My oldest son Alex is almost 21 and he has high-functioning autism. He is a wonderful and bright young man with many gifts, balanced to some degree by social quirkiness and other challenges resulting from his autism. When he graduated from high school, my wife and I decided he was not yet ready for the rigors of college and instead focused on helping him find employment and increasing his independence.
He has been employed for over two years by a global retailer in one of their stores near our home. He works part-time and absolutely loves his job. The store employees have embraced him as one of their own and he has thrived in this supportive environment surrounded by good people who genuinely like and care about him. The store assigned Alex a longtime employee as his coach when he first began his job and this wonderful gentleman (along with other senior team members) ensures that Alex stays on track and receives the proper training he needs to be successful.
Alex has found purpose and self-confidence in his work. At home he regales our family with stories about his day and interactions with customers, some of whom he knows from our church and the surrounding community. Alex takes his job seriously and is always on time. He works hard and follows the rules. Alex never complains about work. He offers to help other team members at work even if it is not his responsibility to do so. He takes pride in being a team member of this company and shares this pride with others he encounters outside of work.
On this Labor Day, what can we learn from a young man with autism who truly loves his job? I reflected on this over the weekend and would offer these five impactful lessons that have made a difference to me and others who know my son:
- Focus on the task in front of us/Live in the moment. Alex isn’t thinking about promotions or his next job. He is trying to do the best job he can at the tasks he has been given. He is fully present and focused at work. How often do we lose sight of this as we get wrapped up in longing for something we don’t have versus simply doing our best work?
- Our work colleagues can be an extension of our family. Alex has embraced his co-workers as his extended family. They are his friends and he knows them all by name. They, in turn, have welcomed and cared for him as a member of their work family. Do we ever consider our work colleagues in this light? What if we more readily welcomed new employees or those who don’t look, think or act like us?
- Griping is not productive. Alex has been employed for 27 months and I have never heard him complain about his job. Not a single time. There is a place for constructive criticism/comments if the desire is to make things better, but how often does this turn into unproductive griping at the water cooler with a work colleague?
- What about our company makes us proud? Alex knows he is liked and accepted at his company. He feels like he is contributing and making a difference. He is constantly learning new things. He makes enough money to do the things he enjoys in his free time. In a simplistic way, Alex feels proud to be part of his organization and tells everyone where he works. What makes us proud about our employers? Can we see past the negatives (and we all have them) to see the good? Do we proudly share this good with others?
- No job or task is too small. Alex is a “worker bee” and does some of the more mundane tasks in his workplace. But, he sees his role as important. He is contributing in his small way to the success of the operation and it makes him feel necessary and needed. Do we lose sight of the importance of the little things, the routine tasks and the unglamorous jobs? It all counts and truly matters that these jobs are done well.
Alex is a young man with autism, but if I am honest, he is more advanced than me when it comes to how he views work. He works for the joy of it and the feeling of purpose it gives him. He knows his job and he does the best he can despite his challenges. He has found a way to contribute to society when many would have assumed it was impossible because of his disability.
I have shared with friends that I should never allow myself to have a bad day compared to what Alex faces. As I think about my wonderful son, I see him embrace with enthusiasm a world that is often alien, difficult and even hostile because of his autism. Despite these challenges, he does his best with a smile on his face. He gets up and goes to work. He finds joy in it.
Alex inspires me, and I am very proud of him.
Randy Hain is an executive coach, consultant, author, speaker and the founder of Serviam Partners (www.ServiamPartners.com). He is the award-winning author of seven books, including LANDED! Proven Job Search Strategies for Today’s Professional, Something More: The Professional’s Pursuit of a Meaningful Life and his newest work Special Children, Blessed Fathers: Encouragement for Fathers of Children with Special Needs. All of his books are available on Amazon.