Executive functioning is not my strong suit, and as such, I have developed many strategies to compensate for this basic skill. However, the road to developing strategies that work for me was paved with mistakes. These mistakes are a part of life, and it is important not to take them too seriously. Below are some of my most cringeworthy mistakes. After I made them, the world did not stop turning. Nor was I fired. Autistic or not, we are all human and deserve grace when we fall short. I am sharing these in the hope that autistic people will read them and know that they can bounce back from anything.
1. Learning to answer the phones:
My first intern coordinator told me that the only people who are good at answering the phones are people who have done it before. Despite this, I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to master this skill immediately. That just made it worse. I fumbled my way through constituent requests like a blubbering idiot for several weeks. People called angry and confused. It was my job to assist them, but I barely knew what I was doing. Compound that with taking these calls in front of my entire office, and it was a breeding ground for stupid mistakes.
Then, miraculously I started to understand the task. I learned quick answers to common questions and made an extreme effort to show our constituents compassion when they called at the end of their rope. Compassion is the key to answering the phones. Treat everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve as people, regardless of their political opinions. Do this, and the rest largely falls by the wayside. Just remember to ask for their name and contact information to log the call.
2. Getting my intern cohort lost in the Capitol
After completing my first internship, I thought I knew the Capitol like the back of my hand. During our intern scavenger hunt, a group assignment to help us learn to navigate the Capitol complex, I led our cohort to the wrong side of the building, and we had to start the whole exercise over.
I was never great at finding my way around the Capitol itself. The Rayburn House Office Building is a complicated maze that makes little sense to me. The Capitol Building itself is nonsensical to me because all the rooms are round. I never know which room I entered from or where I am supposed to go. This was nothing to beat myself up over. Interns are supposed to get lost on the scavenger hunt because getting lost is how we learn. Some mistakes are not worth anything more than a chuckle in the end, and this is one of them. I did not miss any important deadlines or embarrass my office. I was learning, and there is no reason to be ashamed of that.
3. Forgetting to do the writing test for a job interview
Imposter syndrome can start well before receiving a job offer. This happened when I interviewed to be assistant director of federal relations for a university I loved and respected. Throughout the entire interview process, I was in awe that they even liked my resume. This starry-eyed wonder distracted me and led to sloppy mistakes.
Upon hearing that I earned a final interview, I was overjoyed, so overjoyed that I forgot to read the second half of the invitation. It said that I needed to write a memo discussing the largest higher education government relations opportunities of the year. This assignment was bolded, underlined, and highlighted. I still missed it. Missing the assignment disrupted my entire interview. They picked somebody else for the position.
This mistake cost me a lot, but losing this position opened me up for better opportunities. I got an even better job a few months later, and during that interview process, I read every email twenty times over. Learn from your mistakes and never dwell on them. Another opportunity is always right around the corner.
4. Missing important documents when sorting mail
My brain moves fast and can sometimes get a bit manic when I am in a state of flow. One of my primary duties as an intern was sorting physical mail into categories for my legislative correspondent. I thought this could be done quickly by only reading a few lines of text. I became a sloppy mail sorter, which earned me a corrective talk with my supervisor. Even after slowing the pace, I still made silly errors. This habit took a ton of effort to correct. I put work into it every day. I may never have spectacular attention to detail, but I work every day to improve. That alone has helped me grow leaps and bounds in my career.