What’s In A Group, aka Returning To The Workforce

I have a very convoluted relationship with the concept of groups. For starters, as someone on the Autism Spectrum, I tend not to fit in naturally with groups on a social level (and this has been something I’ve experienced ever since early childhood). 

It comes down to the very root of the word “autism” – to be unique, to be individual, and to do things on one’s own. And that certainly fits me to a tee in terms of how I interact with other people. I have always been someone who has thrived on the more personal types of interactions, ie. the 1-1 style. It’s where I find we develop the most connection with people, and learn a lot about ourselves in the process.

For as long as I can remember, I have been stubbornly independent, always wanting to do things my own way. But being back in a time where ASD and Aspergers were virtually unknown concepts, I was made out to feel that my way was the wrong way. I had no choice but to conform with the other neurotypical kids. And it was constantly awkward as fuck.

Fast forward to today. It’s been a couple of years now since I went through the diagnostic process and finally got the answers I had always been seeking about myself. Knowing that there had never been anything wrong with me in the first place, I at last had the freedom I always sought to just be myself.

And along the way, I found out who my true friends were. Luckily enough, they were the people who had always been there to start with. A wise friend once said something to me along the lines of, 

Just allow yourself to be the good person that you know you are, and everyone will naturally gravitate towards your positive energy”.

I certainly find that this has been the case, and because of this, I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people in the whole world.

However, I currently find myself in a situation where it feels like I’ve gone back to my childhood in a lot of ways. It certainly brings back some sad memories of the sheer awkwardness and alienation I felt growing up.

Some of you know that I recently returned to the workforce in April of this year, as a way to try to rebuild my financial situation. So right now, I’m working in a mainly administration role for a major financial services organisation on a 6-month contract, and the role itself is something I like doing. There are many other factors at play here that are making things rather difficult with this role, but these are not relevant to this particular conversation.

One factor that has been driving me crazy though is the interpersonal dynamic within the division I work for. My colleagues have all worked together for at least 4 years, so they are a close-knit group. There are a few people in the division with whom there is potential for a decent individual connection, and one in particular with whom I found I had a lot in common. This particular colleague has a thirst for knowledge very similar to mine, and will almost always be on their phone checking out the latest happenings in the world – almost exactly like me.

One problem – they insist that I should hang out with “the group”, being this core ensemble of people that seem to be inseparable, almost like a high school clique. Now anyone who knows me also knows that I don’t do cliques. I am my own person, I have the confidence I need to do things on my own, and the friends that I have in my life are my friends for a damn good reason.

And yet it felt like that for me to gain friendship with this colleague, I had to go through “the group” to do so. So I did a couple of times. And it was the most excruciating thing I’ve had to do.

Here’s the thing… I have next to nothing in common with these people (apart from the colleague I mentioned earlier). I certainly am not wiser about any of them from the group chats that I was so fortunate enough to observe (trust me, there were many other things I’d rather have done at that time).

The sad thing is that at the time, I liked my colleague a lot, to the point that I almost comprised who I was as a person just so I could gain their acceptance and friendship. It was a hark back to the days of high school and university where it seemed more socially acceptable to have friends than it was to be on one’s own.

There is another tricky element to all of this. No one at work knows about my ASD (or if they do, they have not said anything), and it’s not something I’m gonna volunteer proactively unless I am asked. There is still a lot of stigma attached to ASD and Aspergers in the workplace, and right now I need the money (otherwise I would not have gone back to corporate work in the first place).

(DISCLAIMER: I am fully aware that any one of my work colleagues could simply do a Google search on my name, and hey presto this post comes up. I am totally prepared to deal with any consequences of that happening (at the end of the day, this is my own personal blog, I have not named any names/organisations, and because this is my blog, I can say whatever the fuck I want))

In saying that, I have made it clear to a couple of my colleagues that if they want to get to know me as a person, then they need to do it on a 1-1 level. This is how they will find out what I am about. With the aforementioned colleague above, they haven’t seemed to get the hint, and they default to the group setting. I have even said to them “let’s hang out sometime”, “let’s do something outside of work”. And in return…

**CRICKETS**

It’s personally not worth the emotional effort and energy for me to try for something that is always going to be one-sided, particularly when it’s playing by someone else’s rules. A lot of you will read this and say “well maybe you should make an effort to fit in to the group”. You may as well say to me “take your square-pegged self and fit it into any of the round holes that exist in the group”. 

Not. Gonna. Happen.

As I said above, I am extremely lucky and blessed enough that I have so many wonderful people in my life, who support me and give me their friendship and love unconditionally, and yet they know I am very different to most people around me and fully accept that too (it’s probably why they love me so, who knows).

So at this point in time, my focus is on those people whom I do have in my life as opposed to the ones who seem nice to have. Who knows, maybe if I continue to be the good-natured independent individual that I am, then others might eventually want to see what I’m all about.

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