To Tell Or Not To Tell – That’s the Secret to Equality …
……….. Isn’t It?*
Game Player, Strategist or Defender …
Last time l held down a job in corporate society was in 1995 – which was an NVQ Retail Trainer, based in Peterborough. It was a 30 hour part time position, with the specification of educating school leavers in the finer arts of ‘The Pitfalls, Perils and Pleasures of Retail’. I had designed my own training module for the coursework. Back then, that was a speciality of mine – Retail and Training. I had held down various posts during the many years l had been involved in retail management, and before l was headhunted to that post, l was a flagship manager of a very large store in Peterborough in Cambridgeshire.
In addition to being the general manager of that building, l had talents galore in many fields, so as a ‘people trainer’ it appealed to me.
The hours were ‘just right’ as well, 30 hours was a good portion of the week to work leaving me with an excellent portion of the week to myself. It allowed to me to carry out something l had been busy with for about 18 months anyway and that was creating and building up a business from home.
I was ‘hunted out’ by recruiters for the NVQ post because l displayed characteristics that the employers wanted from their trainers. Back then, mid 90’s although quite a cry from the revolutionary retail years of the 80’s, employers still sought out ‘unique qualities’ in their employees. Being Different if you wish was seen as a rare commodity amongst the work forces – so being quirky, abstract, random, ‘able to not just think out of the box, but right out of the packaging’ and unusual in your approach was rewarded very well financially.
I was already receiving a good wage from the company l ran the store for, but l was tiring of working all the hours under the sun for someone else and although reaping a good remuneration packet, l wanted more – not just money, l was comfortable there – no, l wanted challenge, l wanted to feel like l was contributing something back into the community. Above everything, l think l wanted to feel worthy.
Now, a couple of things …
My career in retail that led me up the path to that point had been established because of the way l was as a human being, in so far as unique. I had already an established reputation for being ‘unusual’ in the way l not only just ticked the right boxes, but in the way l ticked them…
… I was viewed as an aspiring and enthusiastically motivated young 90’s manager that was going places. I thought differently to the rest of the crowd and THAT was not just OK, it was totally, totally more than OK, it was in fresh 90’s talk, awesome!
I was in retail fashion, and l wasn’t just different all those years ago, l was light years ahead, l was also very ‘trendy’ in so far as to how l dressed the part – l was a Dandy in the way l styled my very essence – so even long before l knew l was on the spectrum – l was already cutting my own pace in the random and abstract thinking departments and not just imaginative, but highly creative – as many would say l ‘was from a completely different cut of cloth!’
I felt the change personally if honest around the time l was at school, long before l started working full time. I was different then to my peers, l ran an ironing business whilst at school, and unlike many was used to having my own finances from a young age. I loved working, and back then, before l was to become a burned out husk in later years – l used to enjoy working with people, albeit many a time they were hard work, but l loved the diversity of different accents, cultures, races and thinking – it was a pleasure deriving so much quality from something so cosmopolitan!
But l knew from around my early teens, that l was very ‘differently abled’ to my friends, they didn’t think my way, but we still got along, l was just the quirky one! All the way through my career path, my unusualness is what was got me noticed as being 1] good at what l did because l was so hyper focused and fixated on success and almost constantly ‘proving’ myself and 2] my strange and sometimes inappropriate sense of humour and behaviour for being direct and not beating around the bush although at times, the ‘sensitive ones’ might take umbrage!
I know already – who knew!!? Certainly not me, not l the quirky one!
My bosses would put me into stores that were underperforming and told me to act like a bulldog in a China shop and all l did was just act my normal self and l achieved results. Although admittedly, many people didn’t like my black and white insensitive approach to getting answers – but again, my strangeness, my different style of thinking, and my totalled unique way of achieving results worked for me and not against me.
I started working in my first ever job when l was 14, it was my ironing business so a self-employed position in truth, my first corporate posting was when l was 13 and l started work part time during the school holidays in a Woollen Mill in their gift shop and it was great fun. By the time l was around 30, l was starting to slow down, l had become very much a cynical person, l had a mysterious form of depression to the point of being classed as mental health issues. Whilst still the ‘quirky one’, there was something else afoot, like an unknown presence. I found working with people on a regular day in day out basis pretty hard work, and the cost or toll it took on my health was damning.
By my early 30’s, l was working full time for myself and had turned my back on society, l no longer wished to work with them on a day to day basis as l found them so utterly frustrating. But my businesses and my acumen for business were paying off, and so l didn’t have to return to the hustle bustle world of people’s and corporate society!
I could be my own person, a quirky, tangent, abstract, random, unusual, wacky, radical, rebellious and revolutionary strangely different person and it didn’t matter. I no longer had to play the society game, or fine tune my gaming strategy, l could be as much as a game changer as l wanted to be, because l wasn’t tied down and restricted by society regulations and rulings! This is great, it’s awesome, l no longer had to worry about sometimes or occasionally offending or upsetting people. It didn’t matter if l was inappropriate, l was my own boss. I could DO what l wanted to do!
I could be me!!
And l was just that person, and still am that person – the slightly bonkers, crazy mad professor type of persona that l have become because l have no longer been regulated or radicalised by society corporate thinking! I became a game changer in so far as working for myself. I no longer had to worry about direct contact with people as l was no longer in direct contact with people.
In fact my mainstay business of working with animals saw me pull away not just from society in my early 30’s, but from people, l withdrew into my own protective bubble and focused, Hyperfocused and incredibly ridiculously hyper focused on my business! I became remarkably impassioned with what l did.
I lost sight of everything – YES EVERYTHING – in fact l was so focused – l lost my marriage. From my mid 30’s l also experienced the Mother lode of all breakdowns, l burnt out not long after leaving corporate business, and withdrew. I specialised my business, l became elitist and diversified into genre specific expertness and dedicated functionality with regards my chosen industry. I created, and established a quality reputation for my particular field of sales.
My quirkiness was very unusual, my dedication and motivation, my specialised enthusiasm was similar to that of the literal nutty professor – l had become so far removed from the normal defines of society that l became almost paralysed with fear with regards lots of people. I found l could only cope with small pockets of people, and had very little contact with real people. I hyper ventilated in large groups, became overly anxious if l went to supermarkets or towns. The medical profession, excused this behaviour with ‘It’s the depression; it’s all in his head!’
I finally was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when l was 44 and by that time l had been working in my business as a sole trader for 12 years. I would continue to work that particular business until 2010. When l folded that down due to the recession in the UK, l was living alone as a bachelor with my two dogs in a caravan until 2012 as a part time stable manager and kennel groom. We roll forwards to where l am now, l run an online tee shirt business which is little more than a hobby, due to online competition being fierce and also due to my specialising in niche topics which is what l do.
However, l find myself now in a somewhat terrifying position – l must secure a job within the corporate world of our society, something l have not actually done since 1995 – or in layman’s’ terms 22 years ago.
For all that time away, l have become a very different person to the person back then – the cynical 32 year old, who had just started to tire of the world, not knowing why? The person today, a 54 year old mature and wizened cynic, who is very rebellious in his nature and: Anti-people, Anti-society, Anti-bullshit and Anti-corporate society game player! But to boot, is 100% Aspie orientated, the Neuro aspectation to my personality and identity is so far removed, l am not even sure if l would recognise it if it came up and pushed me over!
Back then, even despite being quirky, and whilst still very much my own person – l was still a corporate player, sure l had a strategy – naked ambitious success driven pathway to climbing the ladder – if someone said jump, l would very specifically not just say how high, but question it in such a way that l was not being seen as a non-player but as a curious member of the team!
My fear is l cannot do that anymore, l left because l was burning out, l worked like a fucking robot for corporate businesses, they loved me doing what l did, and that was brain storming, being imaginative and creative and building new enterprises for employers, they loved the fact that l made more money for them, and yes damn it, it was the 80’s/90’s and Gordon was right ‘Greed was Good!
That person back then, was younger, and was eager to please and was just quirky, only quirky and that went in his favour! But now, that l am older and wiser, more cynical, less trusting of people – now my quirkiness isn’t just being abstract, it is a Defined ‘Difference, a very unique Difference, for now it is an Aspergian Difference, and part of the autism spectrum Differences!
And that’s very different.
In the 80’s and the 90’s, managers could be thinkers with freedom, these days, employers only say they want you to be different, but they don’t fucking mean it. They want you to be the same as everyone else, they DON’T want you thinking for yourself – they ONLY want you thinking for them. They want to under pay you and demean you – oh fucking fiddle sticks to the readers who say their employers’ care – you are few and far between my friends – the majority of the workforce are in positions they hate, with employers who ONLY care about themselves and not even that much about the so called customer/client engagement service packages.
In other words, do as you are told, do as we say and we will pay you. DO NOT think for yourselves that is not conducive to good business practice! We DON’T pay you to think for yourself! You belong to US!
Employers actually believe this bullshit, they believe that have the rights to your privacy, your social media and basically your mind. They don’t want you to be quirky, not whilst you are at work. Keep your head down and do what we pay you to do. We want, nay we demand that you be the same as everyone else! Be different in your own time, or unless we tell you to be different OR if it makes us more money – you can be different, but don’t be thinking this is the 80’s – because it aint!
I am a very honest person; of course that honesty can be detrimental to my health both professional and mental, because my literalness has got me into trouble before. Tell me the truth, some have said and so l have and through bitter experience l learned l would be wrong on at least 7/10 occasions of being told being honest is ok!
Being honest is not ok any more than being different is ok!
I am concerned that now seeking a new job, in the outside world that l may have to change who l am and more importantly and disastrously who l have become. For the years in corporate employment, l donned social masks whilst at work to cope, it took its toll, but l was younger and could cope more. Now l am older, and my coping mechanisms are less in tune with the modern external bubble thinking we see today.
I am now much much more the Aspergian than l was when l was first diagnosed in 2007, l am me, l reinvented who l was with my diagnosis into a more comfortable person, one l was happy to be. But, that person, l feel will not be as welcomed in the societal corporate world in which we are employed today.
Do l tell people l am on the spectrum, or do l hide it? Irrelevant if l can do the job, if l don a mask and pretend to be the same as everyone else l will potentially burn out, or upon arrival back home, have to retreat into my own ‘downtime’ world of recovery and may stay there for hours!
Someone once said to me, that they thought many of the autistic spectrum did not work up to their expectations in their careers, that equally many took jobs beneath them, beneath their pay grades and out of the way of being successful, and they couldn’t understand why. They couldn’t understand why so many on the spectrum worked for themselves. They said, we live in an equal opportunistic world – and l thought ”No we don’t!”
We still live in a world that despite awareness to disability and disorders, still insists on ostracising, stigmatising and raising taboo with so called controversial topics. In some quarters you only have to raise the issue of ‘breastfeeding in public or just as a general topic’ and already you could have a ton of complaints – never mind talking about sexual equality, or gender related issues or eating disorders – sure NOT all employers are bad employers, but many still are. Many are very antiquated with what they class as normalcy in society.
I digressed, but l haven’t really not that far from the title and sub titles …
To Tell Or Not To Tell – That’s the Secret to Equality Isn’t It?
Sadly l don’t know the answer, it’s a bit of a conundrum, a catch 22 literally – do l hide me if that is even possible with my behaviour or be open? Do l look to make a difference or be the difference or even just be different? Are my days of game changing over? I don’t know in truth, l don’t know … l guess time will tell.
Never mind whether the employers are up to the Autistic Challenge – more importantly – am l?
Rory Matier – The Tee Shirt Blogger
Ps: These posts are my views on my autism/Asperger’s, they may not be everyone else’s who is on the spectrum.