Girl, you need to learn to read the room!
What my younger self learned along the way about navigating the neuro-diverse, tick a bit differently stuff.... I've been asked a few times what I mean by being a tick a bit differently, neuro diverse female in leadership. And it's a fair question.
It's only in recent years that our female students in schools have some understanding about how autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and other diverse ways of operating in the world might present differently in girls. So if like me you are a woman in your mid 40s chances are you muddled through, knowing you had a difference, burying it down deep and blending in with no real language or framework for understanding why it often felt like you were a Macbook in a world using Microsoft. I'm not big on labels where they can be limiting at an identity level. Having self awareness that gives up options and processes on how to stay well and do the work we want to do in the world is very much a heck yes. Over this year I'll be sharing some personal stories, thinking, views and approaches that might help other folk along their own journey.
The girl you need to learn to read the room moment (one of many!)
Around about 8 or 9 years old, I had a fantastic junior school teacher who was also very strict. Super strict. Everyone knew not to put a foot wrong in her class.
One day we were working away and a lad got into trouble for messing and laughing. He said his mate had made him laugh.
"Nobody can make you laugh" was the line she took in her super strict way.
And to prove her point she invited the lad he'd named to get up and try and make the rest of the class laugh. For the purpose of my story I'll call him Rocky Dobinson.
Rocky takes up the challenge, looks around at the class and proceeds to pull faces at us. His mate already in bother chuckles in solidarity and the rest of the class is deathly silent.
Except me. I'm not silent.
I laughed loudly, from the belly and with real relish and enjoyment. I thought it absolutely marvellous and hilarious to boot.
Now, I loved learning and school. I worked hard and didn't get into much trouble. I was Hermione in the classroom. So while I think she expected his daft mate to chuckle, my hearty contribution to the proceedings threw her somewhat. Recovering from the curveball I had inadvertently thrown in the mix, she tried a different tack. I can see now that she was trying to throw me a bit of a lifeline.
To the class she said:
"Yes, I can see Sarah is laughing. I think she is laughing at just how silly this situation is, that we have to stop the lesson to do this."
However, this was not accurate. Not accurate at all. I was laughing because I found his face pulling and performance very, very funny and I thought he had done a good job. In the interest of honesty and clarity I earnestly volunteered this information to the teacher and the class.
It did not go down well. It did not go down well at all. I got a right 1980s style rollocking at the front of the class.
I survived it. Partly buffered by the fog of confusion as to what I'd done wrong and the stirrings of understanding I'd somehow missed the memo - how had everyone else all decided and known to stay quiet?
Even into adulthood and throughout my professional career (I am a school leader) not getting the unspoken rules of a situation, missing the memo, not reading the room or telling my unfiltered truth has at times landed me in bother and is something I still need to pay attention to.
I learned from the experience and others like it. I mastered the art of observing other people's reactions and copying them. I became an expert in blending and masking. And I still made and make huge misjudgements. The masking and blending I'll save for future posts.
If this story resonates with your experience, it's very possible you do tick a bit differently too. And like many of us, if you found your way as an adult into a professional role, or a creative or caring service based biz, the chances are like me you are finding aspects of working through the pandemic an additional challenge to navigate.
I get it because I am too. I'm drawing on all my approaches, knowledge, strategies and skills from my changework and hypnotherapy training to stay ok right now and I'm not always getting it 100% bang on. This is real messy life stuff, none of us has it all sorted all of the time.
If you're in the same boat, reach out and send me a message. I'm offering throughout this period a free coaching conversation to help us. Because managing our tricksy stuff means we get to use our gifts and make a difference in the world. And that's why I love coaching and leadership.
And to my younger self. You were right, the performance and face pulling was bloomin' hilarious. You just needed to read the room.....