5 Things I've Learned In My First Year As An Autistic Entrepreneur
Lets get this out of the way. Going the path of an entrepreneur is hard and not for everyone. The media loves to glorify it with stories of immediate success tales. Everyone loves an underdog story about a person that went from zero to hero after all. The reality however is that it isn't easy, for both the typical person and the disabled. I have certainly met these challenges head on due to how a number of people feel. That they don't want to be stuck in a 9-5 job. Who want to make an impact. Become successful. Become leaders. They have the strive, yet they might not realize all the hard work that really goes into achieving their endeavors.
As someone with Asperger's Syndrome, I have certainly gain quite a lot of insight during my first year of starting a business. I have even made a general list of things I have learned that can apply to anyone jumping in for the first time. Click Here To Read It. For someone on the autistic spectrum such as myself however, there are extra things we will need to keep in mind as we go into the fray ourselves.
1. You Will Have To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone
There is no avoiding this. In order to spread awareness of your enterprise, you will have to do things that might make you want to retreat to the corner of the room and curl up. This means having the courage to go up to people to meet them, shake hands and keep a conversation. Of course this also means having to travel to attend meetings, visit expos and even become a speaker. You will feel like not faking a smile, avoid eye contact, even shrink up in your seat while surrounded by a lot of people. It is not impossible however. Temple Grandin is one of the leading spokespersons on autism that has done conferences and even TED on the subject, who also happens to be autistic. One of the best advices I have heard came from her in stating the importance of us stepping out of our comfort zone. I will be doing this as I have signed up to be a speaker at a local conference despite being insanely nervous about all the what ifs. One of my bigger worries and something I have been working on is...
2. Learn Methods To Handle Meltdowns/Shutdowns
This is a large problem for a number of people, including myself. Specifically sensory overload for me. With all the stimuli of noises overloading my senses, it becomes difficult to hear what others speaking directly to you said with everything feeling at the same volume and eventually becomes too much to handle. There are a variety of ways to try and handle this issue head on. Sometimes playing music with headphones on and focusing a large chunk of my attention on that can help with lasting longer in a public space. There are others, but this is something I will be posting in greater detail in another future blog post. Possibly the next one? Hmmm...a lot to think about.
Speaking of work...
3. Don't Be A Perfectionist
This is something both disabled and regular folk have to deal with, but just as much for some autistic individuals. Afraid of failure and needing to do it right the first time, it can be very nerve-wrecking. Keep in mind that failing doesn't have to be negative. Think of it as part of a learning process where you achieved learning something new that will help you on your journey. Also trying to make it pitch perfect will only lead to delay after delay until that opportunity is missed. While this doesn't mean you shouldn't do proper amount of research, don't spend an eternity on it either. No one can predict every single scenario that could happen. The key is to be adaptive. Not an easy task for a number of individuals, but it is possible. Some however will think they are unable to, hence...
4. Be Confident In Yourself
Everybody has gone through this period of doubt in their abilities or ideas that they end up quitting early. You might also think this possibly due to thinking that your autism/Asperger's syndrome is too much of a barrier. If there is one thing that has been proven time and time again, is that it is not the disability that prevents you from achieving but instead your mindset. You can and will become successful in business if you keep your head up, stay persistent in your goals and learning how to achieve them, and have the confidence that you can go for the goal. Also realize this however...
5. There Will Be Failures
I cannot emphasize this enough. There will be times where you will drop the ball and "fail". How you react to that however is within your power. You can be overly upset about not doing it right the first time, or you can learn about what you did wrong and quickly jump back up to try again. No one gets it right the first time Everyone stumbles from time to time. Does not mean you should give up.
You're reading this from a guy with Asperger's Syndrome that dared to try out wedding photography as an assistant and had his first be a giant Greek wedding while having problems with sensory overload. There were times where I had to step out of the reception hall to calm myself, but it's all part of the learning process. I soon got better with each wedding both in lasting longer in loud crowds and with my photography skills. This provided quite a lot of confidence within me when before I was very timid and wanted to hide away in the corner of the room all the time or not go to gatherings at all. This also gave myself some self-esteem when I use to not have much at all and now feel that if I continue to make these strategic risks, I could take on the world and see everything it offers. It also helps to have friends and family that are supportive of your endeavors. If not, time to find someone that wants to see you succeed.
Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, with or without disabilities. It all depends on your definition of happiness. If you are happy with serving at a restaurant or sitting by a comfortable desk at work, then that's great! Hope that happiness continues! If however, like me, you felt a calling to something that you feel deep down is greater than such jobs and you happen to be on the autistic spectrum, then hopefully this provides a great start for you.
There are a number of other things you will need to learn on the road of entrepreneurship such as financing that everyone will need to learn or self teach along the way, but that's the great thing about this age we live in today! Information is aplenty for the taking if you want to reach for it. There is more opportunity than ever in the past to make it big thanks to the internet, to which the only thing blocking you from success right now is your own mindset. I plan on continuing my own personal journey of entrepreneurship and record the lessons learned for others to see and learn themselves.
Are you ready to jump into the fray?