“I Worked Among the Best and Brightest on Wall Street. Then I Was Diagnosed with ADHD.”
“I played a key role on front-page Wall Street Journal deals and I became accustomed to sitting at the table amongst top dealmakers. But as I progressed to executive leadership roles, certain behaviors of mine became recurring issues. After seeking professional help, I was diagnosed with ADHD, and realized I needed to change my career expectations and give up my dream job.”
At 11 years old, I saw the movie “Wall Street” for the first time. The film stirred in me an intense dopamine rush – because of it, my singular goal became to work at a Wall Street investment bank as a dealmaker. By the time I graduated high school, I had consumed Liar’s Poker, Barbarians at the Gate, and every other book on high-finance available at the local library in my Midwestern hometown. I had also purchased my first stock by then.
Little did I know that my intense fixation on Wall Street could be attributed to hyperfocus associated with undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD), which also became the reason I ultimately left what I had thought was my dream job.
The Winding Path to Investment Banking
Investment banking is an exclusive club that almost requires a certain pedigree, including top schools and near-perfect grades. Though I worked much harder than most of my peers, I only earned a ‘B+’ average at a state school — not exactly the ideal background for the field. But this did not deter me from my goal. After college, and after kissing many frogs, I broke into a boutique investment bank in Chicago.
The job was fantastic. I worked for people whom I admired and respected. I was promoted to positions with increasing responsibility, and I was soon executing deals with little supervision. Money came in, and I invested it into Internet stocks – booming at the time. I was in my element, I thought, and well on my way toward my larger Wall Street dream.
Then came the dot-com recession. First my investment portfolio was hit. Then I was laid off.
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I thought I would rebound quickly, but I did not. Months of unemployment took a great toll on me emotionally and financially. I was absolutely humbled. I moved back home and regularly traveled on the cheapest red eye to New York, setting up camp at a $30-a-night hostel and hustling all day for any coffee conversation I could muster with a head hunter or any Wall Street bank. I was determined to become a deal maker, and I depended on what I now know to be out-of-the-box ADHD thinking to continue the dream.
A life raft finally came to me in the form of a position at a national consulting firm – not banking, but close enough. Unfortunately, I never quite fit in with the firm’s culture, and it would take many years to understand that my discomfort was rooted in my undiagnosed ADHD. My impulsivity and disorganization stuck out compared to my more reserved and tidy colleagues. I felt like my upside was limited there, so I shifted to the next best thing: full-time business school.
Once again, I found myself at a disadvantage. Top MBA programs required stellar undergraduate grades, high test scores, and consistent professional experience. I was not a clear check mark for any item on this list. Admittedly, just a few weeks into the application process, my mind was trapped by negative thoughts and I considered giving up. But I battled on and I relied on my creative advantages to differentiate my application. I worked on my essays until I was sure to get a “wow” from any reader. I attended professional development classes, reached out to alumni and wrote lots and lots of follow-up emails. When I hit the ‘submit’ button for each school, I knew I had invested 100% effort. For this exhausting work, I was rewarded admittance to a Top 5 school.
I worked hard in the program, too, and was lucky to fall on the radar of a top New York investment bank. Despite low odds, I somehow kept getting invited to their next round of interviews. When decision time came, I was ready for disappointment. Instead, I celebrated finally turning my long-held dream into a reality.
[Read: 16 Good Jobs for People with ADHD]
Pulling Back the ADHD Curtain
For the next six years, I worked among the best and brightest on Wall Street. I played a key role on front-page Wall Street Journal deals and became accustomed to sitting at the table among top deal makers. My skills skyrocketed, and I produced results I never knew I was capable of. I had finally realized my dream.
This success should have felt comforting. Instead, my stress levels increased. My unorthodox execution-style dealing was producing innovative results, but at a cost – I wasn’t receiving regular accolades like my peers. My year-end reviews confirmed my fears. I was told I need to demonstrate “better management skills” and that my social skills needed an upgrade if I really wanted to advance in the field.
As my “can do” attitude turned into a “must do” nervousness, I went to great lengths to try to fit in with expectations. Nothing I was doing seemed to be working. Friction turned into anxiety and then depression. After seeking professional help, I was diagnosed with ADHD.
The more I read about ADHD, the more my life suddenly made sense. I was better able to accept my deficiencies and understand the root of my creativity and other uncommon strengths. The diagnosis also helped me accept that my dream job was actually not a great fit for my strengths and capabilities.
Leaving Investment Banking
Seven years have passed since I made the difficult decision to leave investment banking to become a full-time, independent investor. I make a fraction of the amount I used to, and I have moved back to the Midwest. Long gone are the fancy dinners and front-page deals. However, I finally feel content professionally – no frustrated supervisors, no associates to direct (and inadvertently confuse), no hard deadlines, and no distress from being in an environment where I know I’m limited in my abilities.
Investing has proven a way better match for my ADHD mind. My subjectivity and hyperfocus allows me to cut through the noise and focus on what matters. I’m quick to recognize patterns – so as to detect discrepancies and opportunities at a glance – and my intuition saves me from too many risks. This profession also offers all the independence I need. Above all, I love waking up each morning and designing my day in my own way – that is sometimes more fun than than the work itself.
Although I never met my goal of becoming the ultimate deal maker, that is fine. I take pride in the fact that, despite my ADHD, I was able to follow my dream and get as far as I did. I smile thinking of the naysayers who told me it wasn’t possible. The experience made me a better, more knowledgeable person. It exposed both the vices and virtues of my ADHD, and allowed me to focus on a better path, one where I belong.
The ADHD Dream Job: Next Steps
- Learn: How to Align Your Career with Your Passions
- Quiz Time: 18 Questions That Reveal Your Ideal Career
- More ADHD and Work Stories: “How An ADHD Diagnosis Changed My Life: A Lawyer’s Story”
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