ADD/ADHD adults: Are you looking for a job that offers structure and support, values the individual and creativity, and will provide meaningful work? I was too, and here's how I found it.
by Stephen Anfield
About three weeks ago, I started a new job. I had been working as a consultant with AARP and the AARP Foundation, and my contract with them was coming to an end. I knew that I had to make a decision: either continue consulting or find a full-time job. I chose the latter.
Given my work background and love for all things nonprofit (nonprofit workplaces have fostered the most positive experiences of my career), looking at job listings at for-profit companies didn't even cross my mind -- not even for half a second. I'm not saying I dislike for-profit companies (because they give nonprofits money), but I am saying based on what I know about myself -- having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) -- working in a strict corporate environment is probably not the best career move for me. If you work at a for-profit company, I give you mad props and a long-distance high five (also known as a "Wi-Fi high five").
You're probably wondering why I prefer a nonprofit job over a for-profit job, right? I know everyone with ADD/ADHD has unique challenges and strengths and that job duties and office environments can vary greatly within and across industries, but after working several years in the nonprofit sector, here is why I think nonprofit office culture and values benefit my ADD/ADHD and could benefit yours:
The Work Is Meaningful Enough to Trump Office Politics
Everyone needs to be fulfilled. Through my nonprofit work, I find fulfillment in helping others and seeing the impact taking the time to care for someone else has. I’m a firm believer in the humanist philosophy of Ubuntu ("I am what I am because of who we all are"). No matter who you are, we are all connected to each other in some way. (Read more about ubuntu and tell me that you don’t feel differently about that really annoying woman at work that likes to clip her nails in the office. OK, bad example, but you get the idea.)
Nonprofits Reward Creativity, Offer Structure
Having worked at a for-profit company, nonprofits, and a governmental agency (Department of Defense), I can easily say I'd choose nonprofit as being the most supportive of creative minds like ours. I'm not saying that the other aforementioned work environments aren’t creative, but I feel that there is a lack of balance. One characteristic of a for-profit in my mind is that the hierarchy resembles the old-school food pyramid (in case you missed it, the food pyramid is goner, so that may be a bad metaphor). Nonprofits may have some semblance of a hierarchy, but it is usually extremely flat. When you have an idea (and adults with ADD/ADHD tend to be full of 'em -- anyone with ADD/ADHD knows that our thoughts and ideas can jump all over the place, and by "all over," I mean like being able to find some obscure connection between European history and Post-its) at a nonprofit, it’s not uncommon to go directly to the executive director/president/whomever runs the organization. Ideas are implemented quickly without the burden of bureaucracy. In my experience, the constraint, for the most part, is mostly budgetary in nature. You can't spend what you don't have. Other than that, I've found I am able to feel free to be as creative as I want. (As a matter of fact, I get to wear my Vibram FiveFingers to work! If you've never tried a pair, you're missing out -- while wearing them, your creative juices will flow like moonshine at a hoedown.)
Nonprofits Accept the Whole Employee
In addition to having ADD/ADHD, there are many adjectives (labels, if you will) one could use to describe me. Each time I've worked at a nonprofit, I've felt completely comfortable with being all of who I am at work. Not once have I felt like I needed to hide any aspect of myself. I don't know about you, but I think that’s awesome!
Nonprofits Have Not Made Me Conform
Not only are my ideas discussed and implemented, I don’t feel the pressure to fit the mold like at my corporate counterparts.
I belong in the nonprofit world. It's where I feel the most fulfilled, creative, and understood. I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything in the world, and if you're struggling to find your way, you may want to look into a career in the nonprofit sector -- it could be the right fit for your ADD/ADHD strengths.
Stephen Anfield was recently featured for his nonprofit work in an article on SmartMoney.com.
What industry do you work in? Is it ADHD-friendly? If not, how do you cope on the job? Share your best and worst work experiences below.
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