.
In everything I do I do to the best of my abilities and per the rules. A great line was said to me by a fellow USAC staffer Saturday night when he said, "Aaron, are you always this serious about anything you do?" and the answer is most certainly yes. However, not only am I serious about it I demand perfection out of myself.
Here's the problem though; last time I checked perfection is something that can be aimed for but rarely achieved. Sure, a person can score a 100% on a school paper, but this is deeper than just a score on a piece of paper. I've heard this so many times from parents of children with Asperger's that experience the same thing as I do and that is, whatever we do, we may do it better than anyone else but if there is one slight mess up, no matter how slight, it will be the only thing remembered.
Let's take this story from two weekends ago. I was working the USAC Little Hoosier 100 and the final race of the day was a 100 lap race with an Oakley watch going to the winner. My flagging had been perfect all weekend (speaking of that weekend, we had a MAJOR storm roll through on Friday and I took video of the incoming clouds that can be seen here) and I had received numerous compliments from drivers and parents all weekend but near the mid point of the race three cars came together off the final corner and one car started sliding my direction. I jumped back, perhaps a little hastily but when you've been involved in three accidents in 17 months I assure you you'd be a little jumpy too, but as I jumped back my yellow flag which I had under my left arm briefly flew in the wind. I didn't know if any driver saw it or not, but it's a major disadvantage if one driver thinks it's yellow and all the others continue at race speed so I had to announce over the radio, "Yellow yellow, I accidentally displayed it. My fault." What do I remember most about that weekend? The compliments? The storm? My interactions with the drivers asking what it was like to display the green at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for practice for the Indy 500? Nope. The thing remembered most is that one mistake. Perfection is a virtue and I don't just strive for it but rather I require it.
It's hard for me to take a compliment and my usual reaction is, and I said it on Sunday after the race in Hagerstown when I received a compliment on being "the best flagger in the country," my usual reaction is, "I don't know, I just do it. That's all."
Do I take pride it what I do? Absolutely, but do I cherish it or feel good about it? I'm not sure. My level of self-critique is demanding. Here's a distinction though; I wouldn't say I'm a perfectionist. My hair doesn't have to be perfect, my car doesn't have to be sparkling, and if I'm playing a game I don't have to win. However, if I am doing something of relevance perfection is the only thing that matters. After presentations, regardless of questions or compliments, I will almost always remember one or two lines or stories that I omitted rather than what I did say.
From what I've heard from parents there are two ways this plays out in individuals. There are stories like mine where I will beat myself up about one minor mistake and not take stock in the fact that 99% of everything else went perfectly and then there's the type that may not try the next time. It is highly difficult to manage the emotions and to come back from a mistake. Sometimes a mistake, like in my presentations, won't be noticed by anyone except myself but that's all that matters. I was able to come back right away and brush it aside for the moment at the Little Hoosier 100 but there will be others that will become consumed by a mistake like that. The ability to rebound may not be there and either more mistakes will follow or the person will just give up and quit the activity and may not partake in it again.
I think this is one of the more difficult concepts to understand if you haven't lived it. I'm sure everyone, spectrum or not, has had an instance in their life that they made a mistake on the job or socially that has hung around. Now imagine that amplified, sustained, and obsessed upon. All the encouragement in the world may not mean a thing because perfection is a virtue, I wasn't perfect, therefore all was lost. Again, I stress, I think this is so difficult for others to understand because we can do amazing things, but that one minor mistake will become the only thing that matters. I know I hold myself to a standard that is almost impossible to obtain, but that's what makes me who I am. While others may settle for an A- effort I only will accept an A++; while others won't reflect on what they could do better I may obsess on it. Perhaps I've painted a sad world; a world where happiness is lost on the pursuit of perfection, but that's what I strive for. It can be frustrating at times, but it's what drives me. My writing stems from this, my presentations are constantly getting better (somehow) and that's what keeps my passion in flagging alive. It might be a futile pursuit, but in my eyes perfection is a virtue that is well worth pursuing.