Patreon members and YouTube channel members had access to this video on November 8. The video’s public release will be January 5, 2022.
Alternative Career Paths for NeuroDivergent People
Welcome everybody happy Wednesday.
This week’s video comes by request from one of my Patreon subscribers and their question is:
“I’m experiencing severe burnout, trying to find a way to change out of a career that doesn’t make me happy in the least. Working has become almost impossible. I’m in technology and feel the pressure to stay because it pays well, and the skills I have honed for many years are focused in this field. I love the idea of working for myself, but I don’t even know how to transition into that, when I’m so tired at the end of my workday. I also can’t just quit and move back to my parents. I don’t have that kind of support. I’m wondering if you could talk about that in future videos or blog posts: navigating careers as an Autistic adult, transitioning into a healthier work environment and starting in a new field. I know there are no easy or straightforward answers to these questions, but at this point, anything helps. Thank you so much. Once again, you’ve been monumental in myself, discovery and diagnostic process, and I could never thank you enough best Jessica.”
Jessica, this is a fantastic question. I hope this is helpful to you and anyone else in a similar position, because this I, think, is familiar for a lot of us.
If you would like to know my answer to Jessica’s spectacular question, please stay tuned.
I really love Jessica’s question. It is a hard question, and before I answer the question, I want to be really upfront and honest with all of you that I made a hard decision, when I opted to go out on my own, and working for myself has slashed my income dramatically, compared to working in-house, being employed full-time for someone else; but that was the route I felt I had to take, to change my life, so that my career would be less draining and physically taxing on me; but that’s a really, really hard choice to make.
I have done a lot of things, changed my lifestyle, minimized, living in a, a small, tiny home, not having as many expenses, and keeping my overhead, and my spending very, very low, and doing without a lot of things, and some comforts, that people just take for granted – like hot water. I have not had hot water in this bus for over a year, but I still think it’s been worth it.
We’ve, we’ve downsized and we’re still downsizing, and all of that is hard. So as we dive into the video and talk about that, I just want to say it’s, it’s, it’s not necessarily going to be easy, and it might come with, giving up some things that you’re used to having, to sacrifice something for something else.
It, it’s not always a have your cake and eat it too situation, unfortunately. So I just want to be really, really real and transparent with that. Before we dive in, that there may be some hard choices ahead, because that has certainly been the case in my life, personally.
I didn’t find out that I was NeuroDivergent until I was 29 years old, and we’ve got, potentially, one and eight, maybe more, people in the world who are considered NeuroDivergent, and many of us might not even know, as I didn’t know for almost 30 years.
I entered the workforce in my teens and I started in the family business and then I went to fast food retail, eventually making my way into marketing, and corporate, HR, operations, business consulting.
I’ve, I’ve worked in many different kinds of businesses, from small family business, to medium and large- huge organizations, as a leader in all of those different environments.
Most of my professional career was spent not knowing that I was NeuroDivergent, because the differences in the way our minds work are invisible differences, and because of that, I wasn’t properly accommodated in the workplaces I entered.
That’s why I started doing my work with organizations, helping them to change the way they recruit, wright policies, and onboard; so that someone who is NeuroDivergent can go through this process, whether they realize, or they even know that they are NeuroDivergent or not.
We shouldn’t have to be disclosing this information about ourselves in order to be treated fairly in a workplace. We should be treated fairly in the workplace regardless, but this is not where we are right now, unfortunately. Expecting us to disclose this information is doubly unfair to those of us who may not know or have this information about ourselves.
The truth is there are many NeuroDivergent People, who are discovering their differences in their forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond. We have this entire missing generation of NeuroDivergent People, who are my age, and especially the generation before me, that were not caught. It was missed. Diagnostic criterias were not well-defined, and NeuroDivergence was not well understood.
That has impacts on us. When you are a NeuroDivergent person, living in this world, filled with NeuroTypicals, and their NeuroTypical expectations, you know, you’re different, even if you don’t have words to describe what it is that makes you different.
I knew I was different. I felt myself struggling to do things that other people took for granted. And I didn’t understand why these “simple” and I put that in air quotes, because simple as a relative concept, depending on your brain, and your own individual profile of strengths and weaknesses. I didn’t know why these air quotes “simple things” were so hard for me.
I was struggling, really struggling, surviving, and not thriving, and I didn’t know any better yet, because survival had been my normal for my entire life; and I had no frame of reference for what thriving could even look like.
Reflecting back…. It’s been over five years now, I would say that my life at the time was spiraling out of control, and I needed to get a hold of everything.
Minimizing my life, simplifying my life, downsizing, and building a career that utilizes my strengths and my skills, and finding work that energizes and recharges me, instead of something that brings me down and drains me, and wears me down.
That’s a sign that I was poorly suited to the work I was doing. I didn’t realize I could do work that was better suited to me, and the impact that that would have on my life, and how much my life would improve, just by doing work that I was well suited for and that energized me.
Now that I have more control over my work and my life, declining to do work that drains me and takes it out of me, or that I’m poorly suited for, or am not equipped or have the skills to do.
Whereas, when I was employed by someone else, if my boss asks me to do something, even if I’m not well suited for the task, you generally have to do it. That’s not the case anymore, which has been really good for me, as an Autistic Person.
I wish employers were more flexible in this area because I, as someone who is working, can work more efficiently and much faster on tasks that I am well-suited for, and play to my skill set and my strength areas.
Whereas tasks that I am poorly suited for, and are my weaknesses, or potentially something I haven’t learned yet, and I need to learn, and is new to me, those things take up a lot more mental energy for me. They also take more time. So if you want your employees to be efficient, you want to put them in roles, and jobs, and tasks, that they are well suited for. It should be a basic thing that a lot of employers are just not understanding.
I cannot tell you what career path or a career you should choose, because this is going to vary greatly from Autistic Person to Autistic Person, or NeuroDivergent Person to NeuroDivergent Person, because our skills, and strengths, and weaknesses, and passions, and hobbies, and things that energize and drain us, vary greatly from person to person.
This is why I’m so bothered. When I see these, tech initiatives that are only looking to put Autistic People in tech roles, looking at software and data coding, and things like that; because that is not the kind of Autistic I am. That is not what I am suited for.
I know some Autistic People that would be great for that. I have some friends that are good at that, but that’s not me. I am a different set of skills, that often don’t get covered in these “autism hiring initiatives”, air quotes, and I could do an entire video on the problems with some of these initiatives, as they are currently set up, but let’s get back to this video first.
So it’s important to think about what you need individually, as a human, whether you’re NeuroDivergent or NeuroTypical.
For example, I have known for years now, since I was in my late teens, that I was going to be moving in a career path that doesn’t require as much physical activity, because I’ve got a back problem, and knee problems, and some other physical, chronic pain issues that I’ve had since high school.
I’ve been working since middle school. I started working in the family business when I was 11, and then I worked a full-time job when I was still in high school, as an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant; so I’ve been working a really long time, and even in high school, my back problems were apparent.
I was wearing a back brace, when I was like 17 and 18. I had an elevator pass to ride the elevator at school, because I couldn’t go up and down the stairs all the time, because I have a bad knee.
I still have a bad knee, so I- I have to be careful with myself, and being on my feet for eight to 12 hours a day every day, is not something I can always do reliably, and if an employer needs that of me, it might not work.
So I knew, as a young person, I would need to work my way into some sort of an office job, or some kind of career path, where I would need to be able to sit down, in case my physical ability to perform some things is inconsistent.
In addition, since realizing I’m Autistic, I have I discovered that I need to work on my own as much as possible, with minimal supervision and micromanagement, because both one, my sensory needs, and two the misunderstandings of other people, having someone micromanaging me, when I need to manage myself; and in addition, the intense reaction I have to other people suddenly changing plans, or suddenly putting demands on me, or changing things up… that it’s just something that happens a lot when you work on a team, and with other people.
I would have this problem working with others, I was constantly having these, regular, internalized, meltdowns or shut downs anytime there was any work surprise, or last minute meeting that would come up.
It was a regular occurrence for me, when I was in corporate America, and I was just constantly recovering from, and hiding these meltdowns.
I know, because of that, reception work, or anything with a lot of interruptions and phone calls, where I constantly have to stop, or a schedule with events that are hard to predict. That that’s going to leave me periodically stressed. I know that’s not something that’s good for me.
I need to have a job that when work is over, I really can unplug and shut down, if I need to, because I have a very obsessive mind and I’m not going to be able to rest, if I have to be on all of the time. That’s another thing for me.
I also can’t work in a busy open office or be around too much sensory input day to day, or my work performance is going to be low, my stress is going to be high, I may even have my seizures return.
I’m over two years seizure-free now, which is really exciting, but that’s because I’m taking good care of myself.
Really take an inventory of what it is you’d love to do, and what it is that is just killing you in the workplace, and then look at that and compare what potential job opportunities are out there that match a bit better to your skills.
There may be things you haven’t thought about, or maybe you can stay in the workplace you’re in, if certain changes are made. You may need to try and talk to your employer to see if they’d be willing to make changes for you, they might, but they might not. You also will never know if you don’t ask.
If you do decide that going out on your own, and journeying into self-employment is for you. I will say that, something I strongly recommend is that you diversify your income sources, and don’t put all of your air quote “eggs in one basket” so to speak.
Think about this: if, if one stream of revenue you have fails, are you going to at least be able to eat? Are you going to be able to survive and have the minimum? Can you at least support yourself enough not to starve if you were to lose your job tomorrow? Even those of you who are currently employed and have an employer supporting you?
If there’s one thing that losing my full-time job, at a company I loved, and I still to this day believe in, during that global pandemic, has taught me, is not to put all your faith in one idea.
If you’re like me, and you have many skills that are hard to make a living off of, like certain types of art, media creation, acting, music, writing, et cetera, you might want to spread some of these things out.
So for example, with me, as an artist, I started a store on Zazzle, and it’s a free print on demand service.
It lets me sell my art on t-shirts, stickers, mugs, and other little things like that. I like print-on-demand stores as an artist, because they don’t ask anything of the artists upfront, and they handle payments, and shipping, and all of the customer service for me.
I think the biggest con of print on demand is that the artist’s fees is a very small percentage of the sale, so most of that money does go to Zazzle, or Red Bubble, or some of these other things.
Uh, but also,because we live in an RV, I don’t have a lot of room to have packaging materials and things here, especially to buy a bunch of items that may, or may not even sell, as someone who is just getting started, that’s really hard. Being able to use print on demand, has been a good thing for me.
Also diversifying… I’m a writer. I write a few monthly blog articles for a few different sources, and I get a little bit of a fee to do that.
I use that writing skill to design educational trainings around different issues in the workplace, on organizational culture, because that is my background, before I lost my job. I am also currently working on writing a couple of books, that I’m going to try and self publish. I also have done occasional voice acting things here and there, but none of these things, on their own, are enough to support me.
I have all of these little bitty revenue streams now, where it would hurt if I lose one, but I would still be able to eat at least. I can at least put some food in my tummy.
That’s the other thing I would say is, even if you are working for someone else, because you never know when a pandemic could cause you to, to be laid off, it’s good to have other revenue options out there.
Etsy, selling your art, or creating music, and selling your music. Whatever it is that you do, even if it won’t support you fully, you’re doing something you love, and putting that out there. It can be just enough to give you a cushion to where, like when I lost my job, a little over a year ago now, it was a little scary. It was okay, though, because there was something.
I am really, really, lucky that I had planted the seeds for these things, before I lost my job. While I still had full-time employment I would do art after work here and there, in the Zazzle store and design things; or I would work on a writing piece; but I could only do a limited amount, when I still have a full-time job.
When I lost my job, and there were no new jobs out there, all of the sudden, I was forced to put a lot more time and effort and energy into this.
Honestly, if I hadn’t been laid off, I probably wouldn’t have jumped and made the change on my own; because I was so fiercely loyal to the team and the security that having a steady income gives; because, goodness, if you’ve not had a study income and, making, making enough to survive, and having it be steady, that’s really nice. That’s a luxury that too many of us don’t have, and it would, it would have been hard for me to let that go.
Uh, but I I’m glad, I’m glad I was pushed out of the nest, like little bird by by COVID, because it forced me into a situation that is uncomfortable, in a different way.
Looking back, I think has been really good for me and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Those are my thoughts and I hope this is helpful in answering this question for anyone else who finds themselves wanting to potentially change career paths: start planting seeds now, while you have a steady job, and start making steps to see what you need to do to move into a direction, that you feel is more sustainable, once you realize you’re in a situation that is not sustainable.
You never know when the rug may be pulled out from under you and you may have no choice.
Thank you all for hanging out with me this week. I put out new videos each and every Wednesday.
If you found this helpful, please do subscribe, so you don’t miss the next video, and hit that like button and let me know that this was helpful… because this was a really long video. Now I’ve got to go transcribe it and that’s going to take several hours, because this is longer than most of my videos and transcription.
You…. I got to go do the thing. I will see you all next week. I got to go transcribe this monster of a video.
Bll- Byeee – Byeee – wish me luck.
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With gratitude, – Lyric