Less than a month ago, a parishioner and I were walking in the sub-basement of the school during Fish Fry talking about the chaos in the room. His wife came down and while he continued to look at it (he’s compared our storage spaces to Beirut, presumably during wartime, which isn’t necessarily an inaccurate description), we talked about school and life. She called what I do my true vocation, which it kind of is: if I am doing anything outside the house, this was it. I felt the most “right” and at peace with working here. She and I are on the same page on a lot of issues, though she’s in my mom’s generation, though a little younger, so one could say we were verging on friendship.
Autistic friendships: all the older and younger people you want, but never people in the same generation (aargh).
I suspect it helps she has many Deaf siblings (a lot of Autistic culture owes much to the Deaf community; they started this whole idea of we do have a language and a culture and you all are the weird ones, which we in the Autism world appreciate so much). She’s quirky, likely because of navigating the hearing and Deaf worlds, and because, like me, it sounds like she didn’t get involved with too much in the way of office politics and focused on her work more than average.
Also, like me she doesn’t do small talk and, like me, loves to talk politics and religion and really doesn’t care what the Kardashians are doing. It limits her friendships with her neighbors.
Anyway, we went out to lunch yesterday, and it ended up being a five-hour experience, talking about all kinds of things.
A highlight of the conversation, of course, is what I should do next.
I mentioned if I were to stay doing what I do, I will have to move. There are a plethora of principals in this area, and my recent issues, while everyone in administration realizes are not my fault, you try telling that to average Joe and Jane parishioner who may be in a position to hire me.
God may be calling us to follow Him somewhere else.
She doesn’t want me to leave and talked about an incident she had when she was a little younger (but not much). She left a stable long-term job she didn’t really like to help some Sisters open a second nursing home. Over time, she ended up recruiting her husband and one of her sons to work there, too. Unfortunately, it was a weird situation; the Sisters didn’t really run it, so there was a board of directors to appease, and they were struggling to fill the place up, so money was tight and eventually they had to let her husband go and he had to find a job into his 50’s, which isn’t ever easy. She had some health problems, so she left there on disability.
It was unpleasant.
She said that it was, in a lot of ways, a bad decision not because helping people is bad and not because the Sisters weren’t fantastic. She said the real issue was she’d made her vocation her job. She mentioned that people have a tendency to look for bliss at work and then ignore everything about their families. Instead, she argued, I should find a job, just something with decent benefits and retirement, and do that so I can have time to come home and enjoy my husband and son and work on whatever hobbies I had. She said she was happier and her husband was, too, when they left that place, even though they loved the work and the Sisters. The scope creep is unreal in places like that. Next thing you know, you’re doing ten people’s jobs. It’s just too hard.
I remembered all the temp jobs I had, though, and two things occurred: either 1) they didn’t have enough to do and I was writing away, blissfully, in my spare time or 2) I shined so much since I worked so hard the president of the place would want to meet me, making my boss a little annoyed since I was getting the recognition she felt like she needed. I don’t really do the “cog in the machine” thing all that well since I get bored and I look for work out of the scope of my job description. I feel guilty if I have too much time to write.
I am worried, too, that I’ll have to mask for 40 hours a week to stay employed. Masking is when I pretend to be neurotypical to keep the peace. While I can like a theoretical “regular person job,” I end up becoming superwoman because I’m grateful to be there.
She argued, though, in bigger companies, you can just be the weird lady who doesn’t talk much and doesn’t make waves, but shows up every day. You can read a book at lunch and no one much cares. The real gossip isn’t in you and what you’re doing or not doing, but in the zany stuff other people do. In a smaller place, it’s all about you because they don’t have enough people to pick on. You don’t have to take promotions, if offered them.
She thought what I should do, in addition to staying local, was look for a big employer where I can sit at a desk and have people bring me problems and I solve the problems and then those people go away since I’m good at solving problems. Then I can solve people’s problems and go home and write my book or whatever.
I panicked, thinking she’s talking about that domestic church stuff that all the Catholic mommy bloggers write about: cleaning the home perfectly, etc.
I can’t do that. We do what we need to do, dishes, laundry, basic cleanup, but we live amidst clutter. You may be surprised to learn how hard it is to live amongst thousands of books. They have a way of overgrowing bookshelves and being just everywhere.
Well, I can’t do that and work. When I’ve been between jobs, the house isn’t too bad. It has to be the whole thing, or I can’t really keep up.
She said none of that mattered and assured me I don’t need to have people over.
She also talked about how to limit my volunteering with the church and basically how to talk to my boss about how he inadvertently abused me by having me morph into positions all over. She reassured me whenever she was talking to him, it was all “Nicole this and that” and he was constantly bragging about me and what I was doing, so she thinks he didn’t mean to do what he did, dumping all the closure on me, though part of him probably just figured I’d just fix it. She’d been a “work wife” to a bank president in the past, too, and she knew what it was like, but recommended we use this situation to help my boss understand boundaries so he didn’t do it to another woman. Women do run parish life, but the parts that rightfully belong to the priest, he does have to own, not expecting someone else to lead and take care of those things.
So, her advice boiled down to setting boundaries with employers and trying to learn to like being a cog in the machine.
I think maybe because I’m Autistic, or maybe I’m just a narcissist, but I like to believe I’m called to do more. I want, I guess, to be special.
That’s narcissism, right?
Or maybe it’s just because I feel like I’ve worked so hard (harder than people realize, what with masking for so many years) that I deserve to do what I’m best at and can use all of myself to serve others the best way I can.
I don’t really like the idea of hiding my light under anything, since the light will go out then.
But I have been burning the candle not only at both ends, but everywhere. I have been burning out all year. I already know that I can’t do teaching in terms of a full-time regular job at it anymore since I get too attached to the kids and can’t simply write it off when they leave or drop out or whatever. The time sink that is teaching is too enormous, too. If I teach, I can’t write much.
And I’ve been underpaid. I’d make more in salary and benefits at a regular desk job, and that can buy me a better lifestyle. We can better afford groceries to be delivered or shopped for us, both of which will help our executive function and translate into eating healthier.
So, maybe her advice is actually appropriate advice.
But to follow it, I have to unlearn a few rules about being happy through work, which I think I’ve internalized to the point that it will be hard to unlearn them.
Or, will being a cog in the machine really still be too hard for me, and I’ll burn out faster?