Finding Your Work Niche

There was one summer not too long ago when I was too old for camps and too young to be working for money. I think my mom got the idea from someone she sort of knew that there was this place in Vancouver where I could volunteer twice a week. It was a secondhand store sort of like Goodwill, but way shabbier. The proceeds went to the local animal shelter. There were about two or three employees – the rest were volunteers. I did have an interview, and the volunteer coordinator who led it was never seen again. I couldn’t get a sense of who worked there regularly – there always seemed to be someone new.

I think I spent a total of 30 hours that summer having a blast at ReTails. My position entailed straightening all the videotapes and making sure that the clothes were hanging in the right direction and weren’t falling off the hanger. This was my dream organizer job! I used to get in trouble at the library for organizing the videos according to how *I* thought they should be organized. At ReTails, I was in charge of them, and I can tell you, they were where they were supposed to be.

Hanging clothes was also a lot of sensory fun because the hangers were similar, and they looked so orderly all lined up. I had someone supporting me (sort of like a job coach) who would answer questions from customers who tended to be a little weird and eccentric. He would interface with the rude people who were just unhappy in general.

I think what I took away from this opportunity was an appreciation for the people who keep stores looking so organized and pretty. Most of them go unnoticed, but boy, do you notice when their work is not performed. It gave me a respect for work that is essential but underappreciated. It also taught me about myself and the need to play to my strengths instead of what someone said I should be doing. There is dignity in a job well done, even if it is organizing shelves.

My experience at ReTails showed me that I needed to find a job that let me put my autistic gifts to work. I know I need to cut back on my organizing at school and wait until my shift at Trader Joe’s to straighten things. I believe this is going to be the new normal for me as I get older: to find jobs to let me be my authentic self.

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