The Life Autistic: Working for a Boss on the Spectrum

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Having an autistic co-worker is one thing, and it’s probably a more common experience than you may think.

But what if it’s your boss?

I spent years of my Apple career in management. People management. Actual, living human people.

Not only that, but I went from managing employees directly to managing their managers, with a business unit of over 115 awesome front-line agents and six stellar team managers. I was a bona-fide organizational leader.

I found my footing in the role, and I feel I did well for my people and their people. Before you shake your head and wonder “What the heck was Apple thinking?” — mind you, I wasn’t bad at the gig!

But I was different. 

And if you have one of those “different” bosses like me, here’s a few things I’d like you to know:

1) We care, even if we have trouble showing it

Expression doesn’t always come naturally to us, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I had to make reminders to thank my people and highlight their work – otherwise I’d get lost in observing work and fail to recognize the worker.

2) We’re cyborgs, not robots

Routine and ritual are our R&R – if we’re in management, it’s because we’ve likely made the best use of rigid actions and processes to get things done well. Don’t let that intimidate you – we’re just wired that way.

3) Bring a dictionary and a cushion for conversations

If your boss is anything like me, he or she may have affinity for labyrinthine conversations, extended analogies, prolix prosody, and extended stays in the forges of rhetorical wordsmithing. Apologies in advancewe’re honestly not trying to confuse you!

4) . . . or, get ready for blunt feedback

Mind you, we’re not talking “brutal” or “hurtful” – being direct and to-the-point isn’t because we’re malicious. We just don’t always catch the emotional impact of our words. Sometimes our tone is off, sometimes it’s a statement of fact in our minds and nothing more. I’m still working on handling it gracefully.

5) Find the positives

I wasn’t a perfect manager. Most aren’t.

If your manager is genuinely on the autism spectrum, they’re bringing a different mix of imperfections.

They may bring some commanding strengths, too.

Attention to detail. Intense focus. Unassailable determination. Unflinching support. A cool head. A keen eye on your work and ideas to make it better.

It’s a different experience.

And if it’s your experience – I do hope it’s the good kind of different.

 

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Putting Off Procrastination

Procrastination. It’s like the alcoholism of the weak-minded writer; the bane of upstarts. It’s nature’s way of weeding out the pretenders.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I wanted to write and see what advice you might have about procrastination. I’ve got one page written, and I can’t bring myself to write any more. As an aspiring writer, I know I can’t just let it sit there. What’s your advice on putting off procrastination?

—Jered Gillen, Dallas, Tx.

Shakespeare kicks Milton in the nether regions every time someone mentions the phrase “aspiring writer” in anything but a negative sense. Stop that. You, that is. Not Shakespeare. He does what he wants.

Procrastination can be helpful; it keeps you doing a whole bunch of stuff that doesn’t matter. These may not be the most “writerly” solutions, but you need something to start building the better habit of productivity. We can work on your crap writing some other time.

Tips on putting off writing procrastination:

1: Writing Fast

Padlock the fridge, freezer, and pantries. Mail the key to an editor. Only when you have fifty or so pages of a decent submission, have them mail the key back to you. Better hope he/she likes your stuff, or else you’ll be eating out until you get that writing in shape.

2: Face the Failure

Buy paper. Buy a printer. Print copies of the pittance of words you’ve mustered. Hang them everywhere. When your family complains about “all these blank pieces of paper,” I can only hope a little dagger was twisted within your heart.

3: Chart your Creative Consumption

When it comes to creative endeavors, you create, or you consume. All those hours on the TV, the Blu-Ray binging, the Tweeting, the blogrolling: you’re making yourself fat and useless. How many hours do you spend taking and taking and taking? And no, you don’t have to “give back,” just “do something!” Make a chart, let it show you how obese you’ve gotten in the creative consumption cesspool.

4: Refocus the Mismanagement

If you’re a procrastinator with something, you are not a procrastinator with everything. Complain about not picking up writing all you want, but you are picking up things that you could leave to the jaws of procrastinations. You’re always in the gym, I’m sure, trying to show off your awesome bod. You run x amount of miles so you can #humblebrag about it on Facebook. You’ll always make time to watch trite sitcoms, scripted reality TV, or other mindgum garbage. Give those things a rest for one. Put ‘em off.

5: Bite Sizing

Write a sentence a day. Yeah, that does make sense. Whether you have to keep your work in progress next to the loo, the shower, somewhere you park each day, it’ll remind you to get something done daily. And that’s a start.

Baby steps here, folks. Doing it “later” is “never doing it at all.” Or else you’d have done it already.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).