Patterns for Success – Beware Your Instincts4 min read

It’s been a bit of a wild ride for me this year so far. So much change is going on, and sometimes (usually) I’m not good at giving myself the buffer and the time needed to adjust. Along with starting to write for Autism Daily Newscast, I’ve taken on a number of other responsibilities both inside and outside of work. And it brought out something that I think a lot of us struggle with: misinterpreting peoples’ intent.

After many years and a lot of hard work, I’ve got a great career going for myself. That’s part of why I really wanted to share some things that have worked for me, as well as some things that I still struggle with. If, for no other reason, to reassure you that you’re not alone in this.

Recently I noticed some changes in the behavior of people in the leadership team above me at work. My boss, especially was acting differently. I didn’t know what his intentions were, but his actions got me a bit scared that maybe they’d gotten sick of this odd guy who prefers to work from dark corners and who shies away from large social gatherings like the Christmas party. The work that I was doing seemed to be along the lines of “teach someone else what you know about your job”.

I’d had some conversations with my Vice President about how my role might change, but there wasn’t anything solid in front of me. Just speculation of what might be a more effective use of my capabilities. It’d been a few weeks since our last conversation about the subject, and while I had no reason to believe the thought had past, I was still uncertain about what the future might hold.

Among a bunch of small changes in my routine, my boss moved my regular bi-weekly one-on-one meeting. Instead of being first thing Thursday morning, it was moved to end-of-business Friday afternoon. And instead of our regular meeting room (which was available), it was moved to an adjacent building into a conference room right next to the building exit.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? What I was thinking at this point was that my job at Bronto was over, that somehow I’d done something egregiously wrong and they were pushing me out the door.

I didn’t want to wait until Friday for this. If I was going to get fired, I want to know right now.

So I asked my boss for a quick chat. I came right out and asked if I’d done something wrong, if I was going to get fired on Friday.

Not knowing what was going to happen to me, in light of all of these routine changes that I saw, had me thinking very bad things were coming for me. I just wanted to understand: what did I do wrong? Should I be job hunting now?

My boss clarified this for me. He’d moved the meeting to another time slot to give us a full hour instead of a half an hour, to go over my performance review and explain my bonus and pay raise. He’d moved the meeting to another room, because he’d taken to heart the very real problems that I have with bright lights and loud HVAC, so he scoped out a room with darker lighting and low ambient noise.

Moreover, I start a new role in the company this week. I’ll be reporting to my old boss’ boss, seeding a very new role that is likely at some point to become a team, likely with me in a leadership position in that team. It’s not a promotion, but it’s a serious investment in me on the part of my employer, one that carries great and realistic hope of a promotion in the foreseeable future.

Left to my own instincts and perceptions about what these changes meant, I thought for sure I was in the dog house. The old pre-diagnosis me probably would have rage quit before learning of all of these great things that were happening for me and around me. Just asking my boss what his intentions were for the upcoming meeting shined a light on everything, and helped me to realize that everything is actually going really, really well for me right now in my career.

I share this story with you for a number of reasons. First, it’s my apology for not sharing a new story with you last week. I was in the throes of this colossal miscalculation and frequently in a shutdown state when I should have been writing. Second, it’s to share a valuable lesson that I’m still struggling to apply as well as I could: our instincts as autistic people may well lead us to worst-case speculation when peoples’ intentions are opaque or otherwise in doubt. Acting on these speculations is likely to cause great social hardship. Getting the nerve up to ask someone what they had in mind when they made some change to your routine can be very rewarding.

May my little misadventure be helpful to you in your career, and may success be yours!