ADHD at Work

5 Rules for Succeeding in the Workplace When You Have ADHD

Rules one through five are the same: Find the right job. This rule gets broken all the time, however, leaving millions of adults with ADHD in jobs that they don’t like but don’t dare get out of. Here’s how to break the cycle.

A chef cutting onions after finding the right job
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Most of the adults who come to see me are in a job they are poorly suited for, don’t like, can’t wait to get out of, and feel stuck in. But they don’t move. They don’t dare. They are tied to bad jobs by inertia, perceived market forces, family pressure, guilt, fear, and other psychological factors.

Maybe the most pernicious of these factors is the common, irrational, and self-defeating desire, shared by many people who have ADHD, to spend their lives trying to get good at what they are bad at, instead of trying to develop what they are good at. Why not be rewarded for your talents, instead of being penalized for your weaknesses? Many people with ADHD spend their lives limping along in jobs for which they have little aptitude.

So, how do you find the right job? Turns out, you don’t need five rules — or any rules at all. It actually starts with something much smaller (and much more elusive): a change in mindset.

[Free Resource: 8 Dream Jobs for Adults with ADHD]

Accept the Challenge of Finding the Right Career

One of the admirable qualities of people with ADHD is that we love challenges. But it’s important to pick the right challenge! Another admirable quality is that we don’t give up easily. But it’s important to know when to cut your losses. By the way, the same is true in relationships. People with ADHD have a terrible tendency to fall for trainwrecks, and stay in the relationship way too long trying to save the person they are with. They see the strengths in people who are in distress, and desire to help them. But if you take this impulse too far, you can get badly hurt yourself.

Your job ought to lie at the intersection of three circles. Circle 1 is filled with all the things you love to do. Circle 2 is filled with all the things you’re really good at doing. And Circle 3 is filled with the items from Circles 1 and 2 that someone would pay you to do. Where do those three circles overlap? That is where you should work. That’s what your job should involve.

Believe You Can Succeed in Your Job Search

People often ask me, “What are the most important accommodations to ask for in the workplace? Flexible schedule? Work from home? Quiet space? Strategies for not being interrupted? Access to exercise? A work culture that understands ADHD?”

While all of these are worth asking for, none of them is as important as the Big Kahuna, the Right Job, the job that, once you have it, you look forward to going to. That feeling may not last forever — it likely won’t — but while it does, you will do your best work ever.

[Finding Joy on the Job]

Why doesn’t everyone find such a job? Because they give up. They don’t think it’s possible. Let me be clear: I am not one of those be-all-you-can-be, wish-for-it-and-you-shall-have-it, fear-is-the-only-obstacle BS artists trying to sell you a book or a program. I want you to know something: Believing you can do something increases the likelihood that you can do it, and believing you can’t do something decreases the likelihood that you can do it. Carol Dweck, Ph.D., in her groundbreaking book, Mindset, proved that fact.

So if you know you could be doing better at work, before you look at all the micro-issues you could ask for accommodations to fix, ask yourself the most important question: Is this the right job for me? If it is not my dream job, is it in my personal dream-job ballpark? You gotta do your best and feel your best to live the life you want.