Posted in Advocacy, Autistic Identity, writing

Missed Opportunities: Why I am Underemployed

I’ve mentioned, before, that I’m doing a job for which I would be paid at least triple what I’m making now, with full benefits when I now have none, if I could work in public schools.

I’m not unhappy I landed in Catholic ed., but even then there are different types of Catholic school jobs.   I’m meant to lead the outcasts.  On the plus side, we are the only school in town that would be actually making a difference because we are arming our kids to move into the middle class and self-advocate.  We take the time to find the right place to succeed.

But on the other hand, the lack of compensation and access to health insurance at a better price than on the health insurance market (our premium just doubled, and we were struggling to afford the price that it was to begin with) is stressful and takes its toll on my health.  Among Autistics, this problem is somewhat normal as many of us are underemployed.  We can find a job, but it’s the best we can do since the primo jobs are saved for people who can navigate the social structures better than we can, so we continue to struggle.

Here are times I had chances at better jobs, but simply couldn’t land them.

Senior year of college, I had a plum internship at an education department of a children’s theatre.  I’d landed it after a former director had helped me with finding out who to talk to and who would be perfect for me and the university did the rest.  The assistant left the department at the end of my internship, and I was considered for the position, but I didn’t know that I was seriously being considered.  The lead asked me one day what I wanted to do next.  I told him, honestly, I wasn’t sure.  I lost the position that moment, not realizing that it was within my grasp.

That fall, I couldn’t find a job and applied as a bilingual secretary.  Instead, I ended up teaching at an alternative high school.  I quickly became the darling of the executive director of the most influential non-profit working with Latinos in town.  I lasted at that job less than a year, but had I stayed longer, I would have been running that school within a year and turning it from a diploma factory to a rigorous program that would have made a difference for the kids who worked there.

How did I get “in” there in the first place?

One nun’s name opened my door.  She was my Spanish teacher and I knew, but didn’t realize, that just saying her name meant not only was I hired, I could do no wrong.

But the work was too hard because the school was a mess, and I was too young.

Had I survived another year, I would have been in charge.  He held me in that much esteem.

But I left.

That same nun’s name got me hired at another school, where I stayed for only two and a half years even though it was in many ways my dream job.

The first principal and I got along fine.  I’d do something odd, and she’d work around it.  The kids were learning and they liked me and I dressed modestly, all of which were good qualities in a Catholic school.

The next principal was a transfer from a public school who wanted to make the place more public school-like.

I didn’t last long thereafter.

In law school, I had a fantastic mentorship possibility with a woman who was the key person in working on adoption law in our area.  I couldn’t get past my problems with the phone and just call her.  She was the second of two attorneys who couldn’t be bothered to read e-mails, but I simply couldn’t just call them.  I squandered all both connections.

The third mentor got my boxes checked for me, but he really had nothing to mentor, in an area I had no interest in working in.  I got the job done, but he was a waste of my time and his.

But he could answer emails.

My fourth mentor was unbelievable, doing the kinds of things I thought I could see myself doing.  She set me up with a lawyer at a school district to chat.  She was going to be there, so it was perfect.  Something came up, so I had to go alone.

It was a disaster.  I really didn’t understand what it was I was supposed to do at these information interviews.

He felt badly for me and tried to help me by showing me things I didn’t know how to ask about.

But still, another opportunity lost.

In the Ph.D. program, my advisor kept setting me up to succeed, sending me to this conference or that one, but then dropping back since she’d think I could handle it.

I could, sure, except for one thing.  I kept turning my sessions into how-to instead of critical, analytical sessions.  This is not how you succeed in academia.  I needed help, but didn’t know it.

She kept expecting I could read between the lines.

She pushed and pushed until she got me to assist the new dean.  I was the only one with a background in law, so I was perfect.

I did my best.  I did exactly what he wanted me to do, but we didn’t co-author anything together and I quickly got pushed aside when someone who actually practiced law was coming on the scene.  Someone who clearly could do more.

I left the Ph.D. program after that.

The hardest part about writing this is pointing out how very much I realize how lucky I was.  So many people were trying to help me to land high-paying jobs in which I would (they thought) be happy, but I couldn’t leverage these advantages.  Then, I didn’t know what was wrong with me.  Now, I know that I’m Autistic and I’m not alone.

Later today, I meet with an agent to talk about my novel.  The university set it up for me.

Another opportunity.

I will probably botch it because I won’t get the social expectations.

However, I have multiple advantages now.  First, I know that I am Autistic.  Second, since the publishing industry is just starting to figure out it needs more Disability lit, she might be interested for that reason.  Third, there’s the call for more cultures telling their own stories.  Admittedly, so often they publish a book about Autism by a parent (again…) that I don’t think these facts will make this easy for me, but it should at least be on her radar.

Another big thing is, this is a very well-written book.  It’s not Faulkner of course, but I know YA and it’s well-written.  It should stand on its own.  That it is timely should help immensely.

But an in-person pitch is rarely a good sign for me since I do better in writing.  I wonder if it will be different because I know I am Autistic and I will have to reveal that to her, that this information is very appropriate and necessary to do the pitch properly.

If this works, the agent, not me, will be shopping the novel around.  She can speak for me.  She will work for me.

If this works, I can get the guidance I need and don’t have to spend executive function trying to do things I’m bad at.

If I publish this novel, it will provide a little (very little) extra income to help offset my low salary.  I could do speaking at schools.  I could do Skype author visits.  Schools pay for this sort of thing.

But first, I have to work through the gatekeepers.

Tonight is my first challenge.


3 thoughts on “Missed Opportunities: Why I am Underemployed

    1. I’m looking at it and it seems not part of the Catholic church at all (no endorsements by any of the higher-ups). The Aimee O’Connell referenced is a third-order Carmelite, which is the lay group. Is a specific order sponsoring it, or is it just a lay Carmelite starting her own thing?

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