Play to your strengths by Annelie N

When I was younger, I wanted nothing more than to be able to run as fast as my sister, play volleyball as well as she could, to play the piano as beautifully, to connect to other people as easily as her. Trying and failing has taught me much, but maybe succeeding at something else would have taught me even more. At least I knew one thing I was good at- I excelled at school, I was the know- it- all, top of every class without even trying. That is nothing you are particularly proud of at a certain age though, for me, failure was always there, always more prominent than my successes.

With my sister, it was a different story. She certainly did not excel at everything she tried, I could clearly see areas where I might have had some advantage over her, but no one else seemed to notice or care. She was always “good enough.” For the longest time, that was I all knew. She was enough, I was a freak. Clumsy, absent- minded, socially awkward. Today, I have a better phrase to describe that experience. “Being neurodivergent”. Having strength and weaknesses that differ slightly from those of most people in the general population, “feeling different”. I cannot say for sure if you would label all, or even many girls with TS as “neurodivergent”, but from what I have read, many of us will probably be able to relate to what I am saying. 

How does the story continue? At some point, I began to realize that my sister had never tried creative writing, never participated in Maths or Physics competitions, never painted. While I was busy comparing myself to her, she was hardly comparing herself to me. It was only a competition because I made it one- in areas where I could only lose. She owned her strength and weaknesses, and played to her strength whenever she could. 

And that is something I want every single one of you to try. Find something you are good at, connect to people who share your interests. Maybe you enjoy doing gymnastics or martial arts, where being short can give you a huge advantage over others. Maybe it is painting, maybe it is singing. Maybe you enjoy debating political topics. Maybe, it is creative writing for you, too. Or something completely different. All of these activities are not only outlets for your emotions and ways to make new friends- Seeing, that you are capable of doing something you are proud of and giving something of worth to others is also a huge booster to your confidence. It is all about giving something back, not about continuously telling others what they can do to support us, as if we were their pity cases. Do not let others make excuses for you, show them you do not need any.

There will be times when you might have to get through something no matter how hard it is, because you have no other choice. Learning to drive, interacting with others, geometry. And you will push through these experiences aswell. But choose your battles wisely. I once heard someone say in a video: “If you are going to fail, fail fast. Focus your time on the things that make you even better at something you are already good at, not on the areas in which you will never be as good as someone else”, or something along those lines. That simple idea stuck with me ever since. Keep practicing skills you need to learn in order to realize your full potential, like driving or organizing yourself, start acquiring them as early as possible. If you are a teenager, be interested in what your parents do when driving, not caring cost me far too many driving lessons already. Also, to all the parents out there: Demand some level of independence from your child at an appropriate age. Your instincts might tell you to give your girl with TS a little more time, support her a little more, for various reasons- but ultimately, I am sure you do expect her to be able to organize her own life. Even if some things might be harder for her- that is all the more reason to teach her as early as possible. There is nothing we cannot learn just because we have TS.

Everybody has some strength and weaknesses- and what do I care that many people seem to have somewhat similar ones? All that means is that the particular abilities we might have are needed even more. Strength and weaknesses which fall out of the norm tend to come as a package deal. I know how NVLD, ASD or AD(H)S are often discussed as “disorders”, where weaknesses are highlighted and strength not mentioned. This is even more true if you are missing a whole chromosome- because, obviously, that deletion is not “supposed to happen”? Maybe not, but missing that chromosome does not make you any less capable than anybody else. All the great neurodivergent minds, diagnosed or undiagnosed, from Elon Musk to Thomas Alva Edison or the German comedian and doctor Eckart von Hirschhausen, are not great minds “in spite of” their “disorders”, but as a whole person. With their diagnoses. And the particular strength and weaknesses that come with it. None of them had or has to chase after some kind of “normal”. They are their own normal. Embrace being a freak if you feel like one. You are capable, you are loveable- and there are people out there who get you. More of them than you might think.

The single most important determinant for success in life is not IQ, not any kind of innate ability. It is simple determination. The ability to mind- over- matter. Or in other words: the very obsessiveness that people tend to associate with OCD. Just a milder version of it, not affecting an individual`s ability to function in daily life. And that obsessiveness is certainly not unheard of in TS.

So set your minds to something, get out there. Try. Succeed.

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