I had an interesting talk recently, with a 20-something Aspie woman, discussing jobs and job situations. She was kind of freaked out that she’s 26 years old, and in the last 4 years, she’s had something like seven different jobs. I told her that sounded familiar. I bounced around from job to job for years, never staying at any one of them for longer than a year. But eventually, I found my way, I connected deeply with something I explored on a whim, and now I love what I do. It’s awesome.
She was pretty torn up about being a “failure” so early in life. She’d been told that as long as she did well in school, she’d succeed in life. Nobody ever mentioned the whole social thing to her, and she blames her social ineptness for her inability to keep a job. She’s really upset about being on the spectrum, which I can relate to. It’s not easy, sometimes. The worst thing is, she seems to think it’s disabling her and keeping her from living her life… or that the neurotypical world is out to get her.
And I was really struck by the disparity between our perspectives. I didn’t worry very much at all about “not being able to keep a real job” for the first 10 years after I left school. I was in my early 30s before I found something that actually held my attention and made me want to stay. My parents worried, sure. The rest of the world worried, sure. Everybody said I was DOOMED if I didn’t stick with those shitty-ass jobs that were supposed to be so awesome. They sucked. I kept moving.
But I didn’t really give a damn. I was making rent. I was living my life. And I didn’t want to get tied down, anyway. I was too busy writing, living life, making art, just going about my own damn’ business. Plus, I was able to do a lot of super-fun stuff while I was drifting. Nowadays, people tell me how jealous they are that I “got to do” all that stuff before…
Moving to Germany for a few years, getting involved in a musicians collective out in California, exploring the US as my partner and I moved back and forth across the country in the 1990s. Doing a bunch of different jobs and being a “crazy artist” on my own time, living in a really cool apartment with the floors covered by refrigerator box cardboard that I was turning into ART. Writing poetry. Publishing my own work. People act like I was magically bestowed the opportunity to do all that, but each and every step of the way involved choices and costs and sacrifices that put me at odds with “real world” expectations. It doesn’t come for free. You have to make it happen yourself, sometimes at the expense of support and respect from others.
Anyway, I tried to put that young woman’s mind at ease, but she was pretty torn up about things, pretty focused on how f*cked she was by her job failures, how she was doomed by her neurology, and how she didn’t trust herself to move forward. She was afraid of failing. I told her that failure is just a form of information, and nothing more. If you stop completely and don’t use the information given to you, that’s failure. But hitting a dead-end a bunch of times isn’t failure at all.
I’m not sure if I helped her. Even if I did, she then drove home to her parents’ place, where she’s living, and I can’t imagine they’re going to sound anything like me. She said a bunch of stuff about what they think of her situation and what she should do about it that raised some flags for me, but I don’t feel comfortable conveying any more detail about it.
Long story short, I realize now — having been on the planet nearly twice as long as that young woman — that I’ve actually really enjoyed my “career path”, if you can call it that. The thing I’ve enjoyed most of all, is not having a career path at all. I have always looked for good-paying work that I could do very well, so that I could just live my life without fear of destitution. That involved temping for attorneys for a number of years — terrible work, but it payed well. It involved taking positions that were incredibly demeaning and taxing, which had sufficient benefits to keep my partner and me healthy. It involved taking whatever work was available, at the time, even if it was “beneath me”. If it paid and was respectable in the eyes of society, I did it.
I didn’t crave positions that were prestigious and established. I just wanted jobs that covered my expenses (which are considerable, actually). I needed something that would relieve me of existential anxiety, so I could write and make art and travel and do fun things. So I could live my own purpose, and get to enjoy myself in the process.
That’s always been my goal, from the start. I really don’t care about the whole “career” thing — getting hooked into a system that never asked me how it should be structured, or what the right approach should be to provide fulfillment and satisfaction to everyone who signs on. The established professional world really has nothing to do with me, to be honest. It’s foreign to me. And antagonistic. It’s all a framework for making rich people richer, consolidating power with a few choice individuals, and justifying all sorts of socio-political conflict and culture wars.
Devout “professionalism” is a waste of my time. Don’t get me wrong – I am a consummate professional at work. But that’s not my whole identity. It’s not where I get my sense of meaning and purpose. It’s fine for others who get something out of it, but it has nothing to do with me. It just seems like a way for some folks to cement their unimaginative places in the established order, amass power and influence to give them a sense of control over an indifferent and unpredictable world, and find to meaning and purpose in their lives that isn’t otherwise there.
It solves problems I don’t have. So why bother?
I’m at the point in my professional life now, that I have developed the social skills and interpersonal abilities that allow me to pass extremely well in the NT world. I don’t have to even care about interactions to succeed at them. I can feign interest (even enthusiasm!!!!) over things that I couldn’t care less about, and would never miss if they weren’t there. It’s all just part of the role I play — like a soap opera role — to get by in the world.
And at the end of each day / week, I can retreat to my own space and live my inner life to my heart’s content.
The bills get paid. I have a daily structure that keeps me on track. I have a position that other people are impressed by, in an industry that pays well. The last thing I’m interested in, is ambition to “take it to the next level”.
What I really want is my freedom — and within this structure, I have exactly that. I have money to eat and pay my bills. I have a position at a company that “places” me in a social context both within and without the corporation. I have flexibility, and I have the internet. I have my books that I can buy at very, very low cost from abebooks.com with the money I make. I can buy my partner flowers. We can go out to eat, now and then. We can take vacations… sometimes even beyond a few hours’ drive of our home. And all the while, I can observe my life and make sense of it, creating art from words and lines and shapes and colors.
I can enjoy myself. And I can do this all freely. Because my passions are not tied to a profession that’s at the mercy of a larger industry and invisible, impersonal forces that don’t care whether I live or die. I can research and write books to my heart’s content, and publish them myself, without even so much as a fleeting care about being rejected or editors who try to mess with my words and meaning. I can draw and mix colors and designs without concern about critical approval. Who cares, if people like my stuff or not? I love it. And that’s all that matters. I can go for long walks in the woods, reading my work emails on my smartphone and dictating the responses, so I’m “still in the loop” (God help me, with that expression – I use it, but when I think about it, I get dizzy, feeling like I’m being spun around in a loop).
I can dive deep into my special interests to my heart’s content. And every now and then, I’ll find someone who shares my interests, and then we can geek out!! I can spend my early morning hours exercising, then follow that with some reading and writing and researching and fiddling around with ideas… all in the privacy of my own quiet study, surrounded by my collections of glee-inducing objects, with a delicious cool breeze wafting through the windows… listening to music I love, without interruption… stimming whenever I like without fear of being observed by someone who doesn’t get it… I can then go to a job surrounded by people who (mostly) respect me for what I do, and have a use for my abilities and are entertained by my exuberance over “the little things”… and I can do things I like to do with my partner, like go watch sunset on a nearby ridge after we’ve had a tasty dinner of stewed chicken and vegetables, and then watch a movie we both love… and at the end of it all, I can sleep in my own bed with the room at just the temperature I need.
All of this freedom to explore and experience my own passions is entirely without commercial pressure. I can pursue my love of medieval history, women mystics, science and philosophy and assorted esoterica, without constant fear about displeasing someone, and ending up not being able to do what I love, the way I love, to my own heart’s content.
Yeah, I have a pretty swell life, actually. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff I could do without… work can be extremely challenging, confusing, and a constant sensory insult. I’m nowhere near financially secure. And I have intermittent struggles with certain physical ailments, not to mention a lot of social confusion. But I have this core, this base, this foundation of self-sufficiency and self-determination that precious few people have.
And I have Aspergers to thank for that. Autism. Neurodivergence. I’m well and truly set, in the areas I care most about. Thanks to being on a spectrum that never fails to keep things interesting.