January 1, 2023

“As someone who knows you, ‘optimizing’ is actually more an underlying philosophy of yours than you may realize, so that in and of itself is worthy of some explanation.”

That was a note from my editor. However, I chose to focus my “Optimizing” chapter on practical applications of that philosophy – things it causes me to do. Today, I want to say more about what it means to me.

Optimizing is hope in action. It’s staying awake to the possibility that life could be better, and taking steps to make it so.

“Better” doesn’t have to mean more productive. It can, if that matters to you, but it can also mean more rested, nourished, merciful, and contented.

For years, it seemed there were some ways my life could be better and other ways my fate was sealed. Below and within and alongside my authentic joy, there was an undercurrent of pain that didn’t seem possible to shake.

My narrative around this was that life is just hard, eternally and intangibly – everyone knows it, and yet we keep living and finding things to celebrate anyway.

That narrative changed when I met a group of autistic friends. Before they taught me about autism, they taught me about optimizing – by words and by example. Any problem, faced by anyone in the group, was treated as an opportunity to brainstorm solutions.

In other groups, such a reaction might seem unkind, since neurotypical wisdom states that sympathy is superior to solutions. But to me, it was a breath of fresh air and a massive shift in perspective.

Their faith in the possibility of optimizing everything gave me hope that I could do so too.

Later, autism showed me how. By understanding my social and sensory needs, I unlocked new ways to improve my mood and relationships.

Life is still hard sometimes. But now, I can often see why – and do something about it.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.