I make no secret of the fact that I’m not particularly ‘normal’. I’ve a convoluted self-identity, I partake in unusual hobbies, I’m almost certainly neurodivergent in a way I’ve never seen benefit in having diagnosed.
I’m weird, but I’m okay with that. It doesn’t really affect most of the things I do. Pretty much everyone I know, on an individual level, is accommodating with my little weirdsies.
There is one area of life where there’s frequently a conflict of expectations: work.
The work environment, at least in the desk-based jobs typical of the tech industry, seems to insist on communication skills above many others. It insists that success be put into quantifiable numbers. It insists that upward mobility comes with responsibility over a greater number of people.
And I—with all my little weirdsies—do not gel with this at all.
I don’t like appearing on camera or presenting before an audience. They trigger my dysphoria and anxiety.
I don’t like making small talk. I’m a listener more than a speaker.
I don’t like selling myself to others. From my perspective, I’m pretty unremarkable and a braggart I am not.
I don’t like sitting in meetings. I need to be doing something with my hands to not succumb to boredom.
I don’t like critiquing other people. I trust others to always be trying their best and I despise having to tell them that their best isn’t good enough.
I don’t like working from an office. I find the lack of control over my environment uncomfortable and the presence of other people distracting.
I don’t like managing people. I don’t want to be in charge of others, I don’t consider being in charge of others a quantifier for success. I’d rather be scrabbling around with code than directing others on how to do the same thing.
That isn’t to say that I can’t do those things. I’ve talked to strangers in airports, taken on leadership roles in organisations, done talks and tried teaching. These things are possible, but they are a mask, and maintaining that mask is incredibly mentally exhausting.
Imagine a presentation. Not a long one, say just 15 minutes, presented to a group of just a few dozen people. The presentation will probably go fine. From the outside, it’ll probably seem cool, collected and well-informed.
Inside I’ll be a writhing mess, paranoid that things are going badly, anxious about arbitrary things like time limits, fighting hard to resist the instinct to flee. That’s the power of the mask.
When the arithmetic of doing a 15-minute presentation is three hours of preparation stress, an hour of sick-to-my-stomach anxiety, 15 minutes or so of basically everything I hate doing, and another hour or more afterwards just to recover… well, it’s probably not worth doing the 15-minute presentation.
That is just an example. A lot of the things that apply to presentations also apply to meetings, job interviews, wedding speeches, feedback sessions, and basically anywhere one is placed in a position of attention or authority over others. Doable, but difficult to such a degree that it seldom feels worth having done it afterwards.
It doesn’t really give me much optimism for the future when upward mobility in virtually every job seems to be based on networking, selling your achievements and being in charge of other people much more than having relevant skills or good decision-making ability.
I’m personally content to be a maker, not a manager. I just want to create and let my craftsmanship speak for itself without the overhead of justifying why I should be allowed to create or why what I make has value.
If only the rest of the world was designed that way.