Having Asperger’s is bad enough, but trying to succeed in business, any business, much less have a career is tough, if not nearly impossible when you’re on the spectrum. Why? The overwhelming majority of those that are high-functioning autistic are unemployed, mainly because they don’t have the social skills to get through a job interview. It’s tough to succeed in business if you can’t get through the interview process.
Take it from a guy who was diagnosed with Asperger’s at age forty-six, because there was no such thing as autism or Asperger’s until I was well out of high school. I went from job to job and ended up stuck in a career that I felt forced into when I was younger and one that I knew was absolutely wrong for me, but, since I didn’t know I was on the spectrum I assumed I was bad at it because I was stupid, lazy or any number of the other things I was called by employers, co-workers and, yes, even customers.
What field was it that I hated, but couldn’t seem to get out of? Auto sales. What kind of business is that for someone who is afraid to talk to people, hates confrontational situations (and negotiating anything is a confrontational situation) and dreads the whole car sales game? The answer to that question is a horrible business, but as I said before, I felt forced into it when I was around twenty and for some reason I could never get out of that rut and find a different type of job.
So that became my career. One that I absolutely loathed and one that I was horrible at. Not many days went by when I wasn’t yelled at, degraded or otherwise put down for letting a customer go, for not getting a phone number or for some other reason related to my fear of dealing with people.
It was and still is, a horrible business to be in even if you’re not on the spectrum, but it’s sheer hell for someone with Asperger’s; even if you don’t know that you have it. I remember my first car job, selling Hyundai’s back when they were new and no one wanted them. The daily verbal beat downs did wonders for my self-esteem and for a lot of years I straight up hated myself and wondered what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t do what the other people did. Now I know.
I bounced from dealer to dealer, and from one shady boss to another. It got to the point where I went in to work and just waited for the reaming that I knew was coming at some point during the day and wondered if today was going to be one of the days where I was told I was stupid and lazy and get sent home early.
My point in telling you this is because you most likely know you’re on the spectrum and you probably know your limitations, triggers and what works for you and what doesn’t. The reason so many of us that are able to secure jobs have such self-esteem and depression issues is that we find ourselves in the wrong business.
When looking at job opportunities, we as Aspies need to look realistically at what we can and can’t do. Look at what we’re good at and what we enjoy doing and see if we can find a way to make a career out of that, From the time I was in high school I wanted to write, but my high school journalism teacher on more than one occasion told me to drop the class and take something else because I couldn’t write and never would.
It took me fifteen years before I got up the courage to take a junior college journalism class and then for the next several years I did some freelance work for bi-weekly newspapers and covered high school and junior college sports for three daily newspapers in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas. I still had to work my crappy car jobs, but at least I was doing some writing.
That eventually turned into a career that has spanned twenty years and counting and I’ve been published in over thirty different magazines and a dozen newspapers. One magazine published my work over fifty times. I’m not telling you this to brag, but to show you what can happen when you look at what you want to do in business and not do what you think you have to do.
Will there be exceptions due to the economy or your family situation? Absolutely, but do your best to get out of it as soon as possible. I can tell you that for the better part of fifteen years I was depressed like you can’t believe and my self-esteem was in the sewer. After I stopped selling cars and was writing full time, it still took years–more than ten–to get my self-esteem out of the sewer and into the toilet. It took another five to get it all the way up into the sink.
Just because I’m writing doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games. I still have to pitch articles to editors, basically sales, which I still to this day cringe at having to do. Even though I’ve turned my focus to strictly writing about Asperger’s and autism, I still have many moments of self-doubt as I attempt to make contacts that will help with getting these blog posts noticed, help sell the books I’m working on and landing me speaking engagements.
Ask anyone who is self-employed and they’ll tell you that yes, they’re most likely doing what they love, but there are still sales involved and dealing with people, which for some can be scary and for other’s terrifying. In my case, I don’t find it quite as bad now, because, as I said, I’m writing about autism and I’m proudly Asperger’s. Plus, having a service dog with you all the time tends to let people know there’s something going on.
I thought about this a lot over the weekend as I was getting my first book, An Asperger’s Guide To Dating Neurotypicals ready to go to print and I decided that there’s a real need for more discussion on this topic and how we as proud Aspies can best succeed in business and find careers that highlight our abilities, such as out of the box thinking. Look for An Asperger’s Guide To Business and Careers later this summer on Amazon(UK and Europe as well), Kindle, my website and (hopefully) many retailers across the US.
Don’t let society, our families, friends or others hold us back. We can succeed in business and we can find careers that are satisfying to us and ones where we can come home at night happy and proud of what we did that day. Don’t be like the younger me and hate your job, hate yourself and wonder what you’re even doing here. Go out and be a success in business!
I want to hear from you. What struggles or successes have you had with jobs? Share them in the comments section and let’s get a dialogue going.
Before I go, I belong to a closed Facebook group, Aspergers Life Support, run by some terrific people. There’s a link on the right or you can click on the words in red. If you have Aspergers or are a loving NT of an Aspie, I definitely suggest asking to join the group. They’re great people and have helped me on many occasions.