On ‘Potential’

I find I suddenly have lots of things I want to talk about. This one is hard for me – it deals with things I find personally hurtful, as well as things I feel shame about, and the intersection thereof. I have no idea if I’ll manage to do it justice, but I plan to try.

I get told that I have potential. I am never sure what it means. Potential to do what? Potential is such a vague word for people to be throwing about as casually as they do. During my screening for Asperger’s, a friend said about me “she could do so much more!” I’m sure she meant it as a compliment. She was talking about this ‘potential’ people like to gab about.

Specifically, she was talking about the fact that I’m smart. And it’s true. I am smart. Not only that, but I am very confident in my intelligence. If I focus (and potentially have someone to teach me) I can learn all sorts of things, and learn them well. So in that way, I guess I have potential to do… something. Maybe.

Do I?

Honestly, I’m not so sure. Yeah, I have brains. Know what else I have? Severe social difficulties that I am only just beginning to really understand. Sensory defensiveness that interacts with my social difficulties in mostly unpleasant ways. Difficulties in understanding “normal” speech patterns, like metaphors or people’s insistance on phrasing requests as offers (why do that do that? It’s so frustrating!). Things other people think are rude I think are polite, things other people think are polite I think are rude. It’s very very hard for me to navigate the world, so at this point I mostly don’t do it.

Throw that stuff in the mix and it suddenly becomes more difficult to assess my ‘potential.’ Even more so because this is an extrovert’s world. Society has focused on optimizing for a population that is more or less the opposite of me, and I often feel like there simply isn’t room for me and my weirdness. Could I do ‘more’? Yeah, probably. If I had help, if I could find a niche, if I could still spend the vast majority of my time away from people or the risk of people. And admittedly, if I could find a job doing something I enjoyed that didn’t threaten my sanity the way interacting with the world usually does, that would be pretty darn cool. That is really hard to find, though. I haven’t managed it yet. Add to that, it always feels like a statement that what I do simply isn’t enough. Without getting into it too much, that is a trigger for me. Maybe I don’t do things that society says are the things we are supposed to do, and it’s true that I have internalized that message, but I still do things, I still challenge myself, and I still learn and grow.

The easy answer is to not socialize with people who say such things, right? Except it seems so common. I find myself worrying about with people I already know, and especially with people who are new. I cannot be anyone other than who I am, and I’ve tried enough times that I’m pretty certain of it by now.

Hm. I think I’ve reached the conclusion point of this post, but I am having trouble figuring out how to wrap it all up. I guess for me, I am going to try to avoid talking about potential. If I see a kid who did something awesome, I think I’d rather just focus on the awesome thing rather then throw in an extra “you’ll do so much when you grow up” type statement.

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