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Little Victories

Little Victories

Being self-employed is a great option for many people on the spectrum; it offers flexibility, work that is tailored to your skillset, and the freedom to do a job that you actually like. You can set your own targets, and take on as much or as little work as you feel comfortable doing. Sound’s perfect, right? Well yes, but there are drawbacks, as with everything else.

you don’t have a boss to tell you what to do, but the buck stops with you

One of the best things about being in charge is that you don’t have a boss to tell you what to do, however it does mean that the buck stops at you – and you’re responsible for not only managing yourself, but also for managing any unexpected issues that might arise. This can be where things begin to get tricky!

In short, I am working my dream job

After several attempts in my late teens and early 20s, I eventually settled into being self-employed full time. I make and restore musical instruments.  It’s a lifestyle that suits me, my work is engaging, slow-paced and it sits slap bang in the middle of my two main special interests: music and engineering. 

In short, I am working my dream job. You’d think that I’d be able to easily stay on top of my work, and deliver successful projects to happy clients, right? Not so fast. Gone are the bosses, but in their place there are now clients, with the same expectations, the same deadlines, and still handing out my wages.

executive function is a huge challenge for me

Most of the time, this is fine. I can take on less work if I have to, and more if I’m feeling up for it. However, executive function is a huge challenge for me – especially in times of stress, like when my workshop roof developed a major leak this past winter. Things can quickly spiral out of control. Shutdown results from the added pressure causing delays to client-work, resulting in pressure from clients, so on and so forth. The list of jobs that are unfinished build up, I am unable to start anything, and I freeze.

This has been a main focus of my sessions with Alex, and we talked about things I can do to relax, and unwind.  I love to cook, but it’s not practical to just rustle something up when you’re at work; most of us don’t have extensive cooking facilities and ingredients to hand in the workplace, we aren’t necessarily hungry at the time of feeling shutdown, and crucially – there’s only so much you can eat in one day!

autism relaxation

However it got me thinking – could I find what appealed to me about cooking in another, more practical, activity?

My initial thoughts were that whatever it was, it had to be:

1. Quick – something requiring heaps of time would be counterproductive.

2. Something that can be started and finished in one session – not leaving you with a half-finished task to occupy valuable brain space.

3. Be practical in context – something that can be done on-demand, in the location I’m in. 

4. Be enjoyable for me. I want to have fun here

5. Require my full attention – it’s no good if I’m still churning over other stuff in my head while doing it, it needs to take me away from that.

woodturning autism and Neurodiversity

I settled on woodturning – I already have a lathe at the shop, and I can make a small bowl in around an hour, start to finish. 

It’s incredibly satisfying to see the object I’m making emerge from a rough chunk of wood, and have something so tangible to show for it. Whilst quietly meditative, it does also require total focus – stop paying attention for a millisecond and the chisel will catch, at the very least making a loud bang, at worst lobbing the workpiece across the room. 

Obviously you might not have a wood lathe in the office – but what is practical for one may not be for another. Whilst canoeing is not an option for me, for example, if someone works near a canal or a river, it may very well be within reach for them. 

Once I’ve finished making a bowl, I can put it on the side, take a photo of it and it’s done. I can put it on display, or give it away, and my brain has had an entire hour-long holiday from the overwhelming thoughts- I’ve been able to step back, and got a bonus dopamine hit into the bargain. 

I’ve sat, frozen, for hours on end

In the past I’ve sat, frozen, for hours on end – my deadlines looming closer and closer, and I have not been able to lift a finger. It may seem counterintuitive, but I’ve come to discover that taking an active-change break for 1 hour may salvage the remaining hours in the day – hours that would have otherwise gone to waste. It’s early days yet, and it does still require me to observe and acknowledge that I have become frozen, but I’m really positive about the effect it has had on my working day, and am excited to explore the concept further – hobbies have always been something done at home in the evenings and weekends, a luxury – earned only once the ‘real’ work has been done. 

Maybe if we re-frame hobbies and active breaks as a means to break up an otherwise herculean task of a day, we can continue to discover new ways to fulfil our potential in the workplace and beyond. 



This article was written by a current coaching client of WayMakers whom we are proud to have as a guest contributor to our site.