My First Blog by Daniel Svoboda
I’m proud to contribute my first blog post to this site. If you are here, you are taking a first step into a larger world. No doubt, a lot of you are reluctant to take the plunge of dating if you’ve never done it before. Most of us have been ostracized or excluded from various groups and the anticipation of rejection would only bring back those painful memories. I completely empathize with you as myself have been largely ostracized and excluded from “normal” society. How I became successful is something I want to share to you all. Hopefully, I can inspire all of you.
To give a bit of an introduction to myself, I was born and raised in Staten Island, NY; a type of community consisting of working class toughs who could pick on people who stand out in anyway. Needless to say, my experience was not in the least bit ideal growing up. My parents, hoping for a better change for me, moved us to a leafy suburb in central NJ. Things however spiraled further downward for me. Whereas I had playmates in my previous neighborhood that were my best buddies, my aspie eccentricities, along with my completely different mannerisms that I acquired in working class Staten Island helped to isolate me in my new neighborhood. I can remember the times when I only had one friend in high school that I played tennis with, while I was virtually ignored in my high school.
All of these slights only forced me to redouble myself into studying hard at my high school. Despite doing badly in the 10th grade when I arrived, I was still able to bring my grades back up in the 11th and 12th grades. My turnaround allowed me to get accepted to a high-end private engineering school. My effort was based on the belief that high school is a bad environment for intellectually inclined people and that college would be entirely different. I had hoped that a more nerdy/geeky environment would help me to find my niche. For a while, it seemed I had done so as I made friends with a couple of senior geeks/nerds, but when all my friends departed in my junior year, I was again confronted with ostracization and ridicule from my peers. It seemed that the cycle had come to reassert myself.
Finally, when I graduated, I had expected to get high-paying interesting jobs due to my background as a computer engineer, along with peers I could relate to. Instead, I could only get entry-level programming jobs, some of which I was unable to last long due to office politics and my coworkers looking askance at my eccentricities. Needless to say, my romantic life was also nonexistent at this point.
Given all this, how did I go from rock bottom to finding a great group of friends, having my dream job as a data scientist, working on AI projects, being financially independent, and having dated several times? I can point to several things, but the first was diagnosing myself on the spectrum. My mom had found an article in Times magazine when I was 25 describing people on the autistic spectrum and stated that it described me perfectly to a T. After finding a professional psychologist and getting myself diagnosed, I began to look at Meetup groups to find anything related to Aspergers. To my surprise, I found a whole cornucopia of groups to join. I was naturally cautious as I had bad experiences from joining social groups in the past, but to my surprise, I found myself fitting in naturally. Here was a group of people who not only liked to monologue as professors, but were interested in what others had to say, including myself. I can remember looking back on the early days and seeing my social anxiety disappear more and more while my social confidence started to skyrocket. I suddenly not only remembered the camaraderie that I enjoyed in Staten Island, but found more social opportunities opening up to me than I had never known. Starting to feel secure in my new group settings, I started signing on to dating sites and looking for aspie women to date. This was my very first time seriously dating as my confidence was so low, that I never even bothered to look for dating, afraid of any rejection I may encounter. Again, I was surprised at how easy I could connect with aspie women. After initially dating one woman, I was confident enough to start dating NT women, with my NT girlfriend lasting one year. Although she had broken off the relationship afterwards and I had wished to continue it, I was way past the insecurity that had formerly dogged my teenage and early adult years.
The second thing was that in order to advance my career, I went back to school for my masters. Previously, I had felt rootless as I could not find one area that I wanted to concentrate in. This time though, I found a subject that I deeply fell in love with: machine learning. It was here I was introduced to the field of data science along with artificial intelligence, along with the mind dazzling possibilities that it offered. I had found the subject that I wanted to specialize in and made every effort with extracurricular reading and online classes to work towards it. It wasn’t easy and I could remember the times that I got fired from positions as they expected me to be at a certain level in advance and not give me on the job training, but I persisted and have managed to find at present time, a data scientist position at a major banking firm where I am respected by my manager and colleagues.
Does this all sound like bragging? Not at all. Like some of you, I started at rock bottom and showed how I was able to climb up. I wanted to point out how it is not easy, but that it can be done. The important first step is to find like-minded people, whether it is here, Aspie support groups, Facebook, or Meetup groups. To find like-minded people works will no longer make you feel like an outcast and will help to build up your social confidence. When that has been accomplished, the next goal is to find a suitable career that is based on what you like and will allow you to be independent. Finally, the last goal is to build a lasting relationship as the capstone from these previous successes. This may sound like too much and indeed it may be painful initially given the fear of rejection we tend to have, but will become easier and easier as you accumulate your successes. In my next blog posts, I intend to explain further in depth my experiences of building up socially from the three criteria I listed and how it can apply to you.