“It’s my way or the highway.”
I write articles for my job. I tend to write long articles, including lots of details. I like it that way! That’s how I write, and I think it’s good, and how it should be. The problem is, the articles get sent to hundreds of teachers to read and use. So my colleagues sometimes give me feedback to shorten an article, to take out some details.
I sometimes feel like telling them to “take a hike!” It’s my way or the highway, as they say. What I mean is that I don’t want the feedback. In those times, I feel I am the only person who could possibly know what’s best for me and my work. In other words, I want to stick to doing things my way.
The problem is, there are times when advice from others is actually very helpful to me. (In fact, I should probably make this blog post a little shorter, according to the feedback of some readers…)
For lots of people—including, but not only folks on the autism spectrum—it can be hard to know when to stick to your way of doing things, and when to be open to advice and try new ways. Let’s explore—
Only Sticking with Your Way
Sticking with your way of doing things is like an anchor, firmly planted in the ocean floor. It doesn’t move, doesn’t budge for anything or anyone. This can be important to do at times, like when you are 100% certain that you need to take a break from a long work meeting (your way), even if others are insisting you stay.
But too much sticking with your way, too much of the time, means you vehemently insist on only doing things the way you do them. You then ignore the advice other people give, even if that advice will actually be helpful for you. There are times when a friend, relative, teacher, or coworker gives you advice that will be helpful—even when you feel like your way is better.
Only Trying New Ways
So what’s the alternative to sticking with your way? It’s trying new ways of doing things. For this, we use an image of a sailboat, whose route is guided by the wind. This is when we are open to advice and feedback, we listen to and consider the guidance of our relatives and peers and make changes in our behavior according to their suggestions.
This is not to say that you should always be open to new ways of doing things! If you only try new ways, you can lose sight of the important things you’ve learned about yourself. And if the advice comes from someone who doesn’t know us well, or who does not have our best interest in mind, trying their way could be harmful to us.
So what to do? Strike a balance!
Balancing Sticking with Your Way and Trying New Ways
Are there times when you should try new ways of doing things? Absolutely, yes. Are there other times when you should absolutely just stick to your ways? Yes, also. Let’s think about the balance of the two.
- WHO is giving the advice/feedback?
- If it is a “trusted source,” someone who you have a close relationship with—like a parent or established close friend—you may want to consider trying their new way. Trusted people, if they really can be trusted, try to have our best interest in mind.
- For example, if your mother suggests that you text a friend from school to see if they know the homework you forgot, she’s probably trying to help find a solution, even if it’s not something you’re used to doing. Maybe that’s a 60/40 toward the try new ways side.
- WHAT are they asking you to change?
- Is it “no big deal”? If it’s not a difficult thing to change, it might be worth trying their way. If it doesn’t work after a couple tries, at least there was the chance it could have been helpful.
- If someone is suggesting to you that you completely change the way you dress and cut your hair to impress other kids, that’s a big deal and probably a time when you lean toward sticking with your way. Perhaps that’s a 70/30 on the stick with my way side.
But be sure not to fall into the only trying new ways trap. Obeying the directions every classmate and teacher without question can lead to uncomfortable or dangerous choices.
But it doesn’t hurt to be open to new ideas. When a trusted person gives advice or feedback, rejecting it immediately means you fall into the stick with my way trap, and when that happens you don’t make tough things better.
More on balancing needs
If this is helpful, read more about some other balances that are connected to this idea:
- Balance I’m OK with I make mistakes – recognizing that you’re alright, but not perfect; that you make mistakes, but you’re not hopeless!
- Balance my wants with other’s wants – finding the times to follow your plan, and when to compromise and follow a peer’s plan
I make a promise to make my next blog post shorter, with fewer details. I’m open to trying that new way to make my posts easier for everyone to read!
For an explanation of the Balance Challenge framework, see Balance Breakdown, always accessible on the top navigation bar.