The Life Autistic: GRIT is our Skill

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Tableau Conference 2018 was one of the highlights of my year.

All things considered, I shouldn’t have stood a chance in even getting there.


Autism rarely gives you fancy skills, talents, or superpowers. 

At the end of the day, I feel it’s instead given me a jaw-stiffening, forearm-tightening, fist-clenching, pupil-narrowing sense of GRIT. 

Unlike others on the spectrum, I can’t magically conjure maths, recite pi to a Brazilian digits, remember everything I’ve seen, or play piano pitch perfectly.

Rarely skill; mostly will.


Just last year, work offered a ticket to Tableau Conference for winning a dashboard design contest.

Only one problem:

I learned Tableau only six months ago. I was going up against a dozen experienced peers. I was overwhelmed in my existing role.

(Ok, that’s three problems.)

Already I knew I lacked the skill to win this.

But I had GRIT. 

I could work with that — the second, third, and fourth gears of AUTISTIC OBSESSION and focus that drive my work poorly, slowly, but effectively over time. So I hoped.

It took early days and late nights, walling off monolithic chunks of my calendar for deep focus, experimentation, doing clever things inefficiently, because I didn’t have the skill to do them efficiently.

When I told my boss about it, he was surprised.

“The fact that you’re dedicating time to do this — that’s . . .  I’m impressed.”

When it came time to present our products, I discovered only that three others (the best three, of course) even tried. 

And their comments:

“Yeah, I threw something together this morning.”

“I didn’t really make time for it, so I gave it a quick stab early this week.”

I couldn’t believe my dumb luck.

Among the people with actual skill, I’d contended by dint of force and just continuing to do, as maladroitly and stupidly as I could manage without stopping.

It’s been said that “Quantity has a quality all its own,” and that’s how I’d describe my contest entry: inelegant, but extensively crafted, sturdy, thoughtful, and iterated over time.

But it was a product of GRIT.

Even if the outcome wasn’t quite the diadem, the work was enough to win.

I could never have succeeded with the skills I didn’t have.

Because I don’t have a lot. It’s disappointing. It’s a near-constant discouragement.

Yet I’ve found a way through that.

My one true skill is gritting away where I lack true skill.







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