Forging a new path: A Schwabbie’s journey to self-discovery and empowerment


December 3, 2020

By Jamie Fox, Manager, Talent Acquisition

For Madisyn C., Asset Operations Associate at Schwab, establishing a “new normal” during the unusual year of 2020 was an effort already in full swing even before the pandemic began. Here, Madisyn shares her journey and the process of better understanding herself and her needs.

I have been with Charles Schwab for just over two years, starting in Client Service & Support and transitioning to Retirement Business Services. I also serve as an Austin Co-Chair for the Charles Schwab Abilities Network (CSAN) Employee Resource Group, and as a member of the Mentorship Committee.

Working as a broker in Client Service & Support, I facilitated new representative trainings, new broker training, and coached representatives through their SIE and Series 7 studying. I was absolutely thriving.

Despite feeling so invested in and fulfilled by my role, I was becoming increasingly unwell. I couldn’t point to a single day, week, or quarter that was to blame for the changes that I was seeing in myself, but they were apparent to those who knew me best. There was no amount of restructuring of my routine, refocusing on self-care, or intentional de-stressing outside of work that was helping. It got to the point where I would wake up every day feeling overwhelmed, though I was eager to go in to work. I didn’t feel stressed or concerned about my performance—I had never had a single trade error, broker error, or exception. But toward the end of my time on the trading floor, the difference between the energy I had at work and what was left over for the rest of my life was too stark to be healthy.

What I now know is that I was experiencing autistic burnout.

At the time I had not yet been diagnosed as autistic; as anyone who has pursued a diagnosis later in life can confirm, the process for autistic adults is not straightforward or easy. Though this time was confusing, the incredibly close relationship I had with my manager played a critical role in my being comfortable seeking help. I am so deeply grateful to my manager and director for the way they handled my situation and my transition to another department.

Serving as Co-Chair of CSAN has made me think critically about what I can do to help others who are struggling with their health or managing a disability that their peers might not even be aware of. In these roles I am intentionally vulnerable with others so that I may be truly seen, and with the hope that it will encourage others to let themselves be seen too.

I am thankful to work at a firm where job security was not a factor in my decision to be open about my disability.

Madisyn C.

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Something that I am particularly mindful of is the lack of autistic representation. So often what I do see is written by “allistic” (a word used to describe non-autistic) people and reads as one-dimensional. For that reason, I am passionate about sharing my experience in a way that provides a more complete picture. Personal accounts from other autistic people are part of what helped me to recognize myself and, ultimately, be diagnosed. Being autistic is not a tragedy. Nor is it a superpower. My diagnosis was a clarification that brought 24 years of life into focus.

The Autism Spectrum is not linear— it does not go from “less autistic” to “more autistic.” It is more like a color wheel, where each section represents an autistic trait. How much each trait is exhibited in an individual depends largely on the person and the circumstances. In my case, the brain that was able to execute at a high level in my broker role is the same brain that could be overwhelmed by stimulation. I have talents and shortcomings just like everyone else, though the details of those may differ.

I am still navigating these feelings, but I think I am, in a sense, grateful that I didn’t know I was autistic prior to working as a broker. I don’t know if I would have thought working on the trading floor was possible. While it was ultimately not the right environment for me, I am so proud of, and nostalgic about, my time there.

“Diagnosis” by Madisyn C.

Madisyn is also an artist. “Diagnosis” is by far the largest work she has done at 24x48 inches. She spent over 300 hours on it—first using fine liners (micron pens) to draw each shape and then using acrylic paint to add color to the shapes at the end. 

The outer sections are representative of her processing and experience and the inner four sections represent the clarity provided by her autism diagnosis. Understanding the core components of the work (the interior four shapes) helps to make the more complex sections more legible, even in their overlap.