Some people learn how their brains work when they are children. Some folks don’t find out until adulthood. Either way, how you approach life and gain fulfillment depends on self-awareness. I believe joy and fulfillment, both professional and personal, correlate to a person’s understanding and acceptance of who they are.
2e adults often feel restless; there is either an abundance of stimuli that negatively impacts their ability to tap their natural strengths, or there is a dearth of stimuli that dulls their senses and makes it difficult to get motivated. The typical scenarios that challenge a 2e adult’s ability to find fulfillment and joy are 1. attempting to succeed in toxic environments, discounting your own needs, or 2. Disregarding others’ needs while hyper focusing on your own challenges. As with most things in life, finding balance and remaining strength-based lead 2e adults toward gratification and self-actualization.
The first step is taking stock of your strengths and struggles. When do you feel your best? What do you love doing? When do you feel accomplished, valuable and valued? What motivates you or allows you to push through on a non-preferred task? What atmosphere allows you to tap into your strengths and bring out your best self? If your job involves a lot of reading and you need quiet to absorb the content, is your environment conducive or can you change your surroundings? Does the culture support wearing sound cancelling headphones or closing the door to a private office or conference room? Perhaps your colleague in the next cubicle needs music to digest what she’s doing. What then?
Recognizing an environment is toxic, whether at home or at work, does not always mean being able to blame the environment for failing to do your best work. That same challenging environment may be exactly what a co-worker, spouse, partner, student or child needs. Families are filled with sensory seekers and sensory avoiders. This dynamic can cause conflict from the moment everyone wakes up in the morning. In this case, where one person is negatively affected and another thrives, the issue is seen as one of “Who wins?” “Who gets their way?” Let’s pose the question differently and see what happens. “Understanding each person’s needs, acknowledging that those needs may be different, how do we set each of us up for success?” Framing the question this way takes into account awareness, that others may differ, as well as a desire to meet those differing needs.
Now that you’ve contemplated your strengths and struggles and those of the people around you, the next step is to formulate words to self-advocate. 2e adults spend so much time trying to ‘fit in,’ or hide their needs, this new approach allows you to hold onto who you are and use that knowledge to set yourself up for success. In essence, I’m asking you to remove the neurotypical lenses we so often look through reflexively and put on your customized neurodiverse lenses with authenticity and pride. Going through the day with a neurotypical outlook means you are not only neglecting your true needs, but also working hard to be someone you are not. This pattern sets you up for failure and negatively affects your ability to connect with others. Until you love your authentic self, you cannot genuinely love another. Until you understand and appreciate your unique needs, you cannot fulfill the needs of others; whether personal or professional needs.
The adage that holds true for 2e kids holds true for 2e adults; ‘once you’ve met one 2e adult, you’ve met one 2e adult.’ Each of us engages with the world uniquely. However, there are some needs that seem pretty ‘typical’ for 2e adults, like intellectual challenge, meaningful work, deep connections, sensory awareness and learning differences. We see these needs play out in different ways in the workplace and in personal lives.
2e adults have a better chance at finding fulfillment at work when their employer is mission driven and the mission is important to the 2e adult. Culture is equally important. If colleagues are understanding and the boss is flexible and allows the 2e adult to determine what makes the environment conducive to productivity, there is greater chance for success. This might mean flexible hours, quiet space or space in which the 2e adult can be loud, limits on writing or reading requirements or may include editors or colleagues who engage in brainstorming sessions, working with lots of simultaneous activity, or working alone. The one thing that is constant is the need for the 2e adult to recognize their needs and feel confident enough to express them. If you are somewhere where you don’t feel authentic, that might be an indicator that your environment is not ideal.
In personal lives, the same formula applies. Know yourself, know your needs, make those needs known. If you feel out of sync, trying to not be yourself so your partner or children can be happy – you probably are not in an ideal environment to find personal joy. So many 2e adults blame themselves, work hard to not be their authentic selves and therefore suffer the unintended consequence of failing to meet their partner’s or their own needs.
How do you handle the situation where you are unhappy in your home or relationship life, but in order to make the people around you happy, you feel you can’t be yourself? Compromise is important. I’m not promoting that everything be about you all the time. What I advocate for is knowing what’s important to you. Consider what matters about your surroundings, about the way you and others talk to each other, about how you are affecting your world (big and small), and whether you feel heavy or light in your chest as you go along your day. The balance is between being your authentic self and meeting other people’s needs. Rarely do people ask themselves, “What do I need so I can also meet other people’s needs?”
The first step is to ask yourself throughout the day, what do I like about this moment/work/conversation and what don’t I like? The second step is to consider how you can make your feelings known to the person who can help you change your negative experience? This requires talking to other people in a way that is conducive to their hearing you. The third step is to communicate your needs based on this awareness. Set up a non-confrontational conversation with the preface that what you are about to say is hard for you, and that you are trying to express yourself by being sensitive to them.
The formula for this type of conversation is acknowledge, share, invite. For the example above, when the 2e adult needs quiet to do her job, the conversation might go something like this:
“I notice that you like to listen to classical music when you work. I know a lot of people who work well while listening to music.” (You just acknowledged the other person’s need).
“For me, I work best when it’s quiet, I always have – even in college I used to find the quietest part of the library in the basement and hide down there!” (You just shared your need).
“What do you think could work for us to be able to work together but each be able to honor our working styles?” (You just invited the other person to brainstorm with you).
Who knows? Perhaps your colleague will offer to wear earbuds or suggest you wear sound-canceling headphones. Maybe she knows that others use a quiet office down the hall.
2e adults often feel they make themselves needlessly vulnerable by sharing their needs or asking for help. In fact, you are telling the other person that you trust them and want to work out the situation. Avoiding this process leads to burnout, frustration, and disappointment. If the person responds poorly, that might indicate that you are in a toxic atmosphere, and it may help you identify what you need for a successful environment. Taking stock of what makes you tick and what ticks you off, acknowledging others’ needs, and addressing them head-on, can help you shift. Proudly wear your neurodiverse lenses to fully understand your perspective in order to find true fulfillment and joy, for both you and those in your world.