Olivia Fox Cabane

Olivia Fox Cabane

Is Asperger’s A Superpower? You Better Believe It, Baby I recently learned that at age seven, I was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism, formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Overall, for me, being on the autism spectrum has been a net positive. It certainly didn’t give me an easy life, but it gave me an incredibly rich, varied, interesting, unusual, and fulfilling life. Don’t get me wrong. Growing up socially awkward to the point of ineptitude sucks. But let me show you how happy an Aspie life can be. I live on a mini urban farm in Silicon Valley with a devoted husband, one dog (named KittyKat) two cats (one of which thinks he’s a dog), ten chickens and a varying number of bees. We call it The Bees’ Knees, three-fourths of an acre with two creeks, an apiary, an orchard, and a giant trampoline. It’s our own little paradise. This may be unusual, but I have about two dozen really close friends. If you asked me who I'd trust with my life, I'd need a spreadsheet to figure it out. In fact, I genuinely have too many close friends, and they always complain they don’t see me enough. (Sorry, guys. Feel free to retaliate by relating my most embarrassing episodes. Yes, even the Pyrex incident.) What I mean to say is this: the happiness and friends came with the social awkwardness and the idiosyncracies, not in spite of them. In fact, these days much hilarity ensues from my (apparently) unusual lifestyle and beliefs (I've always seemed perfectly logical to me.) These days, I laugh several times a day. In my early twenties, I could go weeks without smiling or feeling any emotion. I thought fine, I just couldn’t feel anything. Turns it’s called anhedonia, is often caused by chemical imbalance in the brain, can absolutely be solved, see a psychopharmacologist near you. Of course, things can get dark. Growing up, I experienced long periods of hopelessness or self-loathing. Let me put it this way—one of the reasons I am very, very good at what I do is that there is no emotional hell I haven’t experienced, no mental abyss into which I haven’t sunk. And worked my way out of. Today, I’m doing work I absolutely love: helping accelerate the future of food and creating the world’s first space food ecosystem, thanks to brilliant minds who have been growing meat in space, or even growing food out of thin air. I speak at conferences and events around the world. I have clients who refuse to let me fire them. (I tried. Twice.) Now for the kryptonite. I think one of the reasons the social world is hard for us to navigate is because we don’t have the usual social filters on, we can’t unconsciously be blind to things the way normal people do. I’ve always felt driven to alleviate suffering. As a child, the worst suffering I knew was animal testing. In my teens, I learned about genocide. And then I discovered animal factory farming, and everything else paled in comparison. There are other downsides. When I'm in deep-thought-mode, I don’t really see the world around me. I once broke my nose walking into a stop sign. And would not be able to lead the life I do without my wonderful husband (motocross racer, philosophy PhD dropout, surfer, master’s science in horticulture and cannabis expert Brian Larsen), who reminds me when I’m sketching a plan of something and forget a minor issue like gravity. (I design, he builds.) Of course I wish I'd known all of this two decades ago—knowing I was somewhere on the autism spectrum would’ve explained so much. I thought I was defective, broken, or possibly an alien. On the other hand, it’s given me the tools to do things that could genuinely change the world. I can’t say this enough: being on the autism spectrum isn’t just a limitation. I mean, I became the world’s leading expert on charisma, of all things, and I couldn’t have done so without my unusual brain. Because of *and* thanks to. Though I wish I'd known decades ago, I'm so glad I know now. Looking back, I can say with certainty that for me, Asperger’s has been a superpower. It has also, of course, been Kryptonite. But, taken all in all, I wouldn’t change any of it. I live a ridiculously good life. And I know I can’t fix the whole world. But I am bloody well going to try. Olivia November 22, 2019 ----- OFFICIAL BIO---- Olivia Fox Cabane has lectured at Stanford, Yale, Harvard, MIT, the Marine Corps War College and the United Nations. In addition to being a columnist for Forbes and The Huffington Post, Olivia is often featured in media such as The New York Times, Bloomberg or BusinessWeek. She has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal as well as NPR’s Marketplace show. Olivia was previously Director of Innovative Leadership for Stanford's StartX program; her course at Berkeley’s Business School was so popular that university staff had to guard the entrance to ensure that only the students admitted to that course gained entrance. Her first book, The Charisma Myth, published by Penguin/ Random House, went into second printing before it even launched. Olivia has both French and American nationalities and is fluent in 4 languages; her books have been translated into 25 languages and she was the youngest person ever to have been appointed Foreign Trade Advisor to the French Government.
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