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Forget "Normal" - Set Personal Goals for a Happier Life

There's no doubt about it, autism, Asperger's syndrome and all of the associated co-conditions including ADHD/ADD, anxiety, OCD, ODD, Bi-Polar disorder and BPD can really make it difficult to live "normally".

People seem to be obsessed with living a "normal" life instead of trying to live a happy one. Sometimes these things can co-exist but most of the time they do not.

In this post, I want to go over some of the ways you can adjust your life goals to find happiness.

The Trouble with being "Normal"

Unless you fit a certain restricted set of cultural, racial, sexual, economic and medical criteria, you're not "normal". This is a sad fact of life and one that's usually beyond our control to change. I'm not here to talk about most of these restrictions. I acknowledge that they're important but I'm just here to talk about the neurological part of being "normal".

These neurological differences make it difficult to find work and keep it. To build relationships and keep them and to find happiness and keep it. It's not impossible but sometimes the amount of work required to do these things is so insurmountable as to be too difficult for everyday living.

Often it drives us to the edge -- and sometimes it drives us over. 

While it's clear that society itself needs to change, history has shown that these changes can take several lifetimes to have the desired effect.


Source: Bloomberg This is how fast America Changes its Mind (2015)

Personal change however is something that you have much more control over. It's achievable and if done with care and purpose, it can lead to a happier life.

Define the new "Normal"

Advocates love using the phrase "normal is just a dryer setting" but what does it really mean?

It means that "normal" is as individual as the self.  You need to stop worrying about what is "normal" for other people and work out what is normal for you.


If you ask them, most people will define "normal" lives in terms of a bunch of stages;
  • Birth
  • School, High School
  • College / University
  • Work
  • Marriage and Family 
  • Retirement
  • Death
Apart from the first and last of these stages, there's nothing that says that these steps need to be your personal life-goals or that they have to occur in the order that's specified.

As a general rule, I'd start by amending these goals to simply;
  • Birth
  • Happiness
  • Death
You'll want to flesh out what happiness actually means to you but now at least the pressure is off and the main goal in life is to happy. 

Be Realistic about your Goals

Happiness by itself is a great thing to strive for but as a lifetime goal, it's a little too vague. You need to determine what it is that you need in order to be happy.

We all have similar overall "needs"; education, relationships, housing, work, assets and leisure.

Education

Education is a fairly common need and most of us will have completed at least the basics in the "normal" way, at school. Depending upon socio-economic circumstances and academic prowess, you may or may not have advanced beyond this. It doesn't matter. Throughout our lives, we never stop learning. You can pick up new skills at any point during your life. You really can teach an old dog new tricks. 

Age is no barrier to education
There are two very important factors to keep in mind with regards to education;

  • Education isn't simply a career step:  If you're doing a class simply because you think it will "get you a job" then think again. If your heart isn't in it, you won't do well. Education does not guarantee work.  If work is a critical goal, then consider trying to get work before worrying about further education.
  • Certifications aren't always important: Don't let worries about your performance in exams prevent you from trying new things. The end result is not as important as the journey. If you're open to this, you'll find plenty of FREE education online and plenty of low-cost courses at community colleges. 
Find your special interests and study the things you love.  It may not make you rich but it will make you happy.

Relationships

In today/s society, there's a lot of pressure on young people to get boyfriends/girlfriends and to pass through the various stages of relationships which ultimately end up in procreation. What people don't tell you is that not everyone needs to be a parent. Not every relationship needs to be between a boy and a girl and that not being "with someone" is not the same as being unable to have a relationship.

Some people, particularly men, place far too much emphasis on the sexual side of relationships to the point where they become so "needy" that they're actually dangerous to others.  A good example of one of these dangerous groups is the "incel" group; the "involuntary celibate" group who don't seem to realize that the "creepiness" of their nature and intent is the very reason why they can't find a date.

Groups like this can be very dangerous.

Be clear about what you are seeking. If you're looking for sex, you may not actually be looking for a relationship. Instead of focusing on what everyone else has, or on what a group of others think is an idea, concentrate on what you as a person want, how much you're willing to contribute to a relationship and whether your goals in this area are realistic. 

You'll find that people who are generally happy and fun to be around will attract others who are seeking happiness.

Housing and Living Conditions

Housing is one of the basic needs of life. Everyone needs a place where they can feel safe, store their belongings and sleep without worrying that they'll suddenly have to defend themselves against attack.

Basic housing and living is a human right -- and in most (western) circumstances, it should be achievable depending upon the amount of government support available in your area. Unfortunately, you can't control other people in sometimes other residents do not respect your boundaries.

While many people dream of living in a giant spaciously furnished house, the reality is that this lifestyle is often completely out of reach. Your goals in terms of housing should start off simple;

  1. Safety for you and your possessions, 
  2. Access to things you need, such as power, water, communications, transport, food and shops.



If you're living anywhere in the western world, chances are that you're already living a more comfortable life than most of the world's population. 

Group homes can be a good option for people on the autism spectrum who find that they can't fully support themselves but they need to be selected carefully. Individuals who don't respect the privacy and possessions of others should not stay in these places and there needs to be someone who can oversee and resolve any of these kinds of disputes before they get "ugly".

Work

There are two major reasons why we work. The first is to earn enough money to support ourselves in life and the pursuit of our interests. The second is to get the feeling that we're contributing back to society.

"Normal" work is not always possible for people on the spectrum. Sometimes the various social or sensory issues that come with autism get in the way and sometimes there just aren't enough jobs to go around.

One of the most common challenges of work in the western world is the issue of being "over-qualified". People with autism can sometimes be particularly skilled in their special interest areas but may find it impossible to get a job. It's very important to realize that qualifications alone will not get you a job. You can however significantly increase your chances of getting a job by working in the field while you're doing your degree or certificate.
It's been widely reported that people on the autism spectrum often find employment impossible. In the western world, where there's a degree of government support, this will place a cap on your lifestyle but will not make life impossible. In other parts of the world however, the consequences can be more severe.

If you find yourself supported but without paid employment, don't let this stop you from contributing to society. People without employment who retreat from society risk making their other issues unmanageable. You'll feel much better if you have a regular routine, contribute and feel valued by others. 

To do this, follow your special interests and where possible join local groups which in some way border on your special interests. Volunteer work will go a long way towards giving you a feeling of purpose and it may lead on to real job opportunities.

Assets and Leisure 

The last needs which drive happiness are the freedom to do things that you enjoy. This may be in the form of assets, such as collecting or owning items that you desire or in the ability to do activities that you want to do.

Once again, the problems of autism can reduce your capabilities in this area. This may be because you don't earn enough to buy what you want, don't have a safe place to store it or can't go to places because of various sensitivities or executive functioning issues.

It's important that you don't strive for things that are obviously far out of your reach (strive for a car, not a Porsche) but that you continue to strive for things that you want. The more you strive, the more you'll find your reach will extend and the closer you'll get to your goals.



Be flexible and allow for those goals to change -- and remember to celebrate the little victories too.

Keeping Happy

The things that give you happiness will change over the years, so you'll want to revise your goals accordingly.  In your younger years, you might be more concerned with assets but you may find that this shifts towards family as you get older.

Think about what you can achieve rather than what you can't and try to take opportunities as they arise. If you miss a good opportunity, don't berate yourself. This happens to everyone. Just make a deal with yourself to jump on the next opportunity when it arises.

If you find that general life stories are getting you down, you'll discover that it helps to shield yourself from bad news. Personally, I find that reading news stories about social injustice only makes me annoyed. If I'm already in a bad mood, I avoid the news entirely. 

Remember that this is your path, not the path of others. You must walk it differently and not try to compare your progress with your peers. If you find that the good fortunes of others weigh upon you heavily, consider getting off social media like Facebook as people mainly post positive (and fake) news about themselves there. Sometimes it can become very distracting.

No matter what happens, we only get one shot at life, so if you experience a little failure, keep trying and remember, there's always someone out there who's willing to help but sometimes you have to ask before they realize that they're in a position to give it. 

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