in the Workplace
most of us must work for a living, attention to surviving in the workplace
is vital. I shall report my experiences.
First Jobs after College and Fitting in.
After receiving my bachelor's in Music Education and Accounting &
Information Systems I set forth to work in a medium sized Certified
Public Accountants firm. Boy was that a mistake. I went to work at an
accounting firm, from which I was let go after three months.
I spent hour after hour preparing financial statements by hand for the
auditing of mutual funds; so much so that I got tendonitis of the wrist.
As the low man on the totem pole, I would spend much time verifying
the work others had done. Even though I had just graduated as an honor's
student with a bachelor's degree in the field, I often felt my coworkers
were talking in another language when they explained procedures and
where different documents were located. It seemed as if I had been dropped
into a foreign culture. I felt like I needed to be shown step by step
in a discrete manner to get a grasp of what was expected of me. No one
was willing to do that for me.
I was closely supervised and was expected to fit in with all of the
accountant/business employees. The business uniform is the suit and
which drove me nuts. I can't stand to wear a tie. The only
way I could survive was to ride my bicycle from where I lived (about
7 miles) to work and enjoy the out-of-doors for an hour and a half each
day. It took 45 minutes to get to work this way as opposed to the 2
hours by public transportation. Made sense to me.
Riding my bicycle to work and changing into my suit in the basement
of the office was too weird for them. The personnel officer told me
that I had better take public transportation and arrive at the office
in my suit. Thinking back to that time I realize that I could not have
chosen a place that was more conservative and conformist had I tried.
Probably all financial institutions are like this. After a while I spent
most of my time in their library reading business reference books as
the supply of work seemed to dry up. On occasion, I would seek out work
from other coworkers, or drop into one of the senior manager's office
for a chat.
An assignment with a fellow accountant at the firm didn't work out well
at all. I could never really understand what he wanted and he seemed
irritated at the things I did. The bank where we worked was overheated.
In response to that I would often open the window and take off my shoes
when I was sitting at the desk out of view of other people. He didn't
like that at all. While auditing a ledger I mentioned to him that it
was difficult to read some of the numbers.
One day the personnel officer called me into his office and told me
he was letting me go. He said that I just didn't seem to fit in and
suggested that there may have been a disability that I had failed to
disclose to him when I interviewed for the job. That disability may
very well have been there. To me, however, it was something of the past
and it never occurred to me that accommodation may have been needed.
I just thought I was stupid because I didn't "get it." Getting
fired was very humiliating and embarrassing to me. With a fuzzy, heavy
feeling in my head I gathered my belongings and left.
My next job was at a large bank as a portfolio accountant. I made trades
for, received interest and dividends for, and created regular financial
reports for $750,000,000 of pension fund money. I had now learned better
how to blend into the business world. They tolerated my riding my bicycle
to work. However, I was miserable being involved in the business culture.
In addition, the assumption that I had left the bullies behind in junior
high school, was incorrect. They were here too. Save for friends from
India and Ethiopia, I kept to myself. I simply was not interested in
spending the day yacking about team sports and how much a certain couch
cost. I stayed at this large bank for the next year and a quarter but
was unhappy there. I love the study of business, accounting and taxation
but I cannot stand working with the people who choose these areas for
I left this job after 15 months to teach business at the vocational
and college level.
The strange thing is, that I find the STUDY of business, taxes, the
stock market, etc. fascinating. I also enjoy TEACHING business subjects;
but not as much as teaching music. I just can't tolerate working with
the personality types who are attracted to this field.
A Better Fit
I realized that teaching was for me. There was no close supervision
with someone watching my every move. My supervisors and students were
closer o accepting me as myself then in any previous position. They
actually respected that I rode my bicycle to work. My next place of
employment was at a finishing school for secretaries. A warning like
what is issued by the robot on the TV show Lost in Space should have
gone off in my head: Too strict a dress code
I was let go from
that place after two years.
The Best Fit
When I got my job as professor of music and computers in January 1994,
I new I had found my niche. I could do what I loved and expend much
less energy trying to blend in. As long as students are happy, learning
what they are supposed to, the administration is happy too.
There are some people there who respect what I do for the school and
serve as mentors. They inform me of potential political blunders I may
be about to make and are ready to help bail me out if I get into trouble.
It is often difficult for me to read the political wind of things and
I'm terribly susceptible to bully-types that cross my path.
Those of us in the Fine and Performing Arts are frequently expected
to be somewhat quirky and that suits me fine! By the way, I don't have
to wear a tie! Some people at work may sense that I'm different but
most of the school community has no true sense of what I'm really about.
After this trip through various places of employment some things became
clear to me. To survive as a full-time employee of an organization,
these tenets must be followed by me.
1. I must know myself well enough to know where in the workplace I fit
in. I seriously misjudged that as I entered the business world. The
conformity along with the suit & tie thing just doesn't work for
2. Close supervision of my day-to-day activities doesn't work for me.
I do much better if I'm given a task and a period of time to figure
out what must be done, usually in a way that it hasn't been done before.
3. Find a mentor or mentors I can trust. They can save your employment
4. Having an interest in a particular field doesn't mean that it is
good for me to work in.
5. There is more to life than work. [[Really?]] Yup! I'm still learning
My work at the college, however, was circumvented by a politically oriented
challenge that I was unable to meet. As new full-time faculty member
at this school, I had the full backing and support of my dean in teaching
my classes along with course and curriculum development. Upon her direction
and with the approval of the chair of my department, I set out to restructure
the music area degree offerings and add new courses to the curriculum.
Where it was only possible to declare a general major of music, my idea
was to create different options within that degree. My sense that students
would more readily identify with a specific program rather then a general
music degree came to fruition as the number of declared music majors
doubled soon after the change was implemented.
After following the bureaucratic maze of policies and procedures along
with much collaboration with other faculty and staff, the restructured
program was approved by an all college vote. Within this victory for
my department and the others involved were sown the seeds of destruction
for my continuing as a professor at this school.
Subtle Social Situations Rear Their Ugly Heads
There was a long-term faculty member, who held much power, that felt
put out by my failure to consult with him in the restructuring plans.
This person taught a single music class, had been in the college for
almost two decades, and was very influential in determining academic
policies within the institution. As I was new to the college, it never
occurred to me to consult with the chair of another, seemingly unrelated,
department as I went about my plans to reconfigure the music program.
While I did confer with other members of the music department as I went
about these modifications, I should have expanded my inquiry towards
additional people who were working within the music department. Perhaps
my over reliance on the documented organization chart rather than the
informal organization led to my overlooking this person.
My not sensing this situation, combined with the challenges of my not
being able to read subtle social situations (office politics), resulted
in this person's initial displeasure with my working at the college.
Unaware of the gravity of the situation in this person's mind I never
took steps to make amends for my transgressions towards him. From that
point on he was always at the ready to oppose further plans for developing
the music department.
For my first three years at this school I enjoyed a well-established
support system that encompassed colleagues as well as administration
ranging from the dean all the way up to and including the president
of the college. Despite the attempts of the faculty member I had offended,
along with his cadre of who supported his wish to have me let go from
the position of music professor, the administration saw that I was continuing
to make a substantial contribution to the college and kept me on. Some
of these contributions to the college included the doubling of declared
music majors and the donation of almost $40,000 of musical equipment
to the school via grant proposals.
Unfortunately, over these three years, the support base I had established
with the administration and other faculty eroded away as they left the
college for various reasons. Lacking this support, the offended faculty
member was able to get the school to conduct a nationwide search for
the music position I had now held for three years. Two national searches
were mounted. With the first, I was one of the top three candidates
for the position. Another person was chosen but declined the position.
The second time, I received the greatest number of votes from the search
committee. Despite the search committee's recommendation of my candidacy
for the position I had already held for three years, along with the
agreement from the dean of the department, the music position was suddenly
This greater than one year process of losing this job has been very
painful to me. For a time that I thought, like the others at this college,
that I had a good shot a chance for having a job for life that I could
enjoy. This position seemed to be a dream. I could do what I loved and
there was time to pursue my interests in other areas such as autism,
bicycles and other areas. Losing the job, in spite of following all
the procedures I thought necessary to retain the position, was a blow
to my belief that by adhering to the rules I could attain my goal to
keep this position.
As this long drawn out process continued, I realized that losing the
job was indeed to become a reality. I needed to do something to sublimate
the energy created by the angst of the looming possibility of becoming
This made me very angry towards the perpetrators responsible for my
job loss. As this seemed so terribly unfair to me, with much trepidation,
I filed legal action with governmental agencies and with the union.
It seemed, since the school was had so blatantly gone against the teacher's
contract, I should be able to win my position back. I was very reluctant
to do request assistance from the teacher's union as confrontation is
very difficult for me. I suspect that confrontation is very difficult
for me because it involves strong, unpredictable emotional behaviors
and reactions. Being a person that likes things to be scripted out before
they happen, the unknowns of confrontation can be very frightening.
The result was an additional year, and no more, of employment. Even
though I was still working and the actual prospect of joblessness was
yet to occur, I experienced a big change in attitude towards my place
of work. Until this time, aside from my wife and family, I gave this
position first priority insofar as devoting my time and energy. Because
I received such positive feedback from the president of the school and
other superiors, I felt what I did there was good and needed by the
After realizing that the school - or specifically, a few key people
-- did not view me on that basis, I chose to redirect my energies elsewhere.
It no longer seemed to be necessary to be friendly with most of the
people there and certainly no need to perform any job functions that
were beyond what was described in the teacher's contract. It was these
additional things beyond the bare teaching and advising students that
gave me a lot of satisfaction of doing a complete and good job.
This caused me to withdraw emotionally from the school that was previously
a source of so much pleasure. The position became a mere shell of its
former self. I did as I saw many other teachers do: arrive, teach, help
the students, and leave. It was very difficult changing my work philosophy
here to this minimalist approach as it is my nature to continually work
towards making the school a better place for the students. Seeing that
there was no future here made anything that related to continued development
of the school irrelevant.
Whereas this position had been a source of enthusiasm and energy for
me; it now was an emotional drain. Suddenly I realized a possible reason
why others at this institution seemed to put just a minimal effort there.
Perhaps they too, had been burned by office politics and felt unappreciated.
Onward and Beyond
I have finished writing Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism
and Asperger Syndrome (2001, Autism Asperger Publishing Company). Using
the autobiographical form, my observations from working with people
on the autism spectrum and other realizations are woven throughout the
book. I am now happily enrolled in a doctoral program in special education
with a concentration on helping people on the autism spectrum reach
their fullest potential.
Currently, when not working with people on the autism spectrum and studying,
I teach computers and statistics at various colleges in Massachusetts.
from Shore, S. (2001). Beyond the wall: Personal experiences
with autism and Asperger Syndrome.
Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
Autism Asperger Publishing Company Beyond the Wall is at http://www.asperger.net/wall.htm.
Beyond the Wall is available at Amazon.com.