Executive function means being able to see the big picture and sort through details to arrive at a good decision. You probably have met more than a few people with very poor executive function. This person is probably very smart but seemingly incompetent in one area—often at work, or in daily life skills, or both. Executive function disorder is common among people with Asperger Syndrome.
I have terrible executive function. Sometimes I make decisions that are so bad that I look like I’m being ridiculous on purpose. It’s simply unbelievable to many people that I could make such incompetent decisions. But in the moment, I can’t see it.
To be sure, I can see it in other people. When I’m coaching others I can tell within five minutes if I’m dealing with someone with poor executive function. Many times I have said, “The crux of your career problems is that you have an executive function problem.” And after the person does a bit of searching on Google, they thank me over and over again for helping them understand why their life felt like it was falling apart and they couldn’t stop it.
My inability to get proper ID is an example of executive function problems. I can tell you this—I know it intellectually. But still, if I had this story to do all over again, I’m not sure I would have done anything better except maybe pay someone to help me sooner. Executive function is the biggest problem I have and the hardest problem to make other people understand. But maybe this post will help you understand the full extent of an executive function gap.
In 2008 I took more than 50 flights within the US. With no photo ID. You’d be surprised how easy that is to do. Los Angeles has so many people coming through with no photo ID that there are 40 people on staff to check people with no ID. At O’Hare they called a special phone number and then gave me the choice of three street names and I had to pick the one I had never lived on.
In LaGuardia I lied. They asked what happened to my ID and I said I lost it. They asked why I didn’t get a new ID. I said I just lost it last week. I only lied because I thought I’d sound like a crazy person for not having any ID for more than a year.
The truth is that I didn’t replace the lost ID because I couldn’t. I tried.
Since I changed my name, my birth certificate no longer works as ID. I need two more pieces of paper to show who I am and people don’t like that. So getting ID started to be a fuss.
I realized that my social security card no longer worked. I needed to change the name on it. But I didn’t. I threw it out. I didn’t know that just because it no longer officially works doesn’t mean you should throw it out. Is there a word that is the opposite of hoarder? That’s me.
I got used to using my passport as my ID. But while living in Madison, I lost my passport during a trip. People told me not to take my passport everywhere. But I had to–it was my only ID.
That is bad, because in Madison you need a driver’s license. Because you have to drive.
You need a lot of stuff to get a driver’s license. You need a state-issued ID. You need a picture ID. You need a social security card. You need all that.
But every time I went to the DMV to try to get a license I wouldn’t really get all that list of stuff. I’d get some of it. I’d sort of try to get the stuff but I couldn’t do it.
It turns out the first offense for driving without a license is a $200 fine. That seemed okay.
I got that fine in about two months of driving. So I went back to the DMV. But now I had an unpaid ticket, and you can’t pay the ticket at the DMV.
Then I got another moving violation and my license got suspended.
But you cannot live in Wisconsin and not drive. So I drove. I tried to drive only a little bit. And I told myself I would get my license as soon as the suspension was over.
I got pulled over again at 3am when I was coming back from a business trip. I was driving down the middle of the road. On the line.
They had me step out of the car to take a drunk driving test.
The said put your right hand on your nose. I got the wrong hand. I told them I don’t know my left and right.
They ignored me. They told me to lift my left leg, and they pointed to my left leg so I’d get it right.
I lifted it really high, almost to my shoulder, because I can, because of yoga, and I wanted to impress them with my sobriety.
They told me I need to follow directions if I’m going to pass the test.
I walked in a straight line. They told me they were shocked, but I passed.
Still, they impounded my car because I was driving on a suspension and they drove me home in the police car.
I had my friend pick up my car. And then I drove it. In hindsight, there were better alternatives than that. But at the time I didn’t see any.
Just as my suspension ended, I got pulled over.
The policeman said to me, “Do you know why you got pulled over?”
I said, “No.”
He said, “Your tags are expired.”
I was shocked. I didn’t think people really kept track of their tags.
He said, “Can I see your license?”
I started crying.
The kids said, from the back seat, “Are you in trouble? Are you going to jail? Did you break the law?”
I asked the policeman if I could get out of the car and talk to him because I didn’t want my kids to hear.
He said okay.
I explained that I didn’t have a license. I told him I’ve been trying to get one but I couldn’t and then I got it suspended and I said please don’t make it so it’s suspended again. I’ll never get a license.
He gave the kids stickers and coloring books while he made calls on his radio and wrote tickets in his car. He ticketed me for the tags but not the license.
I went back to get a license and I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the right combination of name and address to match everything. I had changed my name and where I live so often that nothing matched. I went home discouraged.
I started thinking like a felon. I was scared of the police. I noticed them all the time. Sometimes I’d get so nervous driving behind a police car that I’d make a turn, just to get away.
You’re probably wondering what the Farmer was doing through all of this. He was having a complete shit fit. He was trying to understand why I couldn’t get a license. He was trying to tell me that I needed to take the rules seriously. He was telling me that I was going to ruin his life and the kids’ lives if I didn’t get a license.
To his credit he was always really nice about it. He knows me well. He knows that it is probably true that I cannot navigate bureaucracy by myself.
Slowly, I started taking steps to get my license. I hired someone to help me. I was making progress. I had a Wisconsin State ID and a social security card. And I was gearing up to the take the written exam.
To give you and idea of how hard it is for me to take a standardized test, when I took the GRE I scored in the 17th percentile. I think that’s where people score when English is not their first—or second—language.
My son sat next to me while I surreptitiously popped a Xanax and started the test.
The DMV person told my son he had to sit farther away from me.
There are a lot of questions that I’ve studied for. For example, I know that if you hit a deer and you do not take it, the next driver can take the deer home for himself.
I pass the written test. The Farmer and Jeanenne have a mini-celebration.
Jeanenne drives me to the DMV in Darlington to take the road test. I wait too long at intersections but they still pass me.
Then they let me take six photos until I get one I like.
And Jeanenne says, “It’s amazing that even when you are trying to follow the rules and be like everyone else, you still get people to make exceptions for you. “
But look. It’s a good picture: