When I began writing No One Is Broken I assumed I would be writing about how my wife and I helped our son Sawyer, but I ended up writing a book about how helping Sawyer helped me. Specifically, how helping him taught me what success is and what it isn’t and how not to let my life become undone in the pursuit of it.
This turn surprised me at fist, and I made what is a common mistake with many writers: I resisted where the story wanted to go. My success or lack thereof seemed like such a small story, whereas whether a person could or could not be broken was a very big story. But a good story is stubborn in its direction, and by and by I yielded to the momentum. Once I did, it made perfect sense for this story to be about success, if for no other reason than most of the kids diagnosed on the spectrum are boys.
Men’s relationship to success is largely suicidal, by which I mean we will surrender our value and our happiness to something that appears to exist outside of ourselves, some phantom finish line we must cross to know that our life was worth living. Without success, our life becomes a kind of failed experiment, an idea that in the end proved not to be worth pursuing. It is a terrifying view of the world, yet it is so pervasive that men simply do not talk about it. Talking about whether or not we want to succeed would be like talking about whether or not we want to eat.
Boys on the spectrum, meanwhile, exhibit behaviors not commonly associated with success, either romantic or professional. Success, after all, appears to have everything to do with the external world, with school, and jobs, and other people, all those things not within us where our imagination and thoughts and emotions dwell. The child on the spectrum seems overly focused within himself. How can anyone have success, and therefore know actual adult, worldly happiness, unless he learns how that world outside of his imagination works?
It was a good question, and as I watched Sawyer fail or maybe simply choose not to jump through any of the hoops children his age are expected to jump through, it began to occur to me that children we say are on the spectrum are actually focusing their attention exactly where success exists. There is no success outside of our imaginations—not in anyway. Poll a thousand people and you will be given a thousand definitions of success. We invent the finish line, and then celebrate or mourn when we do or do not cross it.
What we have come to call success is nothing but a misnomer for happiness. No one actually wants to succeed, they only want to be happy, just as no one actually wants to be beautiful or married or rich or strong or thin or have a full head of hair. We only want to be happy, to know love from the inside out. There is absolutely nothing else to want. To find what you love and share it is success, but you cannot find what you do not see. To wander the world searching for success, writing book after book, going on date after date, working job after job, is like shopping for a piano that will write its own sonata.
I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.