The Life Autistic: When I Finally Learned My Lesson about Achievement


This is a somber one. Strap in.

My daughter just started Awana clubs last week, a kind of club in which my memories weren’t as terrible, personally.

For me, Awana was a great vehicle to show off my memorization talents, my prodigious recall, and my competitive fire.

One month, I’d rattled off a record number of Bible verses, blitzed through half of my Pioneer workbook, and set a speed record in a baton race — it was an MVP kind of month, and I felt GREAT about it.

So as the Awana commander began with “And our Pioneer of the Month award . . .”, I’d tuned out, bowed my head, and braced for my name to be called.

Ryan Shelley!”

Wait, Ryan? 

Did they get the wrong name? How hard is it to confuse Hunter for Ryan?

“But I said more verses this month!” I exclaimed, a petulant declaration lost in the milieu as Ryan collected his award and was feted by my fellow Pioneers.

By this point in my life (5th grade), I was used to not winning, so I did my best to brush it off.

Fast forward to a post-Awana dinner break, where my Awana leader, Mr. Stein, called me over.

It was just the two of us. I remember him eating some sort of egg sandwich and thinking how much I wouldn’t have liked that compared to my mushy PB&J.

Hunter,” he said. Would you like to know why you didn’t win Pioneer of the Month?”

Being the know-it-all and curious cat all at once, I was still flummoxed as to the reason, but I decided to hear him out.

“Think back to what you said when you didn’t win.”

I remembered. Quite clearly. Still do.

It’s not just about who says the most verses or does the most in their workbook, Hunter. It’s more than that. It’s about humility. It’s about helping. Not just doing the most, but doing the most for the others around you.”

[I’m paraphrasing here, and it’s killing me, because I wish I remembered this exactly.]

This was a time when my autistic eyes were taken outside of the black and white and into color. Mr. Stein was right, and he was trying to help. 

Folks, I dunno about you, but I still hold onto this advice, even when I struggle to do so. It’s easier for me to see and to judge achievement in black and white terms, like raw output, insane work, and sheer grit. I have to squint through my autistic lens to see clearly.

The lesson he taught me is one that I need to ensure lives on, because I’m still here to share it.

Lt. Col John Stein was killed in action  only a few years after, in a mission to rescue injured children in Afghanistan.

I didn’t know about that latter fact until writing this post – and it brings tears to my eyes to see some symmetry there.

He died trying to save kids; he also lived to serve them.

Even if it was just something as small as steering a ‘different’ kid into seeing success through more than just yourself.


2 thoughts on “The Life Autistic: When I Finally Learned My Lesson about Achievement

  1. I share all of these with friends of similar ilk

    I could not be more proud of you and who you have become

    Sent from my iPhone


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