Why I’m so awesome at the work I do

Does that sound arrogant? Maybe. I live in a culture where being honest about your accomplishments is seen as bragging. And bragging is a deadly sin in the country that admires their royal family for “being so ordinary”.

Thanks to my love for everything English, I have been able to adopt a middle way: being slightly eccentric while also pretending that this is just a harmless, funny thing and not my “normal” behaviour; being honest and direct while using sentence constructions that are similar to English ones with all their woulds and mights; and pretending it’s not a big deal while being completely upfront about my strengths.

  1. I’m an awesome writer
    Yeah, I know. You’re reading this blog so you probably think “Why mention that?”. But it’s worth mentioning. I have done copy writing for websites, rewriting long-winded marketing copy to fit short attention spans on the internet, highlighting strong points and paying attention to search engine stuff. (Which is one of the reasons I never use a link like here). In nearly every job I’ve had, I ended up writing manuals for stuff that people kept asking me about. Because I have a knack for describing things in clear, uncluttered language. I have also taught coworkers how to write better emails, paying attention to what question they’re replying to, acknowledging the other person’s initial issue and only then moving on to describing the solution. (And also making sure that the solution sounds like hard work so we can charge more). Not just telling them “it’s fixed, kthxbai“. And let’s not forget CHECK YOUR SPELLING AND GRAMMAR. I can spot a typo from a mile off. And I firmly believe that if you have a lot of spelling mistakes in an email to a customer, you’re signalling to them that you think they’re not worth the extra time to do a careful check of your writing before hitting “Send”.
  2. I’m good with customers
    You wouldn’t expect that from someone with persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, would you? But I am really good with customers. In both email and phone contact, I mirror their words in several ways, so they feel heard and understood (and also to make sure that I’ve actually understood them). I use clear and non-ambiguous language and don’t make promises I can’t keep. And I also follow through on the promises that I can keep. I’m not as good in face-to-face contact, but if I’m in a meeting as the technical expert, I can concentrate on just adding in the specifics and details, which gives me a way to avoid all the body language and emotional attachment. And the lack of emotional attachment is also why I’m one of the best people to deal with angry customers. I’m calm and professional. I know it’s not about me. The customer just wants to get taken seriously. Doesn’t everyone get angry when they think people aren’t listening? I’ve only had someone hang up on me ONCE, and he dropped by the office the next day to bring cake.

    © Poznyakov – Dreamstime.com

  3. I know something about everything
    No, seriously. I might not be the person who knows the most about a single subject, I might not be a CSS guru or a PHP wizard or a kick-ass sysadmin, but I know about all those things. Show me something I haven’t worked with yet, and I’ll get the hang of its general function and purpose within a week. And then I’ll write a manual about it. And be able to explain it to customers. And create realistic expectations of how much work it will be to implement something. Because I get the technical stuff. I often call myself a translator between customers and programmers, because I have the knowledge but not the baggage. I can think outside the box. And then explain the box to others. But my strength is not just knowing a lot of stuff, I also go in there and get my hands dirty. Image not loading? I’ll have a quick look and fix it. No probs.
  4. I fix things
    I’m a typical first responder. Sometimes my fixes won’t be pretty, but they will be fast and efficient. Because I have incredible focus and pattern recognition. I can see where things are going wrong, I can find those bugs, and then I don’t spend ages trying to figure out why the bug is there in the first place, but I simply think up a solution. (And put a comment in the code explaining the ugliness, because I’m professional like that). I see the nail. Sometimes my quick fixes are only a temporary solution, in which case I write up a short description of the problem and what I’ve done so far, and then send it on to a programmer. This saves the customer from having to explain the problem twice, and it saves the programmer from having to spend time looking for the problem, and listening to non-technical stuff.
  5. I’m detail oriented
    Yeah, people often think of details in relation to “getting bogged down in details”. But it is a strength, and an awesome one at that. It means I don’t overlook a step, no matter how small it is. I don’t fix something and then forget to send an email about it. I remember exactly how much time I spent on the phone so I can do my hours registration or invoicing. I write amazing manuals (there they are again, but seriously, it’s a skill) because I don’t skip a SINGLE step. I describe each click and command. (Which is not something most people do. Like that one time a coworker kept telling me to set up a VPN connection, and I kept going to the Windows Configuration screen and click “Set up a VPN connection” – sounds logical right? – but what he forgot to tell me was that I was supposed to do that by right-clicking a tray icon. Took us HALF AN HOUR before we’d solved that little communication problem. He wasn’t very detail oriented).
  6. I really really enjoy my work
    Dedicated is the word I’d use. Because obsession sounds so… autistic. But in fact, my obsessiveness is my main autistic trait. When I’m working, I’m in the zone. I’m utterly focused. I love writing the perfect email, making a customer happy by simply listening to them on the phone, implementing the perfect fix, making that light bulb go off in other people’s heads. I love beautiful bits of coding and well-structured databases. I love not being afraid of command lines and root privileges (although I did accidentally kill an entire web server once by executing a CHMOD command in the wrong directory. But that’s another strength: I always take responsibility for my mistakes).

    And most of all, I love being a nerd girl in a nerd world.

> sudo make me a sandwich – xkcd.com

34 thoughts on “Why I’m so awesome at the work I do

    • “su” means Super User and “do” means to do. It means you’re using super user or root privileges to execute a command, which is like the top level in Unix. There’s more information in the “root privileges” link. 🙂

    • I included the comic because that happens to me a lot on xkcd.com. In trying to understand some of his more obscure jokes, I start looking up stuff online, and learn new things. It’s very nerdy. 🙂

      • I definitely do that too. I get all of his linguistics jokes, and most of his math and physics jokes, but often his programming and chemistry stuff slips by me, and I love it! It’s a chance for me to research the reference (even if often “research” really just means “wikipedia”) and learn a little something new and I am rewarded by understanding his comic. It’s a fantastic nerd system.

      • You are not afraid of the command line, you are not afraid of root privileges, you like xkcd: may I ask you to be my friend? 😀

        • Since you’re asking, why not? 😉

          (Seriously though. I have several non-nerdy friends. But geeking out about stuff like this with people who GET IT is its own kind of awesome). 😀

  1. This is one of those areas where natural honesty and accuracy upsets some people who have difficulty accepting this as anything other than arrogance. No, it’s not arrogant to be aware of your own strengths and talk about them. Why is it that talking about weaknesses is considered acceptable but not strengths? Are other people that insecure about their own abilities? Besides which, self-deprecation or false modesty is so close to lying that their own mother couldn’t tell them apart in a good light.

    So, go you!! You are awesome! 😀

    And finally, I was just wondering… do I fill my sentences with “woulds” and “mights”? 😉

    • Compared to a Dutch person, yes you do! I love the subtlety of English. It’s very good at being not-in-your-face. It allows a lot of room to manoeuvre. That’s one of the reasons why English people think Dutch people are so rude. Compare “That’s very hard to do” to “That might be slightly difficult to accomplish.” They’re really saying the same thing but the Dutchie will always choose the first. Our language is very blunt with a preference for verbs in present tense.

      And yes, most people are very insecure about their own strengths. I run into that a lot. I know how hard it is when you feel constantly outgunned and inferior to others, so I always try to be empathic, especially with insecure managers. Unfortunately, I default to being super positive about stuff, so I still get on people’s nerves even when I’m not talking about my own strengths, but theirs! I’m still learning how to handle that. Maybe this post isn’t the best example, lol.

      • The odd thing is not that many people are very insecure about their strengths (one of the reasons is the Dunning-Kruger effect, other is the misguided way people try to teach us _only_ by pointing where we have failed, and if I had time I surely could think of more reasons).

        What is very odd, to me, is that their insecurity leads them to dislike that another person B objectively recognizes his/her (B’s) strengths and talks about them. For me, speaking with someone who objectively and matter-of-factly recognizes his/hers personal strengths (very very different from bragging) makes me more secure of my own strengths. The important point here for me is that the person is saying something he/she does believe is true, and saying it matter-of-factly, as far as I can understand.

        • I had to look up the Dunning-Kruger effect, that is so awesome! Thanks!

          (It’s actually been tested with regards to Dutch people’s fluency in English. I call it collective overconfidence. One of my friends once asked me to proofread a research article that his Dutch coworker had translated into English for inclusion in a highly regarded scientific publication. He ended up refusing to have his name mentioned as the co-author, because neither his coworker or their boss thought there was any need to get in a professional translator. It was THAT BAD).

          I think there’s been some research about the effect you describe as well. Where someone even mentioning where they went on holiday is seen as a challenge by their conversational partner. Even if it isn’t meant as such. But I’ve also noticed that usually it is meant as a challenge. That’s why I usually avoid the “did anything fun this weekend?” questions and let the other person hog the glory. 😛

      • I think that’s one of the strengths of your writing: your directness. It really grabs the attention of the reader and holds it. That and the fact that what you have to say is thought-provoking. You definitely have a talent for getting to the heart of a subject and presenting it in fresh and enlightening ways.

  2. Well, I feel like this is a good start to that list of things you’re awesome at that you said you’d do. Certainly not complete though. 😛

    Really though, these are all such incredibly useful skills and not a lot of people can say they have all of them in a tidy package like you. It’s awesome! You’re awesome!

    • Yeah, it isn’t the whole picture but I wanted to do a work related post first because I’m reading this book about Asperger’s at work and SO MUCH of it is about becoming aware of your strengths. And I’m like, “Erm, I’ve got that covered already. Maybe even too much.”

      So I promise I will do a more general one sometime in the future. And thank you. You’re awesome too. (Because awesome people make awesome friends). 😀

  3. I think it sounds awesome that you think you’re awesome at the work you do. I like it when people have professional pride and enthusiasm for what they do. I like it when people have pride full stop, because it means they are happy with what they do, positive, and therefore it’s likely they are fun to be around.

    • Thank you! At the risk of sounding repetitive, I think my passion, positivity and enthousiasm are some of my best qualities, but I don’t always get the reaction I’m hoping for. I tend to get along fairly well with coworkers and customers, but management is another story. I’ve only had one manager who liked me and trusted me to do a good job. It’s very frustrating because I have no idea where I’m going wrong. Maybe I am bragging too much! I still have so much to learn about social interaction.

        • Maybe, but when it’s nearly all of them, I can’t go on blaming others. It’s pattern recognition. It might not be my fault as such, but it’s up to me to change the pattern, because I’m the only constant in it.

        • Could be true but equally I have known people who worked in organisations where culturally they did not know what good management was. If I manage someone I would not want them to feel that they were not liked by me, but would endeavour to work out how to improve the relationship.

          I like pattern recognition. I was a mathematician in my earlier life and that was my strongest part. 3 dimensions and above was just the worst thing for me though.

    • Thank you so much Anna! In a way, maybe I’m also hoping that others will recognise some traits of their own in this list. So many of these are directly attributable to my autism. It’s just the bragging about them that’s neurotypical. 😉

  4. Hahaha, how refreshing to find someone so unashamedly qualified… and proud of it. It is a curious thing, to be looked at with suspicion because you happen to be expert in something.

    I’ve found this is more a social than professional thing in England, though the Americans love brilliance on the payroll.

    • It’s definitely a social thing. Somehow people seem to think that if you’re saying you’re good at something, you’re implying that you’re better than them. Not just in the things you mention, but an overall better person. It’s a leap of thought my autistic brain simply can’t make. I just try to be honest and will be the first person to admit that I’m not the best person to hire if they’re only looking for a front end developer (building websites in HTML/CSS). I’m pretty good at that stuff but nowhere near an expert, and that doesn’t make me feel bad at all. So why would the things I am good at make other people feel bad about themselves? I don’t get it. :$

      • I can hazard a guess, but I try to leave peoples’ insecurities alone. And other people alone for that matter. The last time I worked in a social environment – social insofar as there were many, many people there – was at a big academy.

        I was invited there, wanted to go there, so offered to look at a thousand kids’ work to identify – if there were – any common failings that the teachers were missing. English teachers are not specialists in English. Anyway, I ended up giving a lecture within an hour of my first day on Language and Power, was asked to take over the A-Level Language course after a week, ended up rewriting all their A-L English courses, stayed on to develop their curriculum from the ground up, but after six months, when I was coming across deaf ears regarding the semantic differences between what constitutes good results, and good standards.

        I decided to have the entire sixth form cohort tested for reading and critical reasoning, in order to demonstrate exactly what the ‘results’ they were so keen on protecting actually meant.

        If I swim a hundred yards and get a badge, I know exactly why I’m getting that badge. For the GCSE award? I couldn’t work out what it was being awarded for. Anyway – I got the testing done, checked the stats, and lo and behold, across the board there was too great a concentration of positive results for it to be wrong: that a C grade was attainable with a reading age of 12.

        So I went from expert to pariah in the eyes of the person who wanted me there in the first place, because not only had I exposed failings that had either been ignored or not recognised; identified specifically the who was behind, what they’d struggle with and how to fix it within the context of a blanket fix. But designed a process of catching the problems early – essentially turning ‘intervention’ from a reactive procedure, to one that prevented kids falling behind in the first place by predicting where they’d struggle. All based on how they construct their sentences.

        I do apologise for my aspiebrain reply – I’d normally just get you to punch me if I went on and on.

        Anyway, this woman was so insecure about her own position that she went all ad hominem on me until I decided one day to just stop going in. Of course that is a little sanitised, but the world NEEDS people who have equisite understanding of things to simplify and drag others up, to help them help others. I loved being able to make language that was relevant to them combine with linguistics and types of cognitive processing to attain a greater level of desired difficulty in the classroom PLAIN and transparent. I even did work with the modern language teachers about how to teach kids how to visualise grammar. Even correct certain misunderstandings about language that still gets taught.

        You know what it’s like when you get your teeth into a project. My autism was used against me by this woman – because she felt threatened and inadequate. It was clever really: just bombarded me with conflicting requests, among other things.

        I’ll stop now.

        • This is an apology free zone. 😉

          Talking about things we’re enthousiastic about should not be a reason to apologise.

          Your experience sounds fascinating and harrowing at the same time. Me and my positively minded brain will stick to the idea that if your time there has made life better for even one child, or has inspired even one teacher to teach in a slightly different way, to subvert the system from within, it’s a win.

          My goals are huge in their smallness. As supervisor, I always asked my employees to share one thing, just one small thing in their week that they were proud of. They felt uncomfortable at first but they learned from my examples: getting a personal thank you note from a customer, finding the bug that was just an innocent typo hidden away in 6 lines of code. The practice was abolished as soon as I was demoted from my post. But even so, I made their work weeks a little more cheerful for a short while. That is a win, to me.

        • That’s a great idea; like it. I used all sorts of little things to amp up the positive, even keeping classes behind until they said convincingly, to a person, ‘I’m awesome’ – regarding themselves of course. I’ve never needed reinforcement for very much – I find it difficult and awkward. The best thing I got from my social experiment was being able to follow my ‘kids’ through H.E. and act as private mentor when needed. Seeing how well they do is my win.

          Most of my work now is dedicated to learning strategies and making language less scary for teachers themselves. My work on Asperger’s too, has taken a slightly different tangent. Rather than write about the condition, I write from the condition and demonstrate that difference through very particular discourse conventions – I just try to bring the fun.

  5. it’s great how aware you are about your own awesomeness! =) (i doubt myself too much and the doubt also eats on the quality of my performance, work or play, whatever)
    i have to say though that in a way, you seem to “just” do what you like and what you are good at, which should be the normal criteria for people to chose a profession… unfortunately, often it’s not!
    When I was still active in the corporate world, I was often surprised how little professionalism, focus and consistency people put in their job, basically once they have come to a status they are comfortable with.. And a big part of that was how little effort they were putting into helping each other in the interest of the company or simply to make things easier for everyone.
    I hope this doesn’t sound like I want to lessen your awesomeness and I really wonder how much your autism plays a role in all that. You sound like a GREAT coworker, talented, reliable, inspired and supportive, – I would love to work with or for you =)

    • Wow, thanks for the compliment! 😀

      I think my autism does play a role in a large part of my professional attitude. It makes me very straightforward and less inclined to play office politics. And I don’t see the point in lying to customers when being honest about a problem creates far more understanding and willingness to cooperate. And of course the hyperfocus. 😀

      (It’s what makes me angry when “person-first” advocates say we need to focus on the person and their strengths, not on the disability and the weaknesses. I see my autistic brain as a HUGE strength! So can I please put that first if you don’t mind? Thanks!)

      That being said, I don’t really divide parts of myself into “autism” and “me”. It’s all incorporated in my personality, my uniqueness. Same as everyone else is unique, with or without autism.

  6. Pingback: Point, Counterpoint, Actual Point: A Collaborative Blog Series | Notes On Crazy

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