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Finding the Right Work for You: An ADHD Guide

According to Sarah-Jayne Bass, there are a number of barriers to employment faced by people with ADHD including communication barriers and impaired social interactions. While there are numerous individuals with ADHD who have found ways to be successful on the job, there are also many individuals with ADHD who are unemployed, underemployed, or who are what I call “unhappily serially-employed.” I place myself in the latter category.

Here we will address the ranks of the unhappily employed, underemployed, and “serially-employed” ADHD worker and provide a few ideas regarding “success” in the workplace.

No more frowny-face!
You don't have to be unhappy at work!

There is No Single Right Work for ADHD Adults

Dr. Edward Hallowell, an ADHD expert, writes in an issue of ADDitude, “It’s a misconception that certain jobs are not right for people with ADD. As I’ve found, there seems to be no limit to the careers that adults with ADD find fulfilling. But it is true that ADD can make choosing a satisfying career a challenge” (emphasis mine).

As one of the “unhappily serially-employed,” I have worked in the following fields: education, sales and merchandising–including a brief entrepreneurial stint as a franchisee–food production, and transit. I have held a variety of positions in each of the fields, and I have left and returned to each field at least once. I was fired from one position, and the firing was related to my ADHD, but admittedly, the job was not a good fit for me. If not typical of adults with ADHD, my story is not uncommon. As Dr. Hallowell wrote, the greatest challenge for me has been choosing a satisfying career.

How to Choose a Satisfying Career

People with ADHD differ from one another as much as any person differs from any other person, so limiting people with ADHD to only certain types of work makes as much sense as limiting work choices by eye color or hair color; there is no one thing that suits all people with ADHD. What is true for people with ADHD is that we may tend to make our decisions in the moment without giving as much thought to those decisions as our neurotypical peers. We may fail to recognize our own limitations or simply fail to make use of tools that are at our disposal.

Here are a few things I have learned about myself:

  • I like to set my own schedule.
  • I dislike routine and monotonous work.
  • I like to be challenged.
  • I dislike being rushed.
  • I need reassurance that I am doing the job right.
  • I prefer detailed and written instructions for multi-step tasks.

Whether I knew these things about myself or not, I certainly gave them no thought prior to my ADHD diagnosis a decade ago. I did not consider the above when looking for work until recently.

Choosing Work that Works with Your ADHD

The experts like Hallowell suggest that fulfillment comes from knowing yourself and understanding your talents and your deficits. Not so different from run-of-the-mill employment advice for people without ADHD…. If you find yourself unemployed, underemployed, or unhappily employed, or if you have struggled to find that single satisfying career, take heart. There is hope yet and you do not need to limit yourself to only specific careers suitable for adults with ADHD. There are athletes with ADHD. There are billionaires with ADHD. There are M.D.s with ADHD. The only things you really need to be successful with your ADHD are self-awareness; self-confidence; and perhaps an ADHD coach to advise you regarding how to strengthen your strengths and how to work with your deficits.

3 thoughts on “Finding the Right Work for You: An ADHD Guide”

  1. I am a 38yr. Old mom of three and wife to one amazing man!!! We have battled this ADD thing for almost 17 yrs. now and never has my husband given up on me- not once! I have only been diagnosed for about the last ten years so imagine the ahaaaaa! Moment I had when this finally happened – it was astounding to me that I was left to my own devices for so long. Growing up – I was disobedient, lazy, slacker, stupid, only wanted a good time, a spender – not a saver, wears her feelings on her sleeve, impulsive, reckless, not a planner, spur of the moment, serially employed , under employed, unhappily employed, I am sure you get the picture! It has been such a journey to this point that to look back on it almost physically exhausts me. It was more by chance and happenstance that I was ever diagnosed and I truly wonder how the hell my parents never twigged on anything other than the hurtful assumption that I was the dud in their neatly packed – ready for market box of type A personalities ( my sister included) I really don’t understand any of their hurtful reasoning, as; to this day it would seem that they are embarrassed by me and feel the need to explain or simply exclude me. Despite the fact that recent psych- Ed testing revealed that ME- the “deficient one” – I am smarter than 80% of the population my age – with the exception of math and slightly slower processing!
    I actually had finally found my dream job in being a traffic control supervisor, despite all the stigmas that come with that job – I spent three yrs disproving them at an alarming rate until my injury. Sadly I blew out my knee and will never return to that line o work. In fact I am now in constant pain and can not walk much more than a block – it has effectively wiped out my hobbies and athletic lifestyle that I have spent thirteen yrs. cultivating with the husband and children and it has left me feeling very lost,hopeless,left out and useless and to make matters worse I am getting school paid for by the branch of government responsible for injured workers. I have been out of school for more than fifteen years, my evaluation stated “excellent candidate for post secondary education – don’t overwhelm “, I bombed the first semester as I took five online courses as I thought it was a full course load – apparently three is! I also had the epiphany that added to the school thing – I am also ” learning to learn with ADD” I ended up with a massive anxiety attack and depression and everything that my government consultant says and does makes you want to slash your wrists. She had degraded and downgraded me in more ways than I thought possible and if I hear ” don’t let her win- chin up, do you know how many people would kill for a chance at going back to school at your age????” I’m either going to be upon charges or do myself in! It’s not that I am not thrilled with the opportunity , I need to know how to make it work in spite of All the doubters , haters and non believers that surround me and even for the first time my husband doesn’t even understand the ADD thing as his line is : ” we’ll isn’t the knowledge of loosing everything if you don’t do well at school enough motivation for you to sit and do your school work?” That one kills me the worst! Can you help with any ideas on surviving this and navigating through it with grace and reaching the end with stellar marks a dream job and my sanity!?!?! The thing I want most and seems so elusive is happiness even though I have a perfect husband and three perfect and amazing kids two dogs and a picket fence! Am I asking too much?!?!?!
    Natalie

  2. Columnist/journalist has been a good choice for me. Lots of variety. Allows for spontaneous changes in direction throughout the day.

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