Aspie in the Workplace: Fulfilling Expectations

I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of tips I’ve picked up to make working in the office easier or more feasible, and it’s been hard–it’s so easy to look back and see basically an endless string of failures, even though I logically know that if I’ve been working in an office continuously for the last year and a half (and more sporadically before that), I’ve got to have managed something correctly.

But it occurred to me today that there’s one thing that’s absolutely essential, on which everything else builds, and so it’s an absolutely perfect start to this whole series. It’s less of a tip and more of an underlying philosophy, but hey, you gotta start somewhere:

You are expected to function on a level with your coworkers, and it doesn’t do anyone a damn bit of good to pretend this isn’t the case.

Which would all be really good and straightforward if “perform” meant “fulfill the productive aspects of the job competently.” But it doesn’t. There’s this whole package, largely not only undefined but undefinable, that comes as a base expectation of almost any office job… and woe betide us unfortunates who can’t figure it out. Seriously: The person who completes their work accurately and ahead of schedule, but never manages to look anyone in the face or respond to a friendly “hello!” or chip in to the office charitable causes or food days… he’ll be viewed with suspicion and never quite accepted. And that feeling like they’re “not really part of the team” will be considered when it comes time to renew the contract.

But before you throw in the towel and give up on the concept of ever having office employment, I want to tell you that there’s good news. In fact, there’s kind of a lot of it.

First? It’s not just you that’s not living up to the unstated expectations. Let’s look at a few case studies for examples.

You know your gregarious coworker? She’s always got a kind word for everyone and can make you feel warm from your head to your toes with just a smile… but she’s consistently ten minutes late and can’t manage to sit down at her computer before she’s spent twenty minutes saying hello to everyone in the building. Is she fulfilling all of the base expectations?

How about that one, over there? He’s a great guy, always willing to go the extra mile, never takes a sick day. But… every day, he lets himself get buried under a pile of “just this one little thing” coming into him by phone and email and never gets around to his core work. Is he fulfilling base expectations?

Meanwhile, there’s that girl. She does everything she’s asked, promptly and without attitude–but a third of it needs to be done over again because it’s wrong. I don’t think we need to mention that she’s not quite fulfilling everything her bosses would want of her.

So, long story short, there’s a lot to this pile of expectations. And the more things you’re good at? The more forgiveness you can stash up for the things that are just beyond your capacity.

Second: The stuff you’re not good at? You can cheat. You may not know how to hold your end of the office cooler small talk, and not know what’s expected when someone comes to your desk wanting to chat about something entirely unrelated to work. But there are a couple of tips that you can use for those sorts of interactions that allow you to basically fake it until you make it. Hopefully, I can go more into depth with this sort of thing later, but… well. Let’s take one of my weaknesses. I tend to obliviously go on at length on subjects that nobody gives a damn about–or worse, are actually repulsed by. (Yeah… the dreaded Office TMI.) So, what are some interpersonal tricks I’ve picked up to “cheat” my way around this issue? One, don’t start any conversations. (You can branch out into “Only start conversations when you’re very sure the other person is interested” once you’re more confident–stopping by to ask someone how their daughter’s minor dental surgery went is likely acceptable.) Two, be reactive instead of active; express interest, nod, and ask questions like “And what happened then?”–but shy away from adding anything to a conversation unless specifically prompted. And finally, keep an internal list of topics to shy away from, even if someone else is discussing them already. Even if you have to leave the room in order to keep your mouth shut, don’t discuss politics, don’t discuss sexx, and don’t discuss anything negative about anybody.

There! I still don’t know anything about how to talk to a person, and in fact these rules aren’t going to make me seem more like a regular person to anybody. But I’ll avoid a black mark. And honestly, that’s frequently as good as any of us can ask for, and every bit as good as we need to be.

(Meanwhile… let’s take a coworker I had once. He never talked to anyone unless prompted, and when you did get him to talk, he only complained. I’m absolutely sure this was because he was deeply unhappy. But in his case, the advice might be: Smile when someone greets you, respond to questions with rehearsed non-specific answers, and under no circumstances use curse words. They wouldn’t have made him happier, but he might not have been fired before leaving training.)

Finally, and almost most importantly, Surpluses in one area can make up for deficiencies in another–though never at a 1:1 ratio. Say you’re interpersonally lacking and have trouble switching between tasks. You’ve done all you can to cheat competency at these things and you still don’t think you’re up to snuff.

That’s okay. Or it can be. Because these are only two of the aspects you’re being graded on. And let me tell them? Some of them are really easy to game in your favor.

For instance? Every day, show up fifteen minutes early to your shift. (Don’t charge your employer for this time. I don’t give a damn what the law says. (Obviously, if your boss insists, or doesn’t want you coming in early, that overrides this suggestion.)) Come back early from break’s and lunches.Volunteer for overtime whenever asked.

Or maybe something simpler, softer. You can make the coffee in the mornings, make sure that the general-use office supplies are stocked. Buy the office’s affection by bringing doughnuts every other Friday.

Even something as simple as accepting any task that’s handed to you without complaining (asking questions if you’re not sure how) can do wonders. A lot of office staff will get snippy about, for instance, emptying trash cans or sanding icy sidewalks. Or, frankly, anything that they don’t consider part of “their job.” You’re already miles ahead of these folks if you do it with a smile.

 

In summary… you’re going to have to live with the fact that there are a lot of things expected of you that you’re just not going to be able to fulfill, or at least not fulfill very well. But it’s okay, because a) nobody else is fulfilling all of the obligations, either, b) you can figure out ways to cheat at “being good enough” at some of your deficient areas, and c) you can make up for deficiencies with strengths, albeit at a discount.

(And if your response to all of this is “But it’s not fair that they’d judge me on something I can’t help, you’re in the wrong blog. I’m not here to make things fair, I’m here to help you succeed in spite of it.)

So! Get to work, my friends. And let me know if you have any questions or suggestions of your own.

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Scribble

One of my favorite games with my sisters growing up was called Scribble. Most of the kids I’ve played it with–older than my young one, but still–have enjoyed it, too. So I figured I’d share, because I don’t know if it’s widespread or something my older sister invented.

What you need is a piece of paper and a drawing implement, doesn’t matter what kind. (As a personal preference, probably not pencil; the paper will get handed around enough that there’s a lot of potential for smudging.) And at least two players.

The first person makes a mark on the paper, any mark they want to, and hand it to the next person. This person will incorporate the scribble into a full drawing. Say, maybe a wavy line becomes a fish in the ocean, or a tight little scribble becomes a raincloud. (When my sisters and I played, a zig-zag line usually became Bart Simpson–my older sister got frustrated with that, but it amused my younger sister and me endlessly.)

Then that person makes a new scribble and passes the paper along.

It doesn’t sound like it would be very engaging, but I’ve managed to keep children occupied for a long time with that one. And… well, me, too. I still like to play it.

(I look forward to when my daughter is old enough to understand the concepts–we’ve graduated from “she wants to immediately scribble all over whatever I’m drawing” to “she wants to steal my pen and see if that lets her make the same thing I did,” but we’re still a little bit distant from where we need to be for Scribble.)

So, yes! Go! Enjoy! Play it with adults! Make up variants! (Maybe everyone has a different colored pen/crayon so you can track who did what after the fact? Maybe all the drawings have to fit a theme?)

And heck, take a picture of the paper once it’s done and send it to me. I’d be thrilled to see what you do with it.

Friendsgiving

It occurs to me that I filled Thanksgiving with angry-rar-rar with a post from a month or so ago… which, y’know, is a little tacky, particularly because… I’m feeling great.

Seriously. My husband and I are both in the realm of “I don’t even know how to narrow down what I’m thankful for.” We’re becoming better people at an amazing rate (that is, those bad habits and tendencies we’ve always struggled with are… actually getting better), we’ve got an amazing amount we each never thought would be in our futures (marriage, children, close-knit friendships of mutual aid and companionability, and certain core competencies for which we are in demand)… life is good, and it only looks like it’s getting better.

Today was a good example of that.

Okay, it wasn’t all great shakes–the baby tried to swallow a quarter, which doesn’t sound like it should be as frightening as it was but I swear the ten seconds it took for Bill to get it out of her throat/airway were the longest ten seconds of my life. Anyway. She lived. And kept trying to fall off of everything. But…

Well. Our friends, who are aid workers for the disabled, both had worked massive overtime on Thanksgiving ($$$), and thus threw their Thanksgiving bash tonight. Invited us. Invited another friend we haven’t seen in too long. Great food. (Seriously, the rule has always been that if Mat invites you for dinner, the answer is yes.) And…

And it didn’t even stand out as that outstandingly awesome, because life has been so outstandingly awesome lately.

So. Yeah. I just wanted to give a… life is good, and I think that deserves some recording.

The Contract

At its core, a contract is made up of three essential elements: Offer, acceptance, and consideration. And the time it takes to read that sentence is about how long it stays that simple. But it’s a pretty good way to think about it, anyway. Basically, it implies three things: A specific proposal was made, the other person agreed to that exact proposal, and both parties benefited from it. If any of these things aren’t present, you don’t have a contract. (Yes, if I agree to give you a thousand dollars, but I don’t get anything in return for it, that’s not a contract—and it can’t be enforced as such. The more you know!)

(Is this a good place to put in that I only know anything about American law, I only studied paralegal-level at a community college, and am not qualified to give legal advice? Cool. I should put an overall disclaimer somewhere on the site, I swear.)

So, anyway. You don’t have those elements, you don’t have a contract. The inverse isn’t true: There are all sorts of ways that you can fail to have a contract despite having offer/acceptance/consideration. You can’t contract for illegal goods and services. An adjudicated incompetent can’t be bound by contract. Et cetera.

I love contracts. I love them as a concept, I love them in reality. At heart, they’re a way of making sure everybody’s on the same page, and that certain things can be expected going forward. You can’t build… well, much of anything without predictability, and a contract is a pretty good way of generating a little more of that.

But another thing comes to mind.

There’s a saying my husband has—“If you can’t trust a man’s handshake, then you can’t trust his signed contract any better.” It’s one thing to say that a contract is enforceable, and it’s entirely another to actually enforce it. Don’t believe me? Try recovering back rent from a deadbeat tenant. Oh. You’ve got a court order. Whoop-de-doo. They might have trouble buying a house now.

So the beauty of a contract isn’t enforcement, not really. The threat of enforcement is really just a cherry that, frankly, only works against the honorable anyway. No, what I really like about contracts is the mirrored nature of them—that it gets everything right there on the table, expectation and obligation, and how we want this relationship going forward for the next however long. All there in black-and-white, plain to see. Because there is no contract without agreement to the same terms.

Anyway, that ended up dragging a little and not going anywhere. So I’m just going to cap this off with an overview of the Statute of Frauds, because it’s a neat piece of trivia and has a cool acronym: MY LEGS.

The Statute of Frauds is the concept that certain contracts have to be in writing to be enforceable. There’s a lot of flack over whether it should exist or not, particularly with non-writing forms of permanent information storage now—but it does, and I learned about it. Please note that there are, again, enough exceptions and clarifications for all of these to make Swiss cheese, but in general, the following types of contracts must be in writing to be enforceable:

M – Contracts in contemplation of Marriage.
Y – Contracts taking over a Year.
L – Contracts for an interest in Land.
E – Contracts where an Executor takes personal responsibility for the decedent’s debts.
G – Contracts for the sale of Goods over five hundred dollars.
S – Contracts taking over responsibility for another person’s debt (Surety).

So! Yes. Statute of frauds. My legs!

Respite

I wrote this a while ago and didn’t post it because I wanted to post less about the book, ’cause 1) it’s not interesting to talk about and 2) it’s not available yet even as a beta read. (Hoping to get most of the editing I need done pretty quickly now that I have a computer and a real keyboard.) But then I realized it wasn’t really about the book. So… here it is. Call it about a month old.

So, general status: Things have settled at new job, I’m much more comfortable, and even have enough spare brainspace for creative work. Yay! But I still don’t have a computer (and I don’t have a work-issued laptop, either, like at my old assignment–boo), so I’m hand-writing the sequel to my last one in fits and starts because damn that’s a hard way to write things (because I can’t really edit the first book until… well, I type the rest of the hand written parts into the computer.) (Note from the future: That part’s done, at least!)

But anyway, something’s been sticking in my head, and it’s probably something completely unimportant, but I’ll lay it out to you in the hopes that it makes both my issue and what the solution is (or if it’s needed at all) more clear.

In my hero’s backstory–which I have him relate to another character while drinking, and stressing about the concept of whether he can actually ever be capable of raising a family–involves what I suspect is a fairly obscure point of New York State’s Early Intervention program called Respite. Which basically means you can call the state and say that you just need a few days to get yourself back together, could you take the kid for that time?

(Side note: It’s a trap. Do not do not DO NOT use it if you actually want them to return the child(ren).)

So the keystone of my hero’s backstory is that, at about twelve, his parents invoked this program and just… never returned ,functionally vanishing off the face of the earth and abandoning him.

And all of this felt pretty true–that’s one of the really cool things about the book, that stuff just popped out of the ether at me and fit in like frickin’ puzzle pieces and it felt so real while I was inside of it. But… there’s a particular catch about this particular backstory that has been giving me pause about how to approach it basically since I first wrote it.

As a program, Respite is only available if your child is disabled.

Now, I have no problem at all believing Michael has a diagnosis or three. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the mental health system, my family has spent a lot of time in the mental health system–and when you’re Not Quite Right (and Michael is notably Not Quite Right), one of the inescapable parts (short of foregoing basically any external aid at all) is the endless string of contradictory, at times palpably arbitrary diagnoses. (And bipolar is going to be one of them, basically regardless of why you came in.) Diagnosis? I’ll bet he has five.

But… but. The part that’s messing with me a little is… should I actually assign him a real one, and try to match his behavior to his symptoms?

Pro: Perception of consistency, an angle to appeal to people (representation woo), and the fact is that usually diagnoses exist because people act more-or-less in that way.

Con: Given my own experiences, and the fact that the conga-line of incredibly stupid labels is totally a thing, the fact is that I don’t trust any of the DSMs that we have to accurately describe basically any human behavior.

But back to in favor… if I don’t give him a specific diagnosis, at least in my head, does that mean I’m being disrespectful of the disabled by having him diagnosed with things that I don’t actually intend for him to have?

Yeah, I think my final answer is screw it.

I mean, particularly since the whole book is about square pegs who’ve been doing really stupid things in order to try to carve themselves a square hole, and having their need of the same be continually ignored or used against them… it seems like the well-ordered holes of mental illness or disability is afine other place to have themselves and their needs just completely and totally insufficient or incorreclty address.

(Not that this would match my own experiences or anything like that. Heavens no.)

A List of Subjects

During my mostly-absence, one of the things I realized is that I really suck at off-the-cuff blogging.

I’d throw something up occasionally, but it’s all this… meandering blather about whatever happened to be going on, expressed in the most deadpan way possible. Fact: Should have known this. It’s how I’ve always done most of my interactions. I kind of have to intentionally try to do otherwise.

So. Without someone else to bounce off of–taking interest in whatever they’re talking about and kind of deflecting away from yourself and your boring-ass topics–I’m going to have to make a few shortcuts. In short, evergreen topics that I can dig into when I don’t know what to dig into.

And… hey, that sounds like a post all its own, right? Maybe it can help you make your own blog list.

Overall, it seems like there’s four easy broad categories: Personal, Professional, Political and Fun.

Of these, personal is most likely to fall off the edge into the boring train. But! I love reading personal-style blogs! (Assumably, I’m reading ones from the folks who put a lot of work into being good at it.) So I know it isn’t boring off the cuff, and maybe I can use that to come up with good angles, like…

  • History with the foster care system, and knock-on impacts later in life. This one’s a little dangerous, since it requires a fair amount of soul bearing, saying unkind things about others, and honestly, I was too young to remember most of my time in the system. But nonetheless, given that my whole family was obviously involved, there’s a lot of impact and material to go through… and, well, I figure it’s something not everybody has done.
  • Cute baby stories and pictures. Yeah, lots of people have babies. But I basically can’t get enough of kid stories and pictures (particularly from homeschooling sites), and figure that I’m not the only one. Side note is that the common advice is not to put pictures of your kids online, but… on the other hand, I really adore blogs that ignore that advice.
  • Sexy stories, particularly the ones that involve my more fringe interests. The danger zone here is right up front, and different from the other categories: There’s pretty much no emotional risk in this one. (And I do like creeping around on blogs with massive amounts of oversharing of this type.) But on the other hand, it’s not widely appropriate, likely to alienate folks who might like the other aspects, and attract trolls.

Then there’s  professional. This one comes with a built-in audience–other people in the field–and some structure to go along with it. If I wind up doing any regular features, they’re likely to be in this category. On the other hand, they obviously require more time, given that I’m not just pulling out of my brain. (For the record, my professions have been paralegal, low-level back-end office data entry person, waitress.) So, likely topics are…

  • Aspie in the Workplace: Successes, failures, and general tips I’ve learned trying to survive in an office (and a restaurant and a call center and…) This one’s pretty straightforward, but will unavoidably make me look like a pretty awful worker. (And, ugh, using my real name, even if it isn’t the one I currently use.)
  • Law geekery. (I mean, heck, it’s in my blog title and everything.) That was, as you can imagine, a big part of the initial concept. Downside? I really don’t have the time I once did to go through court decisions and stuff, and the law library is closed whenever I’m out of work. Basically, I don’t have the chops or topical knowledge I used to. (That said, that wouldn’t matter at all for the concept I had, to illustrate basic legal terms with a single-panel comic once a week. But that’s time-consuming, too. Particularly with the daughter wanting to draw all over anything I start drawing.)
  • I… may know an unlicensed electrician/plumber and shade tree mechanic, who might get up to interesting exploits helping out in a handyman fashion in the local immigrant community. But if I did, I’m not sure it would be even remotely a good idea to blog about things so flagrantly illegal. Even if I’m sure he’d have interesting stories. I mean, hell, I’m sure there’s a lot of interesting stories about growing weed, but you’d have to be dumb to blog about them.

Political… I’ve got a lot of political opinions. But I have trouble discussing them even with friends. I had a political comic for a while, and I was really excited about it–but it dragged me down. I don’t think I want to do much political blogging.

Fun includes art, entertainment, fandom, random videos on the internet, et cetera. My old habit of including a sketch in every post falls way under this. (I don’t know if my situation is ever going to allow for that as well as it used to again.) Really, this sort of thing is the life-blood of the internet. Downside? I’m not actually that interested in being the hub of shareable things; it doesn’t seem like it’d suit my strengths, and content curation seems like it’d take a lot more time than first glance might indicate. But hey. I do need to share more art. Or make fun things with my husband’s tools. (He’s got a plasma cutter. And a sand blaster. And a welder. And a mill and a lathe. I’m not very good with any of them yet, but I am rather enamored with the idea of making metal art.)

So… yeah. That’s my content list. Let’s see if it helps me make better content!

I’ve got it!

I’m writing this post from my new-to-me refurbished desktop, which I’ve tentatively named Mina.

So, y’know. I can hopefully do writing and editing and blog posts and stuff for real now.

Not now, though. The baby was very, very cute tonight… which has me feeling exhausted.

Plus I wanna see how Minecraft plays on this. 😀