What do you mean I can’t expect to play video games for four hours every night?!
Wait, what’s the homework? And when is it due? How long should it be? Is it OK if it’s longer than that?
I’ve recently heard quotes like these from different high school students with autism. One student seems to think any assigned work is a personal affront on his free time, and the other is incredibly diligent—sometimes too much so. Two very different students with two very different problems. I think the advice we give students is partially to blame.
Common Advice About Hard Work
Teachers and parents often give young people advice about the value of hard work. They say things like, always do you best, and the only things worth having come from hard work. There’s also put your nose to the grindstone, you only get out what you put in, and many more.
These mantras are probably intended to inspire people to keep working on something that’s hard for them. In many cases, this is a nice thought. But there can be problems with this advice, generally speaking and particularly for autistic individuals.
What if someone takes that advice completely to heart and becomes anxious and stressed out, thinking they must work their hardest at all times?
The other problem is that people frequently advise others to do the exact opposite! They say don’t sweat the small stuff. And, take it easy.
Well, which one is it? Should we always work hard? Should we feel relaxed all the time and never worry? Seems to me we need to find a balance.
Finding a Balance Between
Relaxing and Working Hard
It’s not possible to always do your absolute best. That would mean not sleeping so that you can revise that report one more time. And it’s not possible to always relax. You’d never complete anything that’s required of you (and the reality is that life is full of things that are required of you).
For autistic folk—who often understand things concretely—this is a concrete visual for understanding the different sides and how to make decisions to avoid the extremes.
Most people probably agree that hard work is very important. But if someone takes this advice to the extreme, it can have negative effects. This is true of the person who never socializes because he’s always working or worried about work.
This can cause problems for one’s health and emotional wellbeing. People who only focus on work likely have extreme anxiety. That amount of stress can contribute to getting sick.
Is this you? If you find yourself:
- frequently stressed out
- regularly worried about completing work
- anxious about school work or responsibilities at your job
- without time to do things you choose to do
…then chances are you may be at the extreme of working hard.
Tipping the scale a little closer toward relaxing can lead to less anxiety, feeling better, and having time to do what you want to do. Try these ideas:
> Find a mantra to say to yourself, like “It’s only work” or “Work isn’t everything”
> Contact a friend to spend time with, and maybe talk about how stressed out you’re feeling
> Schedule some time doing something you choose to do, like reading or watching a movie
Too Much Relaxing
So I hope we see that too much hard work can be dangerous. But if you only relax, that can be a huge problem. It can mean homework doesn’t get done and tests don’t get studied for which leads to bad grades. It can mean not completing tasks at your job which can lead to getting fired.
Is THIS you? If you:
- tend not ever worry—even a little—about school or your job
- always have time to do things you choose to do (like video games or naps)
- get lots and lots of reminders from other people to do something and then you don’t do it
…then maybe you’re at the extreme of relaxing.
Move closer to the hard work side can result in better grades, less nagging from others, fewer negative results like detention or demotions at work.
> Write down a list of things you have to do – crossing them off can make you feel better
> Schedule a short break as a reward for yourself doing some of your work
> Reach out for help from trusted friends and adults to make a plan to get your work done
Though this Balance Challenge is broken down for the benefit of autistic folk, you don’t have to be autistic to benefit from it. Most people tend to fall on one side or another. Or maybe there are parts of life when you’re one or the other. Are you a hard work type extreme person for your career, but always on the relax side when it comes to paying bills on time?
We can all benefit from finding a balance. Because you don’t want
but you don’t want this either
For an explanation of the Balance Challenge framework, see Balance Breakdown, always accessible on the top navigation bar.