“Trying to Hold Down a New Job as an Adult With ADHD”
With a spotty work history — thanks in part to ADHD symptoms, like disorganization, impulsiveness, and lackluster listening skills — I’m more hopeful than ever to keep this new job.
I’ve recently accepted a job to be a writing professor at a university in Hong Kong. I will soon be led to the starting gates and required to show off my stuff. Starting a new gig is nothing new — I’ve been tempted to count the number of new starts and beginnings I’ve had (OK, let’s just say it’s been more than the number of fingers on both hands). But keeping a job is something else altogether, a new challenge I hope I can rise to.
I’ve never stayed in a job longer than three years, not entirely by choice, but in part because attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms — disorganization, impulsiveness, lackluster listening skills — eventually have frustrated both myself and my work colleagues.
But this gig is different. Keeping this gig matters.
Up until a few years ago there was always excitement in starting a new gig, the chance at having a blank slate that would easily Band-Aid over a botched job. But this job comes at a pivotal moment, at 35, midcareer, involving a career switch from writer to educator, in a country that is still fairly foreign to me. All of this is sounding like one impossible challenge similar to unraveling a big ball of knotted yarn, a challenge that many friends believe that I’ve chosen. It’s hard to explain that the challenge comes without a choice. The alternative would be unemployment, trying to find a new job, while trying to keep depression and ADHD meltdowns at bay.
My family was ecstatic when I shared the news about the full-time gig, a contract that gives some permanence and purpose to my shaky life.
“That’s great,” my aunt said. “You’ve never been given this kind of opportunity before, and just think, soon you will be there for two years, then four…” And then I shut down and the words went in one ear and out the other. First of all, the gig is halfway across the world — in Hong Kong, where I’ve been for most of the last year — in another continent where shrinks are scarce, most of my family is far away, there has not been a single sighting or sign of Mr. Right, and language remains a challenge and requires me plugging work-related memos and e-mails into Google translator.
Instead of dwelling on the negatives, I know I need to embrace the positives.
“You need to give this a chance and at least see how you like teaching,” a friend told me. “If I were you, I’d travel my brains out. I wish I was going to Asia so I could trot to Mongolia or India.”
Did I mention that I dislike curry and lamb? Did I mention that I sigh at the mention of packing and baggage check?
While I don’t want to be starring in a reality show called Top Complainer, the truth is that I’m scared. Really scared. I’m fearful that this will once again be a brilliant beginning with a failed ending, that this will be another place where I’ll be a square peg trying to squeeze myself into a round hole, and I’m too old to leave unscathed. If the gig doesn’t pan out, I’ll be inching closer to my criteria for my self-prescribed self-esteem expiration date — being 40, dateless, jobless, and homeless.