How to Align Your Career with Your Passions
The best job for anyone with ADHD is the one that is compelling, gratifying, and enjoyable. Learn how to match up your strengths and dreams with a job you’ll love.
Over the years, I have given career advice to attorneys, florists, accountants, nurses, doctors, stay-at-home dads, therapists, clergymen, and even a professional skateboarder with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD).
It’s a misconception that certain jobs are not right for people with ADHD. As I’ve found, there seems to be no limit to the careers that adults with ADHD find fulfilling. But it is true that ADHD can make choosing a satisfying career a challenge.
That leaves you asking: “What is the best career for me?” If you’re like many of the students I work with, you changed your major in college at least once. Similarly, many of us have such varied interests that picking a career path to pursue is difficult.
Just about every job involves some mundane tasks, but finding work that is interesting most of the time is critical to an adult with ADHD’s job satisfaction and performance. Boredom can sidetrack us, which causes our performance to plummet. But if your job ties in to your passions, you’ll thrive. Maintaining a realistic assessment of your strengths and weaknesses are part of the job of planning for — and keeping — a job.
I often ask clients, “What would you do if you knew you could not possibly fail?” This bold question can point people in the right direction, freeing them from automatically crossing something off their list because it might, at first, seem an unrealistic choice.
It’s also important to know what you value. Would you rather work to serve others, get recognition, make lots of money, or meet interesting people? Work with a career coach or take an online quiz to help you evaluate what’s really important to you. Testing can identify careers that suit your personality-and can eliminate those careers that may sound great, but don’t mesh with your personality or abilities.
Knowing your strengths-and weaknesses
Skills for workplace success may be grouped into two main categories: hard and soft. Hard skills are job-specific and they vary, depending upon the industry or field in which you want to work. For instance, a graphic artist must have the computer skills that go with that job.
Soft skills are those personal characteristics that go with a variety of jobs; they include sociability, problem solving, communication, time management, and organization. People who prefer to work alone, for instance, might find research particularly appealing.
Time management and organization, for those of us with ADHD, are the most daunting skills to master, but they must be mastered. You can start working on your organizational skills during the career search itself. Buy a file or notebook, or use your e-mail program, to store information you will need in your investigation, such as contact names and numbers. Use a calendar for recording appointments.
Start a prioritized task list that includes the basics: assessment testing (for skills, personality traits, interests, and values), career counseling through your school, researching specific careers, and requesting informational interviews.
Testing will tell you which hard skills and soft skills you possess and which need improvement.
I learned the value of testing early. When I was in college, I worked during the summers as a camp counselor. It paid poorly, but it was fun and I was good at it. One summer, my aunt told me that a friend of hers was a manager at the telephone company and could get me a summer job as a switchboard operator and I could earn twice as much. I jumped at the chance-I knew I was a shoo-in!
Fortunately, my aunt’s friend didn’t skip protocol and give me the job without testing me first. I knew one minute into the test, which was supposed to assess my ability to recall lengthy sequences of numbers, that this was not the job for me, no matter how much it paid! Years later, my aunt told me that her friend had confided that, in all her years at the company, she had never seen anyone do so poorly on the test. That test saved me from what could have been the worst job ever.
Taking side roads
If your skills and dreams don’t quite match, don’t give up. It’s possible to take a side road into an area you’ll enjoy by applying the skills you have. If you want to be a chef and go to culinary school, but find out that you’re dangerously clumsy with knives, you might use writing skills to make a career as a cookbook author or restaurant critic. It’s the matching up of talents and abilities with interests that makes or breaks a career.
One of my first clients was torn between career choices. She had a natural talent for art and was passionate about the environment. Her dream was to become an environmental engineer. But she was rejected from all of the engineering programs to which she applied. Eventually, she decided to apply to an art institute, where she was accepted and did very well. She now uses her artistic talent to increase public awareness of environmental issues by designing and creating scale models of habitats.
Choosing a career is only the first part of your job. You may have made the perfect fit for a career in terms of abilities, interests, experience, and knowledge but fail miserably because of impulsive interactions with coworkers or poor social skills. If so, you must recognize what is happening and take steps to correct it before you lose your dream job.
Also, look for a mentor — a person in your field but not necessarily at your workplace — who can guide your career, and point out trouble spots before they become barriers to advancement.
What is most important is to work with what we have and recognize and accept ourselves for who we are. No amount of money or prestige can make us happy without self-acceptance. Love who you are, and it will be easier to love what you do.
Edward Hallowell, M.D., is a member of ADDitude’s ADHD Medical Review Panel.
A number of books and websites offer career advice and assessment tests, as well as tips on narrowing your search. Here are a few:
What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard Nelson Bolles (Ten Speed). The site is jobhuntersbible.com.
myplan.com offers a free values-assessment test. There are also a skills profiler and personality tests for under $10.
assessment.com offers free career tests and analysis. A complete report is $19.95. Additional test packages are priced up to $129.95 and cover a range of career-related areas (e.g., leadership qualities).
Updated on June 19, 2019