image is a model sailboat
When I was 25 years old, I met a man who would become a dear friend. Ten years my elder, he was already wildly successful in an industry that I was just beginning to crack. He was almost frighteningly smart, had a wicked sense of humor, and could pretty much do whatever the hell he wanted to do whenever he wanted to do it.
Hours into what would be the first of countless hours-long conversations, he asked me a question.
“If you could sail around the world for a year, would you?”
“God, that sounds wonderful,” I said, wide-eyed.
“Anywhere I wanted to go?” I asked, nearly breathless.
“Anywhere,” he said, smiling.
I didn’t have to think about my answer,
It wasn’t the time, I explained. “I’m just getting started,” I said. I told him about recent successes at work that were already leading to others – the first in a row of victories I envisioned lined up like dominoes.
“I’m knocking the cover off the ball,” I said, as only a wide-eyed, breathless twenty-five year old could (or would), “I’d be a fool to walk away now.”
He leaned back in his chair and said, “This – this right here – is why I’m single. I want the woman who is exactly this fired up, this passionate about what she does .. who will say yes.”
Eventually he met that woman. And Luau and I couldn’t have been happier to have watched them say “I do.”
I think about that conversation often. I think about the rush that I was in – about my single-minded focus to succeed: to make money, to climb the ranks, to get access to the halls of power. And I think about what it cost me.
Yesterday, I posted a quote from a piece I’d written a couple of years ago called Rethinking Functional Behavior and the Tyranny of Made Up Deadlines:
Our children deserve to have childhoods. Happy ones. Comfortable ones. Playful and play-filled ones. Stimmy, squealy joyous ones. Ones in which they learn and grow and discover the world in their own ways.
But how does that happen when we’re always fighting the clock?
We have got to break free of this bullshit paradigm of artificial deadlines — of the need to rush, rush, rush to teach, teach, teach to drill, drill, drill — to make every moment a “productive opportunity.” Because when we release ourselves from that pressure, we allow our autistic children to BE CHILDREN. And by God, how freeing is that? (For everyone involved.)
Once we can all take that collective deep breath and agree that opportunities for growth and development are not finite, we give ourselves the luxury of looking at things through a different lens. A slower one. A less pressured one. An unpanicked one.
For the first time yesterday, I read my own words differently. What if it’s not just our kids who need the break from the pressure we put on them (and God, they really, really do), but US who need a break from the pressure that we are putting ON OURSELVES and they are just victims by extension?
What if I had taken a trip around the world when I was twenty-five? Would my opportunity for ‘success’ really have evaporated while I was gone or might I have discovered new avenues to much broader success that I would never have known existed otherwise?
What if Luau and I had waited to move out of the city or held off on buying a house or not felt at every turn that we were reaching, striving, filling the role of the people we thought we were supposed to be? What if we’d allowed ourselves to be the kids that we were rather than the grown-ups we thought we should be?
What if we’d just slowed down?
What if we’d let our lives build one brick at a time rather than starting with a tower? What if we’d given ourselves the luxury of looking at things through a different lens. A slower one. A less pressured one. An unpanicked one.
What if I’d sailed around the world for a year? What would it really have cost?
I’m guessing a lot less than I would have gained.