How I Turned Asperger's Quirks into Career Success

How I Turned Asperger's Quirks into Career Success

I’ve written for 200 newspapers, Time magazine, and Business Week. I have published a bestselling book on career advice but I have never written for a special needs audience.

I don’t think I really thought of myself as special needs until the last couple of years, when I finally embraced the idea that I have Asperger’s, which is a form autism, and I would qualify for an IEP if I were in school. It’s hard to embrace this reality because I have published a bestselling book of career advice, I write a business blog that has one million views a month, I founded three Internet startups, and before that I played professional beach volleyball. Maybe you saw me on TV, with my sponsor’s name on my butt. 

It’s weird to be such a high achiever and have special needs. But anyone who is close to me would tell you that I’m nearly impossible to get along with. People put up with me because I’m super smart and interesting. Well, and sometimes people put up with me because I’m good looking and my lack of understanding of social norms make me very fun in bed.

This is all to say that I don’t have a great sense of how to get through life with Asperger’s because I think I get through life despite myself. But here are some things I’ve done that anyone with Asperger’s would need to do in order to be successful at work:

1.  Admit that you’re difficult. If you admit that you have very little patience and very little sense of when to shut up, then people will be willing to help you. The more help you can get the better off you’ll be. I ask for advice on everything because my social skills judgment is so poor. Some of my most popular blog posts are about me being difficult. For some reason, people really like a difficult person if the difficult person is admitting it.

2.  Get a team of advisors. I read that women do better with Apergers than men do because women are more likely to ask for help. I believe it. I ask for help all the time. If I am going to tell someone I work with that they are an idiot, I’ll call one of my social skills advisors up to ask if it’s okay, first. You need to do nice things for these people who help you. I’m going to do a nice thing by linking to this guy’s blog: Ryan Paugh. He helps me so much.

3.  Specialize. You have to be very very good at something in order to get people to put up with the difficult parts of you. If you are great at a specific thing it is much harder to write you off for being difficult. This is how I’m good at career advice, actually. I can learn rules and follow them and then tell other people the rules. Specializing is a rule everyone has to follow.

4.  Remember that people don’t care if you’re right. The world wants nice and easy to get along with. The world does not care about whose right. You can be sad about this and say it’s unfair, but whatever. Keep it to yourself. And don’t tell people when you’re right. Ever. Being right is not important.

5.  Manage the environment you’re in. You have to concentrate on being likable and being able to shut up when you need to. This is really hard. So you need the perfect sensory environment around you in order to perform at your best. I go to great lengths to control my environment, and for the most part, people put up with it.

The biggest asset I have is my honesty. I am honest with myself about my deficits, and I’m honest with other people when I need help. Of course, I’m also honest to a fault. Like, maybe you clicked the link up there about what I’m like in bed, but maybe the link makes you cringe.

But for everyone -- even someone who does not have special needs -- their greatest asset is their greatest hurdle as well. So it’s nice to know that in some ways, I’m the same as everyone else. 

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Written by: Penelope Trunk See other articles by Penelope Trunk
About the Author:

Penelope Trunk founded three startups, writes an advice column that appears in 200 newspapers, and Inc magazine called her the world's most influential career counselor. Trunk has Asperger Syndrome and she lives on a farm in Wisconsin where she homeschools her two sons. Read more about Penelope Trunk on her website, PenelopeTrunk.com.


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