It’s been a mixed week. Not long ago, I sent off two applications for jobs for after I finish the PhD. At the time, I figured I’d have it done by the end of September, and while the jobs would involve starting before that, it wouldn’t overrun that much as a result. Would it? And anyway, they were just applications, and the jobs were probably long shots.
Last week I got two invitations to interviews, on consecutive days, with all the preparation that involves – not just for what I say and do during the interview, but what I wear. I’ve not been to an interview for years, and none of my old suits will fasten (writing up involves a lot of cake).
I started some work on the 10-minute presentation for one of the interviews, but found it a huge challenge to sell myself in an area where I don’t have a huge amount of experience, so I thought I’d move onto the wardrobe. As I drove towards the out-of-town shopping precinct where I thought I could find some inexpensive, smart clothes, I was starting to lose it. After an afternoon of rack after rack of stuff that was too summery, too fussy, too expensive or just unsuitable, I had enough for one interview and figured I could cobble together enough stuff for a second (I wouldn’t wear the same top on successive days, but I wouldn’t have the chance to launder anything in between). It wasn’t much of a confidence boost – more a compromise.
I had a meeting with my supervisor about my thesis, and while it’s close to completion, it still needs a lot of work. And at some point over the weekend, I realised I was trying to do too much. In the past, I’d have carried on. I’d have risked a meltdown in an interview that I was underprepared for, and even if I’d performed well enough to get the job, I’d have struggled to settle into it with the thesis still hanging over me. I know this, because it’s exactly what I did with my first PhD, which I wrote up while juggling a succession of jobs; it wasn’t really up to scratch, and I was lucky to get through the viva with major rewrites rather than a fail.
The advantage I have now is that I recognise where things have gone wrong in the past, and I understand why. While some of my academic strengths probably come about through Asperger’s, so do my workplace weaknesses. My first post-doc job needs to be somewhere I can do well so I can build on it in the future. I can do OK in the right environment, with the right level of effort, I think (I’ve got some books to help me out too) – but that’s simply not viable while I’ve got so many balls in the air.
To be shortlisted for 100% of my (2!) applications shows that I can tick the pre-interview boxes. There will be future opportunities. And trying to work while finishing off a PhD is a challenge for anyone, on the spectrum or not. I’ve withdrawn both applications so I can focus on completing my thesis to a good standard. Both my supervisors were understanding about withdrawing and made encouraging remarks about my success in being shortlisted, and other people I’ve told have thought it’s a sensible decision to pull out (some who know about the Asperger’s, and others who don’t). I know it was a decision that I had to make as I was on track for a disaster at some point. Now I can focus on getting things sorted out at an appropriate rate, and make sure I have time to prepare for interviews AND to get plenty of tips from my ‘Aspie at work’ books beforehand.
Other news: I haven’t mentioned the Aspergers to my family yet. There was too much other stuff going on. But I did realise that my unconventionality really doesn’t stand out; there’s lots of subtle eccentricity in my family, which for the most part (in Aspie-appropriate small doses), I rather like.