Who are Agilizers? We are Creatives. Thinkers. Change Agents. Challengers. Outliers. Different. Neurodiverse.

Since discovering my tribe of outliers, agilizers, and creative neurodiverse thinkers, I will never see myself the same way again. I’m more at peace today than I even knew was possible. The power of understanding that you are not defective, and you are not alone – that there is a group of people where everything you think is freaky about yourself is actually NORMAL can’t really be described in words.

We are outliers.  Outliers are people who fall outside the normal ranges of the bell curve. 

We are uncommon. We think differently from the average person. We are neurodiverse – our brains and nervous systems are wired differently from the average or neurotypical brain.

This does not mean we are disordered – it’s more like we pursue order differently. While others seek stability to create order, we need agility  to create order in our lives. We find order in the “dance” of life more so than in the stability or stillness of life.  In other words, routines tend to bore us much more easily than the average person.  When we see something we know could be better, we have a much harder time “looking the other way”  than the average person does. We are interested in exponentially more things than the average person.

Outliers are people who fall outside the normal ranges of the bell curve.
  We have uncommon qualities, talents and personality traits and as a result, we often must challenge the status quo and lead unconventional lives in order to find personal satisfaction. We are people that the majority of other people don’t or can’t understand  easily.  We are often remarkably smart, talented, creative, caring, compassionate and sensitive survivors.  Like me, most of us have been (to varying degrees) deeply affected by this pervasive sense that no one out there really understands us. We tend to experience chronic overwhelm, frustration, and disorganization as a result.

We are surrounded by people trying to get us to do things their way. How often have you heard questions like the following:

  • Why can’t you just ______?
  • What’s so hard about just ______________ ?
  • Why can’t you finish what you started?
  • How could you be so smart and not be able to _______?

We try so hard to live up to expectations, but we just can’t get things done in the linear, predictable way we want to.  We can’t “just do it”  because the “usual” ways of doing things like self-care, healthy eating, organizing, planning and scheduling just don’t work for us. We have to do things our way.

Things that are easy for us are hard for them. Things that are easy to most people are hard for us. We see and feel the world so differently that it’s like we live on different planets sometimes!  Yet we need each other. We need to work, learn and live together precisely because of our differences.  But when we don’t appreciate each other’s cognitive differences, and try to get people to do things our way, we get tension.  We end up with people calling each other defective, disordered or wrong when in reality they are just different in ways we don’t like. Sadly, we live in constant power struggles, conflict and even war with the very people we need.

We often pressure each other to do things our way because it can make life easier when we see and do things the same way. Here’s a minor example of how this plays out every day – some MAC users have a tendency to pressure me to switch to MAC.  When I say I’m sticking wit what I’ve got, they tend evangelize – going on and on about how great MAC is.  I agree – MAC’s are great – but they don’t meet my needs.  I get tired of defending my choice to stick with Windows for now.  I don’t recommend Windows to anyone. I believe everyone needs to understand their own needs and choose what’s right for them.

How computer operating systems work differently is analogous to how cognitive differences work.  Some brains are better at self-control, some are better at flexibility and multi-tasking, some are better with graphics or sound, some need change and variety more than others.

Some people do the same kind of evangelizing as MAC users about productivity systems. Many people honestly believe that the “Getting Things Done” system is the best system on earth and it should work for everyone. Just because it works for them and the book itself says “anyone can use this…it’s been tested on thousands of people”. So now, if it doesn’t work for you, they say it’s because YOU “aren’t disciplined enough.”

Slide3Because outliers tend to create their own systems – and keep tweaking and changing them – we generally don’t write books telling everyone to “do it this way.”   We tend to share ideas and think – if it works for you great, if not keep trying.

It‘s really hard to write a book that doesn’t preach “How to___ in 5 simple steps.” People crave simple easy steps.  Even if they don’t work. They love the illusion. So some authors give in and write it that way even if they know a lot of people will actually struggle with it.

Faced with the pressure of wanting people to like us, we may become defensive, or withdraw, or give in to what they want, or just go silent.  Isn’t it time to unmute ourselves?  To find an effective way to disagree about the ways we do things and resolve our differences without either party having to be wrong – that is the art of designing mutually agreeable alternatives.  One size, one process, one approach does NOT fit all.

It’s not easy to resist the pressure of the dominant ways of thinking in any culture. Cognitive outliers often don’t have great “people skills.” We encounter so many situations where our intuitive responses are not like other peoples.

We tend to struggle with following directions. When something doesn’t make sense to us, we tend to ask a lot of questions. When we ask a lot of questions or disagree, we often get labelled as “difficult.” brain-too-many-tabsAfter a while, when facing a disagreement, confrontation or criticism, we tend to assume we are the problem.  We then either back away, hide our real opinions, apologize, agree even though we don’t, or explain why we disagree and face being told that we think too much, or are being negative.  If we can see both sides of a situation, we get pressured to take a side.

We literally get overwhelmed and EXHAUSTED from being put on the defensive and having to explain why we are different or why we can’t or won’t do things their way.
But if you are the minority in any situation, the pressure is on YOU to self-advocate. Who teaches us how to do that? We don’t learn that in school, partly because most schools are designed to get you to conform – certainly not to challenge and ask for your right to for example, tweak a homework assignment to make it more interesting to you.  I actually used to do that!  Some teachers acted like I just asked them kill someone, other had to think about it, and others were delighted and actually liked my ideas and gave the “tweak” as an option to the entire class.  I was really lucky to have a teacher like that.  She affirmed my right to self-advocate.

Most schools seek to control when you should learn, what to learn, how to learn, who you learn it with, when you can eat, when you can go to the bathroom and so much more.  explain-power-noWhere in that scenario are you learning how to advocate for your right to fidget? or to move while listening?  You don’t.  You get a label.

Take the two examples I gave earlier of how we pressure people to conform, and multiply them by the millions of little ways we pressure each other every day to modify ourselves to get others’ approval.  How often do you hear:  Don’t be so emotional!  Your overthinking it!  You care too much!  Your too sensitive.  Why can’t you keep track of time? What’s so hard about being on time?  How hard is to just pick up after yourself?  or do the dishes after you eat?

These are only the tip of the iceberg of how deeply neurodiversity affects our identities, our sense of self-worth and how misunderstood and frustrated we feel. It affects every little thing we do.

Neurodiversity plays a HUGE role in how much clutter we have and in how we clean and organize our homes and workspaces. I’ve worked with so many clients facing divorce, or even about to lose their children, over the power struggles played out by people with different cognitive styles and ways of doing things.

They live together without knowing how to self-advocate and design mutually satisfying alternatives so they resort to all sorts of pressure tactics to get each other to do what they want.

 Intolerance of neurodiversity is about much more than ADHD, Asperberger’s, autism, OCD and giftedness.  People get bullied, kicked out of school, lose their jobs and families break up over it.  Cognitive intolerance and misunderstanding is a significant factor in domestic violence and child abuse.  

Luckily, once we understand this intolerance better, changing the way we see ourselves (and each other) goes a LONG WAY to ending our own inner wars as well as toward resolving chronic tension and conflict we experience with our loved ones.

If someone told you there was a pair of shoes where one size fits everyone, would you believe them?  Of course not.  Because that’s obviously not true.  But when it comes to time management, or organizing or diet advice, or even how we do the dishes, we want to believe that what works for someone else should work for us and vice versa.  Even though we repeatedly fail at doing it someone else’s way – even when we really want to do it their way.

Just because an idea makes a lot of sense and works for a lot of people doesn’t mean it should or could or can work for you.  What does work is understanding your needs and designing or tailoring accordingly.  But that in itself is a skill.

life-begins-at-the-end-of-your-comfort-zone-aThe real question is whether or not you are willing to take the time to learn how to design rather than prescribe.

If you are, it may be a little slower at first than following a prescription, but once you become “agile” at coming up with simple, easy-to-use systems that fit you, you will be empowered to keep growing and becoming ever more organized for the rest of your life. AND you can teach your loved ones too.

25 thoughts on “Who are Agilizers? We are Creatives. Thinkers. Change Agents. Challengers. Outliers. Different. Neurodiverse.

  1. Ariane:
    I can finally fit in somewhere….and be happy there..and proud.
    I always thought I was ‘abnormal’ in a good way…others didn’t.
    I was given some labels from ‘normals’ that were intentionally mean & hurtful….It hurts deep when you are young, shy, creative, and misunderstood….started as a kid…even from parents.
    Blacksheep & Pokey, Sloppy & Chubby were from parents…..
    Instead of fitting in, I intentionally isolated myself in my room by finding best friends in my creativity, books, daydreams and sometimes even my imaginary self…perfect with zero flawa….(then reality hits and I feel different again) and didn’t really belong anywhere…everyone tries to ‘fix’ me…am I broken or just different? words used make a difference.
    Now in my late 50’s, I’m living in extreme clutter. Mostly physical clutter (house is jam packed) but also body clutter (obese) and mind clutter (information junky..can’t learn enough)…but books on de-cluttering aren’t working.
    I’m so ready to minimalize…de-junk….clear out physical stuff. and concentrate on filling head with stuff…more fun with internet.
    I’m going to read further in you site to see if you can help me redesign my way of tackling my severe disorganization.
    (another comment from me is in ‘chronic disorganized’ section.)
    Karen Ann

  2. I’m so glad to have found your site and to have read your post. I am starting my own Organizing company and so I decided to come online and read some about the subject and that’s how I found your site. Not only I learned something that I wasn’t expecting to learn but I also learn something that helps me relate better to the way my 16 year old son does things and the way he expresses his opinions. I do it less than before, but sometimes I still get upset or mad at him for not completing a task or for not responding the way I think is the “normal way” of responding to questions or a request and even though I have been trying to understand and appreciate more the way he is, this blog has confirmed to me that my son is special and very smart in his own way and that I need to keep reminding myself of it and continue affirming him that he is capable of accomplishing great things. Thank you again for your great blog!

  3. I was always been at odds with teachers. In 5th grade a large German teacher pounded my hand with her meaty fist because I was ‘devil-possessed’ (I wrote with my left hand). She had the class sing dumb songs as I stood before them.
    Another ridiculed me because I did the daily work assignment she wrote on the blackboard starting with the last and working up to the top.
    In a discussion in church about acceptance in society I was once again corrected for using ‘homosexual’ rather than ‘gay’ to describe them.
    I am a writer of humorous pieces: short essays, true stories and poems. That is just the way I see things. I was surprised to learn that messiness and ‘Some day I’ll clean up the mess’ is not a unique bad habit of mine. Dick Cavett also lived in chaos, but he rose above it and when he left for work he could leave the mess behind, and get on with the humor in life.

  4. I believe I have been this way since I was child and always questioned the way I was/am and how my mind works. Just thought I had a racing mind. I never could learn the same way as others and just thought I wasn’t school smart (although my common sense is my savior in work). I learn better by doing and working thru whatever I am learning. I definitely have always been a “nomad” and have moved often and started over a lot. I don’t have a lot of relationships outside of my family. Again, thinking there is something wrong with me. You article/post was written as if you know me personally and I appreciate this so much – It’s nice to know I’m not alone and nice to know this information. The disorganization part I definitely have a hard time with and can’t seem to get a handle on it. Although messy at work, my work itself was always thorough until the last few years. I truly think it’s because I have always been able to mask the issues but now I am having a hard time with it. Not sure what to do and any suggestions are appreciated.

    Thank you

  5. It’s not easy to resist the pressure of the dominant ways of thinking in any culture. Cognitive outliers often don’t have great “people skills.” We encounter so many situations where our intuitive responses are not like other peoples. We tend to struggle with following directions. When something doesn’t make sense to us, we tend to ask a lot of questions. When we ask a lot of questions or disagree, we often get labelled as “difficult.” After a while, when facing a disagreement, confrontation or criticism, we tend to assume we are the problem. We then either back away, hide our real opinions, apologize, agree even though we don’t, or explain why we disagree and face being told that we think too much, or are being negative. If we can see both sides of a situation, we get pressured to take a side.

    Just yesterday a friend suggested I may be gifted and to look up gifted adults. I have been blown away by what I am finding out. Everything I am reading is opening up entire new worlds and realities and reigniting hope in me. And the above paragraph just describes my childhood and life to a tee.

    I have always been different, extremely sensitive, intense, unable to handle boredom and repetitive tasks, unable to do all those things that cause people to say, “Why can’t you just…” Now I am beginning to learn that I may not be a defective failure after all but maybe a worthwhile individual.

    I also experienced extreme abuse and torture in childhood, as well as abandonment and rejection starting before birth and onward. So I am also wondering how those events and the resultant years of PTSD, depression, OCD, borderline personality disorder and so on affect each other. And if I can find avenues of healing previously unknown or unavailable with my discovering neurodiversity. I also like this term much better than gifted which does indeed feel conceited and arrogant.

    Thank you for your insights and sharing them so freely!

  6. I disagree that we pressure people into doing things our way. I do not expect others to dig, research, study, or be highly artistic and creative as myself. What I do expect is for people to give me the benefit of the doubt. I do not have evil motives. I expect respect, instead of mental abuse.

    I believe it is more likely that the Chronically Disorganized, although highly intelligent, and give all they have in everything they do, are judged by the majority for not doing things the majority’s way. Those in the majority are the ones that apply the pressure. They collectively attack because they are the norm. They are the ones, especially when their “normalacy” is accompanied by OCD and megalomania will do their best to pressure, gossip, control, and destroy the possessions and life’s work of a kind-hearted excessively-trying- their-hardest CD person. The “normal’s” lack of understanding of a CD’s heart and motives causes mental abuse of the CD by the self-righteous “normal” person. I can’t say it enough; it is not the other way around. It is a completely additional event if the CD expects others to be like himself. We CDs well know the pressure is all on us. No matter what a CD does, he will be maligned and criticized by the other side.

    CDs are often, especially as they mature, the most transparent of personality types, because they are so hard on themselves. The mental abuse, being a result of the Ns believing a CD is not honest and is always lying, takes its toll. And the great desires and phenomenal potential of the CD is snuffed out. The Life’s Work, possessions, and evidence (in essence their babies) are lost. With the theft, a CD’s dreams, that he was so excellent completing, awards, and confirmation are lost, just so he “could be like them.” But he never can live up to their expectation. The CD’s disillusionment is very painful as a result of the unjustified judgment of others, the theft, the aggression, and the crazy belief that a CD is worthless if not exactly like the “normal.”

  7. Some terms are used that need definition and expansion for me to understand the rest of what you are saying.

    For instance the word “AGILITY.” I know it means “nimbleness,” but how does that describe and artist, ADD, or neurodiverse person.

    “NEURODIVERSE” – This word also needs to be defined and expanded on separately.

    “OUTLIARS.” Living on the Outside, maybe? Again define separately

    They all seem the same.

    I cannot read this with full comprehension without your stopping to define these terms independently. It seems you are using all the terms collectively and synonymously.

    • Thanks for caring enough to give your honest feedback. I have made some edits based on your comments. Agility does not “describe” people with ADHD, it is a quality I recommend we develop to help us cope with the way our brains work. We can’t control our brain but we can learn to work with them. Agility helps. See my article on the 8 Habits of Personal Agility to learn more. http://arianebenefit.com/blog/2011/09/09/agility-8-habits/

      Re: neurodiverse and outliers – yes, I do use them somewhat collective. Both neurodiverse people and outliers are by definition people who fall outside the range of normal.

      Neurodiverse – means the brain has some uncommon traits – e.g. this can be interpreted as anything from super high intelligence, creativity, or sensory sensitivity. It has been used most by people who have autism, ADHD, etc. but the actual definition includes any kind of unusual or “not average” brain trait.

      Outlier – is not specific to the brain, but most likely, if someone falls outside of the “average” or “normal” range – changes are their brain is different as well in some area.

      You could make the case that everyone is an outlier in some way. Some of these ways are socially acceptable and even desirable. They often don’t get called outliers or nurodiverse. Interesting, huh?

  8. I felt like crying when I read that post. I wasn’t a messy child. The chaos began when I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) at age 22 and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I never learned how to “keep house”. I’ve just spent the last hour downloaded “chore charts” and schedulers because the house is a mess, more than usual because I had such a bad week, spent time in the ER two weeks ago, haven’t been sleeeping, and the house looks like a bomb hit it. Our landlord left a note in our mailbox saying they are coming to do our annual inspection in a weeks time and my left brain logical, “Why can’t you just clean things up?” hubby freaked out and emphasized that I just had to clean everything up by next Wednesday.
    The only way I manage is that I finally found something creative I am good at and make money at, blogging and making miniatures. I will definitely sign up for your blog posts and hope to learn some coping mechanisms from you.

  9. Also I can’t conform with societies ways. I’m young but wise beyond my years. I have trouble with people understanding me. My teachers think I’m bad and too loud. Then I get a feeling sitting in class an think: why am I here? I’m I just another piece of societies puzzle. When my teachers talk about respecting your elders I think why? How will that benefit me? My home room teacher looked at my locker on locker clean up day she said taryn why can’t you possibly keep your locker clean when you grow up this is what your house is gonna look like. That was a blow to my self esteem. She made me feel useless. That society will never except me. Why should it. I’m neurodiverse and I love it. People may not understand it but that’s okay cause I’m different.

  10. Thank you so much!! This article made me discover so much more about my self. I always wondered why I thought this way and why people got so mad at me when I try to do simple easy things and fail at them. For example I can’t put on a sheet by myself.

  11. OMG! Wow I always knew there was something different about me I have quite often said there was something wrong with my brain…..I frustrate everyone in the family plus friends.
    A huge weight has lifted from me, I finally have proof and I really am always trying my hardest .

  12. Ok Ariane, you’ve got my attention. I’m pushing 59 and have struggled all of my life to try and fit in with society’s way of looking at things, sadly to say without much success. I’ve always managed to “Get By” but it has not been an easy journey, or a life lived as I first imagined living when I was very young. It seems like almost from the very beginning I was swimming against the current and did not know why… until now, this very moment I read this post, the light has finally came on, I’m not broken or defective… I’m just different! You may not realize it but you have just described my entire life from birth to right now, today. Since my eyes have been opened, what’s next?

    Where do I go to finally start bringing some structure to my life, the kind of structure that actually fits my life and who I am, and allows me to just be me? I’ve had much to offer in my life, but it seems like I was brushed aside many, many years ago and have been on the outside looking in ever since.
    Looking forward…

    • Wow Dan….. great post. Here’s hoping you found the structure you wanted and are sharing your outlier self in the world.

  13. Pingback: Are you part of the Neurodiverse Outlier “tribe”? | Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed

  14. Pingback: My Story of Becoming Agile | Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed

  15. Amazing, amazing post! And just what I needed today. I’m trying to prepare my house for Christmas, working hard to recover from years of over-compensating with shopping ‘therapy’ and was feeling really down like I won’t ever find the peace that it seems others find so much easier. Reading this post not only speaks to my organization challenges but my history of work and school, where I’ve just always felt different. Thank you, thank you, I’m so glad I found your site!

  16. ok, i’m a well defined outlier…where in the world can i meet other people like me? is there any social networking or dating site??
    i’m so lonely!

  17. Phyllis,

    Thanks so much for your note. It warms my heart to hear that even though right now we are going through a difficult time, my website is helping you find some comfort in the knowing that you are not alone. I know all too well the feeling that comes over you as you finally find some way to understand better who you are and why you are so different, unpredictable and challenged in following through on your great intentions.

    Learning to monitor yourself and design more satisfying decisions is an incredibly freeing superpower and I’m honored to be part of your journey into that skillset.

    I am working on designing programs and groups for next year and look forward to your possible participation in them!

    In the meantime, keep the faith, keep working through the free material on this website, and consider also taking some of my recorded courses.

    All the best,

  18. Hi Ariane,
    Thank you so very much for your website!!!! Finally, I am beginning to understand what is going on in my mind. I can’t wait to read more. I shop and buy things that I forget about for months. Then when I am looking for something else I find all kinds of things in my closet later. Not to mention the audiobooks that I buy that I never listen to; or the magazines that I still have from 2003 that I am going to read later. I can begin to see the light. Atlast I am going to get the help that I need. Thank you so very much.

  19. Pingback: The Truth about Chronic Disorganization: Understanding What Causes Chronic Disorganization and How to Heal the Trauma of Lifelong Disorganization, Overwhelm and Frustration | Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed

  20. This is a really beautiful and inspiring post Ariane. I have many organizing clients who would benefit from your words, some who have been labeled, most who have not but have yet to find where they fit in the prescribed world of order. Best wishes to you and great work.

    • Thank you so much for your note Jackie! I really appreciate your note and validation of my rather unusual perspective. You made my day! I’m all tingles! Thank you with all my heart.

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