If left unchecked, positive adult ADD/ADHD traits, such as creativity, high-energy work productivity, and honesty, could backfire on the job. A lesson on controlling impulses when your career is on the line.
by Michael Laskoff
I spent four decades on this planet before being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). I always knew that I had a "problem," but I managed to graduate from business school near the top of my class without finding or addressing the cause.
When I started working full-time, however, I realized I had a huge problem. I literally wrote my book -- Landing On The Right Side Of Your Ass -- to try to make sense of all the great jobs that I had found, secured, and lost at a laundry list of top companies. It would be inaccurate and unfair to pin all of this on untreated ADD/ADHD, but many of my good, but ultimately destructive behaviors, seemed to have sprung from that source. What follows are a few positive-sounding traits, sharpened by ADD/ADHD, that always accelerated my career demise.
Creative Like many people with ADD/ADHD, I positively churn out new ideas -- some good, some awful, most of which leave me feeling indifferent when I slow down to think about them. To this day, I am generally unable to judge the quality of an idea until I say it out loud. I literally need to hear it to process it. As a result, I tend to over-communicate. At first, this can make me seem wildly ingenious, but inevitably, people find it exhausting. It’s no wonder that my name so frequently found itself at the top of the list when someone needed to get the axe.
Honest I’m honest to a fault, literally. Most people have a thought, consider its implications, and then speak. I tend skip the filtering process and blurt. At first, (some) people like the fact that I’m "refreshingly" direct, particularly if it ruffles some feathers. Key people -- former employers -- always got irked; some patient bosses would urge me to be more politic in my approach. This was and remains good advice, and I do my best to follow it. Often, however, I revert back to old bad habits -- expressing my "troublemaker" opinions.
Workaholic I work hard; I always have. That helps on the job. Unfortunately, since ADD/ADHD makes some things -- such as being prompt, focused, and respectful -- that are simple for others, challenging for me, this work ethic doesn't apply to all tasks. I can tackle assignments that require these skills, but doing so costs me far more time and energy than average person.
My vain attempts to try and pass off or over this kind of unrewarding and mundane work have led me to waste many days arguing with my bosses. My point? They were asking me to do something inane. Theirs? The work needed to be done regardless. Naturally, I always lost. And at what cost?
I wouldn’t dare to generalize my personal experience -- work circumstances and ADD/ADHD behaviors are simply too diverse -- but I will offer the following observation: There’s a fine line between being a creative, honest workaholic and turning into a scatterbrained procrastinator with a big mouth. Even when I couldn’t tell the difference, my soon-to-be-former employers always could. You need to make sure you’re on the right side.So, if you know, or suspect, that you have ADD/ADHD, do something. Medication and behavioral therapy changed my life, but if you’re not ready, or able, to explore these avenues, you can still benefit from a greater self-awareness of your impact on the workplace. Success often isn’t measured by heroic deeds, but by daily positive contributions. Put your energies into the latter, and your good qualities will be more appreciated while your professional prospects improve.