Some people were born to be singers. Some people were born to be astronauts. Some people were born to lead movements.
I was born to work in an office.
I accept that this isn’t the kind of grandiose statement the great poets of our time will write songs about. But it is a huge, empowering revelation for me.
After spending all my life in customer service – that is, front facing, first-point-of-contact roles of many kinds – the realisation that I have found the space I am comfortable is everything. That’s not say I wasn’t good at my other jobs. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I was damned good at my other jobs. After all, when I left my last job as a receptionist, my already-oversized leaving card was so full people had started writing messages on sticky notes. I’m not being boastful; I’m being honest. I am damned good in front facing roles.
What I was never good at was the coming home and acting like functioning adult human being part of my life.
It was stressful. And it took everything from me. No matter how much I loved my team, or our cause, or even the work I was doing, when I stepped out of the door and started my commute home, I was on the verge of falling apart. The job took all of my spoons, and, by the time I got home, I was a mess who was precisely zero fun to live with.
This is different.
We’re now six weeks into my new job – an office job, more importantly, an office job focused on campaigning for a charity – and everything has been turned on its head. The job itself is stressful; a lot of different things to do, a lot of coordinating tasks and people, and a lot of chains depending on your link to be completed on time; but it’s a completely different kind of stress. It’s a kind of stress that I come home buzzing about, wanting to tell my parents about my day. It’s a kind of stress that I can measure and manage.
It’s the kind of stress I can deal with.
The difference in an office is that I have greater access to the strategies I have in place to keep myself well. I can put on my headphones if it all gets a bit too much. I can go and sit in the kitchen for a bit if I feel my blood pressure rising. I can make my desk my own, with all the things I need – pictures, a toy, a spinner, notes, funny things – because it is truly mine rather than a vulnerable public space. I can talk about what I need to talk about, put my head in my hands, grumble loudly, and not have to worry about the responsibility of being the ‘face’ of the company. Even down to the fact that I can eat at my desk, when I need to eat, and not have to wait until a specific time whether my energy levels are dropping or not.
I feel much more in control of my own time, and my own life.
That brings with its own stresses of course. With the role being a lot less regimented and blocked in by a public facing perimeter, I am learning how to manage a varied workload, put together a schedule that works, and ensure that deadlines are met off my own volition. And I’m progressively learning that I can do that. It brings a rush of independence and power, rather than the sense of everything running away from me that was so familiar on that reception.
The fact that all calls to me come filtered through customer services – and the fact that, out of the very few calls I will take a day, very few of them are people actively looking to shout at me – is also an undeniable factor. I categorically do not miss being a switchboard operator.
Switchboard operators are heroes. Just so you know.
I am also lucky to be working in the charity sector. Although I’m sure there are some horror stories from some organisations – and I’ve definitely heard a tale or two – but overall I have found this sector to much more understanding and compassionate than your regular profit making vehicle.
I say that I’m lucky. But I also feel that I can take some proactive credit. Because I worked incredibly hard to get to this point. Finally, after a quarter of a century, I understand myself well enough to know what I need to avoid and to make decisions that give me the best chance of success. Before landing this job, I interviewed at another charity – this was bigger, more corporate, more open plan, hundreds of people milling around in glass plated offices, and, although everyone was wonderful, I knew that this was not the right place for me. As a result of that choice, I now work in a relatively quiet office, with people who allow me to employ my strategies without questions, and a close and relaxed atmosphere in which I have been able to say to everyone: hi, nice to meet you, I’m autistic, and if you have any questions please approach me!
The result has been that some people now know an awful lot more about autism than they knew before, and many people have had their perceptions shifted. I feel very proud of that; to be able to continue that goal of mine even as I move away from an autism-focused organisation.
I am continuing in my quest to make the world just a little bit better, and, in doing so, making myself the best I can possible be. And, in this particular office environment, I am thriving.
Office work has a stigma of being boring. And maybe to some people it is. You have to do what’s right for you, and find that little place you can burrow in and say ‘ah yes, this is just what I needed’.
This is my niche. This is where I am supposed to be.
And I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited.