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.
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.