Spectrum’ is a well-known word. Some associate it with colours, some with autism. Different spectrums run all throughout our lives, but sometimes we don’t recognise them.
I recently gave a talk on the topic of ‘Spectrum’ at CreativeMornings/Derby, and this article will summarise the thoughts I shared.
“Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied, and more admired. Be perfect and amazing and crap out twelve-karat-gold nuggets before breakfast each morning while kissing your selfie-ready spouse and two and a half kids goodbye.”
Agree? Do you sometimes feel that you’re pushing yourself to be the very best at everything and feel like you’re failing if you’re not achieving that? That’s quite extreme, isn’t it? But, for so many, that’s what our culture has become. A culture where you don’t feel like you’re doing enough if you’re not achieving something extraordinary.
But there’s a way to counteract this. And exploring spectrums that run throughout our lives can help us. I’m going to use the autistic spectrum as a springboard. My eldest daughter is autistic, and I’ve learnt so much since she was diagnosed two years ago that it has changed the way I see the world and everyone’s place in it.
Autism isn’t linear – and neither are our lives
Until fairly recently, the autistic spectrum was seen as a linear one – going from ‘less autistic’ to ‘more autistic’.
But, this is an extreme way of looking at it. In fact, the autistic spectrum looks much more like this:
An autistic person can have several of these traits, some being stronger than others.
What’s also really important to remember is that all autistic people are unique and will have different levels of various traits, like in this diagram:
How does all this tie in with other spectrums through life? Well, what’s key to remember here is that life isn’t just about extremes and you’re not just one ‘thing’ – you can have many different elements that make you... you.
Let’s take a very lighthearted look at a few spectrums that run throughout our lives. I’ve chosen three areas that represent me – motherhood, travel and business. To avoid this article turning into a novel, I won’t go into detail about the different types within each spectrum. But if you’d like to delve even deeper, feel free to watch the playback of my talk over on the CreativeMornings/Derby website.
Now, this could very well be playground dads too, but it’s based on an article I read a while back about types of playground mums. Which do you identify with if you have kids at school? Me, I’m a WhatsApp and Good enough mum, with a dash of Craft mum and a sprinkling of Clipboard mum.
The type of holiday you choose is a highly personal choice. What makes you feel relaxed, excited, inspired? I used to be an avid backpacker and city break fan… these days, I’m more of an all-inclusive addict. More about why it’s ok to change later…
We may choose who we socialise with and allow into our private lives, but we don’t always have that luxury at work. It’s totally natural that a company will have lots of different types of people working in it. Being able to recognise who you are, and who they are, can help everyone get along and perform so much better.
What’s important to remember here is that none of these are wrong. While a ‘skin-of-my-teeth’ person may make a super-organised 9–5er feel uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean they do a bad job – they actually perform optimally when under pressure. But a super-organised 9–5er would quite possibly implode if forced to work like that constantly.
Which types represent you more strongly than others on this spectrum? Remember, you will identify with several of them – not just one.
But why is all of this important? It helps you find your place, that’s why.
Find your place
Finding your place on life’s different spectrums means that you will be happier, more satisfied and achieve YOUR best. Notice, I said ‘your’ best, not ‘the’ best. Accepting that you’re not a ‘work-all-hours’ type person will actually help you perform better than feeling that you should be doing more. By doing more, your energy and motivation will be depleted – and so will the quality of your work. Similarly, being restricted to 9–5 if you are a work-all-hours person will leave you frustrated.
And remember, as life progresses, you may find that you take a hop, a jump, or even a flying leap out of one type and into another. My sprinkling of Clipboard mum used to be a huge dollop when I was heavily involved in the PTA at school – I was the mum that people asked for information when they weren’t sure. But then life changed and I no longer had the capacity for that. So now I’m the WhatsApp mum who relies on the Clipboard mums! Holidays are another thing that changed as we entered parenthood… once happy backpackers that disregarded hotel resorts, we now find ourselves fully embracing all-inclusive holidays where the kids can play in the pool and we don’t have to worry about what to cook for dinner.
Life changes, and your place on life’s spectrums will too. Whether it’s voluntary or due to a change in your personal or professional life, it’s important to recognise the shift and re-evaluate where your place is.
One final word – RESPECT
A final point to make is that one thing that is always needed is RESPECT. Have you noticed that all the different parts of a spectrum make a whole? While your place on a spectrum may be different to someone else’s, it doesn’t mean that you are right and they’re wrong. The communities that we live in are made up of lots of different parts and people – all as important as the next. And while a Clipboard mum recruiting volunteers for the next school fair may make you want to run back down the school drive, without her, your children wouldn’t have the lovely extras that school PTAs pay for. Maybe ‘skin-of-my-teeth’ Mick in the office gives you palpitations when a project is due in half an hour and he’s still working on it, but think about how useful he is when an urgent project comes in and you just can’t handle the stress – but he can.
Everyone has a contribution to make and that needs to be understood – and respected.
So remember, life isn’t linear and it shouldn’t be full of extremes and feelings of failure if you're not achieving what is perceived to be ‘the best’. Spending a bit of time evaluating your place in life’s spectrums will lead you to be happier, more satisfied and achieving your best.