The Worst First Job: Autistic Professional Confessionals – Part 1

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This is the first of a four-part series of the significant episodes in my autistic working life, where I’ve endured failures and scraped by with second chances.

As a teenager, I loved coffee. Straight black.

So when the opportunity to start my first job at the Lava Java coffee shop opened up, I couldn’t be more thrilled. Or more nervous.

This was supposed to be my big step. My foray into doing “grown up things.”

That step faltered.

I clocked in at 6AM. Left sick by noon. Before the afternoon was up, the owner stormed to my front door, yanked my employee handbook from my hands in my own doorway and dismissed me on the spot before I could manage an apology for leaving.

Even as I reflected then and now, the horrid haze and blur was no less clear.

It made no sense.

I was crushed, rocked in tears, fearing it would be my last job ever. I was 14.

I didn’t understand my own Life Autistic then; I was ill-equipped & under-supported to handle my first job. 

The work expectations weren’t at all clear: instead of the owner showing up to train me for my first day as promised, two of her employees basically threw me to the register assuming I’d just “figure it out.”

Or when regulars would come in without so much as addressing me, placing heaps of quarters on the counter – like, “Oh, hi, would—ok, bye?” Apparently I should have known the usuals and their usual orders.

I wasn’t socially adept enough to navigate needing to pause, ask for help, or even ask the right questions, to be honest. At one time I asked what protocol we had in case someone came in with a gun. There’s that wonderful, tangential autistic curiosity at work.

After dozens of barely-managed orders, frictions from my odd patter, and growing illness and unease, I asked to leave for the day. Whether stress, early rising, or just a violent confluence of factors, I could barely stand up straight.

I thought I’d try again, get a second chance for when I need to come back.

That second chance never came. 

My Lava Java tenure lasted a full six hours. It wasn’t even a first day.

I look back at this through the lens of my older autistic self, wondering where I ruined it all that. I recall the odd questions, my awkwardness, but I can’t pry back open to find where I was knowingly abnormal, malicious, or otherwise undeserving of another go.

That’s the hard part of autism — it is our normal and we don’t always see where others find the abnormal. 

This first episode was terrible. My parents were worried, as was I. This felt like a judgment on my ability to function professionally. I knew I wasn’t normal, but now I felt like I couldn’t even do normal things. I was scared.

Lava Java never gave me a second chance.

But someone else did.

 

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