This is the second 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.
When I was 15, I started working for a Department of Defense subsidiary.
No joke. True story. 100% real.
Yeah, it was for the Commissary on NAS Keflavik, but DoD subsidiary has a great ring 🙂
I’d love to tell the story of my first boss there: a beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking, vulgar-joke-telling, meat-cutting, German-speaking Chicagoan guardian angel —but not today.
Or how I finally earned the respect from another boss: a tougher-than-nails Philippine grandmother, standing tall at 4’9″ and working endlessly and quietly until everyone else around her faltered — but not today.
No, today’s tale is about when I almost alienated Frank, the Winston Wolf of getting produce departments up to snuff, the one who was supposed to help us win the US Military’s Best Small Commissary of the Year award.
I toured him around the produce department, answering his questions matter-of-factly. Almost too matter-of-factly.
Me being autistic me, I leaned way too far into in my blunt, under-nuanced assessment of the situation.
When he asked why we had a towering stash of parsley boxes in the cooler, I said “Because we just order this stuff indiscriminately.”
Fast forward a day later, I get paged to the directors office.
“Hunter,” he said. “Do you remember what you said to Frank about our inventory?”
Oh God. Here we go. I could see myself being fired no matter what, because this was big, and there are no second chances to make things right, and—
But he didn’t fire me.
“Do you see how what you said might have misrepresented us?”
This was the first major learning between my professional work and Life Autistic, where I just needed someone to help me see what I didn’t see at first.
I felt bad, but I felt better. We didn’t get the orders right, but it wasn’t because we were careless — we had a corrective opportunity to fix, which we did.
The director then went one step further, giving me a chance to make the situation right.
This is big for us binary-thinking autistic folks, who thrive on wanting to restore balance by fixing things.
I went to Frank and apologized, knowing better where I could have been more tactful. Did we lapse and order too much parsley? Of course. But could I have better judged the situation more appropriately? Well, now I could.
Frank understood. He put out his hand, accepted my apology, and appreciated me being thoughtful enough to address this directly.
Later, I asked the director if I could take the judging day off.
“I don’t want to be here and risk mess things up.”
“No, Hunter,” he said. “You’re a part of this, win or lose. You helped make it happen.”
I got a chance to make it right and also not make it wrong.