Is it the Job Or is it You?

Person with a white dress shirt, holding a some cyan clothes, in the foreground. With a group of 4 people talking in a different room in the background.
How do you separate personal issues with a job from the job just being a horrible job?

It’s too easy to assume we are to blame

Sometimes a job really sucks, and because, as autistics, we’ve been told so many times throughout our lives that we should be able to do this or that, but can’t, and because we see other employees (seemingly) doing just fine in this job, when we struggle, it’s easy to take all the blame and assume that we are the only one who can’t hack it, can’t deal with it, are wrong or broken or not good enough, that it’s our fault and failing as a person. But is that true?

First of all, there is no job on earth that, if you fail at it, definitively means that you are a horrible human being. At most, it’s not a good fit for your skills, interests, energy levels, or sensory needs, etc.

There is no job on earth that, if you fail at it, definitively means that you are a horrible human being.

So how can you tell if the job is personally not a good fit for you, or if you’re just working in a horrible place?

Here are a few tips on how to tell the difference.

The no test

When you say you can’t do some task at work, or decline an invitation for socialization outside of work hours, do people accept that, or try to figure out how they could make it better for you? Or do they insist that you do it anyway, push you to do what they want, no matter what your reasons are?

The question test

When you ask your boss or coworkers for help, clarification, support, or accommodations, are they respectful or kind? Do they ask you about your experience, how whatever you are asking for would help you, and work with you to figure out how to make the situation better for you? Or do they immediately say no, dismiss or ignore you, or enforce policies or rules?

The people test

Do you enjoy doing your job when the makeup of people is different? When there are fewer people around, or more? When certain people are there, or absent? 

The sensory test

Do you enjoy the work you’re doing when the physical circumstances are different? For example, if someone forgets to turn on the lights, do you feel better doing your job?

The time test

Does doing your job at a different time of day make a difference in how you feel about it, your energy levels, or your ability to concentrate? What about breaking it up into many short chunks with short breaks in between? Or doing it in one or two long stretches?

Tweaking

Sometimes one or two of these things can make a huge difference to your overall job satisfaction. And sometimes making a few tweaks to the environment, the people, or the timing, can turn a job that you cringe to think about into one that you don’t mind doing or even enjoy.

If it’s a problem with certain people, you may be able to transfer to a different department, a different office or location, or minimize contact with that person, but if it is a more systemic issue with the whole business, it might be a bad place for you (and probably others), despite your best efforts.

Try a variety of tweaks, small and large, to see how they affect you and your ability to do the job. Keep trying things until you run out of ideas, energy, or get a pretty clear answer. (By the way, asking other people may help with generating more ideas.)

Depending on the type of job and whether you’re working from home or at an office or retail location, different types of tweaks may work for you, or not. But there’s usually several things that can be tried. 

Keep experimenting to see what’s going on. It might genuinely be a poor job fit, or it might be the environment or the people, and you may or may not be able to change enough of those to make this job viable. But at least you’ll have a better idea of what’s going on, and not give yourself all of the blame.

And it might give you information that will help in looking for the next job.

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Heather Cook

Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, every science ending in -ology, and all things Star Trek!

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