As a young, socially unaware, and self-unaware Aspie, I did not understand the meaning of self-esteem, much less what I could do to acquire more of it. Little did I know that those activities in which I was engaged, and which entailed being a part of something bigger than myself, were strengthening self-esteem. In retrospect, I cannot imagine how I would have been able to lift myself up from the trenches and eventually learn how to love myself had it not been for these pursuits.
The pride I derive from giving of myself to the lives of others definitely has something to do with who my parents were and the values they instilled in me. They were exceptionally passionate about helping people: my mom, as a social worker and my dad, as a physician. My dad was particularly effective at steering me towards activities in which he thought I could be proficient, and which would therefore help self-esteem. He was spot-on in this respect when it came to tennis, distance running, and music. All three afforded me opportunities to be proud of myself, not merely because I was able to develop the skills necessary to be successful at them, but also because I could feel as though I was making a contribution to other people by belonging to a meaningful team effort.
It’s all about how you look at what you choose to do with your life. Considering that aspect of my Asperger profile, which tries to force me into thinking only about myself, I could easily have taken a one-sided view of my involvement with tennis and cross country teams and music groups, choosing to only see how I benefited from engaging in them. For example, thoughts like: “I was good enough to grab a singles spot on the tennis team,” “I made it into the top 5 of my high school’s varsity cross country team,” or “I was chosen for the piano solo because I successfully auditioned for the principal piano opening with the jazz band.” Thankfully, I eventually learned to look beyond the first person, thinking also in terms of the bigger picture: “What a great team we were,” “Our band rocked the house,” or “we inspired a stellar music review in The New Yorker magazine.” I have found that there is far greater value, with respect to self-esteem building, in recognizing that what you are doing serves not only you, but others as well.
My spectrum profile while growing up was such that functioning socially in group settings was quite challenging. I tended to be quiet, self-absorbed, and would frequently make an early exit when in such situations, often feeling overwhelmed in trying to keep up with what others were discussing and finding it next to impossible to decipher what was being said because of excessive background noise. I attribute my gradual improvement in handling social interactions involving larger numbers of people to my increasing passion for group and team endeavors in music, sports, and otherwise. It was easier to make friends, develop social competencies, and build self-esteem in these settings wherein I was surrounded by people who shared the same interest and with whom common goals were pursued.
I tended to perform better in team and group settings than when I chose to “go it alone.” During my high school cross country years while growing up in Princeton, NJ, I would sometimes head to the track at Princeton University and test myself as to how quickly I could run a mile. As hard as I tried, repeatedly, to run it in less than six minutes, I never quite got there on my own. Yet, as I clearly recall, my very best performances while running in cross country meets with my team and against other teams resulted in less than 6-minute miles on average, and that was achieved over a 3-mile (or so) distance. The same held true with singing. I always sounded better and was somehow more vocally adept when singing with choirs or with a Rock ‘n Roll band behind me than when I sang alone.
If group or team-oriented activities are too challenging for you, it is certainly possible to contribute to others on an individual basis with the rewards of self-pride and self-esteem building to be gleaned in the process. Donating blood is but one example that comes to mind. Several years ago, I decided to donate blood on a regular basis in order to acknowledge folks I knew well who lost their lives to cancer or who lost a loved one in this fashion, and because healthy blood is something of incalculable value, which can be donated at no cost. Writing is another individualized pursuit which allows you to give something of yourself to those your writing is able to reach and which provides a true sense of accomplishment. I write these blogs and wrote my soon-to-be-published first book for these reasons among others.
If you are an Aspie who is working on growing self-esteem and you are looking for ideas as to how you can do so, I sincerely hope that you have found this blog to be helpful. What mark will you leave on the lives of others, if not on the world, as you continue along this journey?
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