It’s only in hindsight, with my Asperger’s diagnosis, that I finally understand a feeling I’ve had since childhood, about how I’d always believed I’d always make a better 2nd-in-command, an XO, etc, than the out-front leader. It was always just an abstract idea at first, something I gleaned from (don’t laugh) watching the American adaptation of the Japanese anime Gatchaman known to American kids of the 1970s as Battle of the Planets. I remember thinking 2nd-in-command Jason to be more like me, more worthy of emulation than the ostensible team leader, Mark. Jason was drawn in darker colors, while Mark’s uniform was mostly white.
It never really occurred to me until today to realize this inner sense of myself from childhood is probably tied to my having an Autism spectrum disorder. I remember confessing this to my therapist once, pre-DX but post divorce,and she thought I was just lacking self-esteem and needed to step up and show more ambition. She was a good therapist but alas did not make the connection to Asperger’s syndrome. When I informed her years later, she thanked me for contacting her and said that she had considered it but ruled it out at the time. I guess my Asperger’s is mild enough that I can sometimes *pass* for NT, at least for limited durations.
It’s not as though I’ve never held leadership roles….I was promoted to Cadet Master Chief Petty Officer my junior year of High School, then elevated to Drill Team Commander my senior year. I wasn’t the best Drill Team commander, but I was adequate, and commanded the respect of my subordinates. I helped shape the lives of the future Cadet CO and future Drill Team commander of that Freshman class my senior year. I mostly “led by example”.
My senior year of college, I won the lead role in the German language drama “Herr Peter Squentz” by Andreas Gryphius. I played the title character, a comically absent minded professor. (gee, typecasting much, eh?); I not only memorized my own lines, I memorized the whole play and was an ace at being able to talk the other actors back to the script if they forgot their lines or jumped ahead, or was able to go off script and ask ad lib but completely contextual questions to quietly prompt other actors who got stuck or otherwise blew their lines. It was fun, and I managed it all auf deutsch. Strangely enough, all my stage acting experience has been performing in languages other than my native English. While studying abroad in Germany, I had small speaking parts in a few Russian plays.
I was never any good at classroom management my one failed year as a High School German teacher. I think teaching is one of the most difficult career options for an Aspie and not one I would recommend at all unless one were going into it as a Special Education teacher with a special emphasis on helping ASD kids. My abortive foray into Secondary Education was prompted by my being declared a “terminal masters” in my German Studies graduate program and barred from moving on to the PhD in that field of study at Rice U. Although I successfully completed and defended my MA thesis, it was an uphill struggle. I finished in 3 rather than the expected 2 years and lost my fully funded Rice Fellowship in the process. I also had strong personality clashes with nearly all of the German faculty at the time; It seemed we fairly well exasperated each other for quite some time, which again, only in hindsight do I understand was a by-product of my as yet undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome.
I later worked for a division of the international insurance company AIG, Inc., specifically based out of their Houston offices, servicing travel insurance policyholders worldwide. My German skills were highly valuable to them for voice interpretation and document translation. Sure, I earned a good deal less than I was making as a teacher, but I absolutely loved that job. I never got a promotion into management, but I was looked to informally as a floor leader based on my solid track record and experience. Once again, I mainly led by example. I was good at fixing other people’s mistakes. I dotted every “i”, crossed every “t”. I was meticulous with all my paperwork, my casework was solid and trustworthy. I was very good at putting together evacuation time tables, estimating travel time, estimating necessary escort “down time”, etc; I even got pretty good at estimating costs in my head. I probably could’ve done consulting work to advise people if their travel policy had adequate coverage or not based on their age and travel destination.
Sadly, I listened to my mother, who kept making disapproving noises about that job, saying it was “beneath me”, that I was “too smart” to be working there for such low pay, etc. I partly went to library school to make her shut the hell up about my choice of career. She was a retired school librarian, and I figured if I could become a successful librarian in my own right she would finally have to shut up about the size of my paycheck, doing work befitting my educational attainment, etc. It took awhile, too, for me to take ownership of the idea of pursuing librarianship as a career for myself.
I took the leap and did it, earning my MLS from the University of North Texas in 2004. Along the way I got married, got divorced, moved back home with my parents and finished my degree online, but I am grateful for the few limited semesters I got to spend on the UNT campus. Next to working at AIG, I’ve always felt most at home in an Academic setting.
Alas, the library profession has continued to change and evolve, and increasingly the MLS is treated like a defacto MBA. Any more, it seems as if the new librarian must be a Manager first, a librarian second. Traditional librarian tasks have been de-professionalized and passed on to less credentialed staff; Thus, the library skills take a back seat to managerial skills for the MLS-holding professional…which spells trouble for the potential Aspie librarian; Especially an awkward male librarian like myself, moving into a traditionally mostly NT female workplace. In hindsight, that this choice would lead to career disaster and failure seems obvious, but without a solid diagnosis in hand, I was naively oblivious to the situation at the time.
I essentially walked away from a job (AIG, Inc.) where I was extremely competent, very happy and very emotionally satisfied by my work (it felt good knowing I was making a positive difference in the lives of real people hundreds and thousand of miles away)…I walked away from that an into a virtual minefield of social pitfalls and catty office politics that is all too typical of contemporary librarianship.
Mine is thus a negative example of what NOT to do. If you have Asperger’s syndrome or other ASD condition and find a job that you both enjoy and feel competent in, cling to it for dear life and don’t let go. Don’t let anyone belittle you and tell you the job is “beneath” you or that you’re “too smart” for such a position.
At the end of the day, I found myself grossly under-employed in a Public rather than Academic Library setting, working as an underpaid Clerk, actually earning less than I made during my best years at AIG, Inc.; I only THIS year managed to pay off all my student debt, and that only after having to declare bankruptcy and by living with my parents, thus cutting my living expenses to the bare minimum and devoting a large chunk of my monthly income to paying down those student loan debts.
I don’t hate my job with the local Public library system, but I can’t seem to find any way to advance in it either, back into the Librarian I ranks. I find myself time and again passed over for promotion by younger, less-well educated people, fresher out of library school than me, without a 2nd Master’s. As jobs go, I could certainly do worse, and in this economy I’m grateful for being employed full time, with benefits, and with a modest state pension ahead of me. But it’s no where near as fun, stimulating, or gratifying as when I worked for AIG, Inc.
And before you ask why I don’t just return to AIG, Inc., you may remember from newspaper headlines that AIG, Inc. was one of the too-big-to-fail Wall Street companies bailed out by Uncle Sam. Part of the deal of that bailout was a hiring freeze that has been in place more or less ever since. Believe me, if I could go back I would, but I can’t.
Please learn from my mistakes, if nothing else.