“On Working with ADHD: Finding the Freedom to Do Things My Way”
“I’ve learned that my ADHD is a big part of what makes me creative. It’s what allows me to come up with solutions no one else has considered. Once I stopped struggling against my ADHD and embraced it, I became a better employee. For the first time, I’m not scared at work. I’m not hiding anything, and I don’t feel like an impostor.”
Technically, I have been fired from only one job. It was a college summer job as a maid. After a few weeks, my boss pulled me aside and said there had been complaints about my dusting.
I hated dusting. I always hoped I’d be assigned vacuuming. Pushing and pulling the vacuum across carpets was fun. I could just make “W’s,” one after the other after the other. I could see the work I did in the herringbone pattern left on the carpet. It was satisfying and physical, and I could stay focused.
Dusting was the opposite. I had to be careful when I picked up picture frames, tiny figurines, and antique bottles. I had to remember exactly where to put them back. It was terrifying. I wasn’t surprised that dusting was my downfall. After the boss summed up the complaints about me, I handed in my dust rag. I spent the rest of the summer working in a deli.
On the Job — Undiagnosed
I don’t know how many jobs I’ve held since then, but I know that in all of them I felt like a fraud. Though I had a master’s degree and years of experience on my resume, each job I took became stressful, too exacting. My imposter syndrome increased with the stress. I knew how to work and I was good at it. I could provide a final product. What I couldn’t do was create that product according to the specific steps someone else had determined.
Jobs became terrifying reminders of math classes in which showing your work was as important as finding the right answer. The work I showed was never right, even if the answer was. My confidence eroded. I tried to follow project processes and disappointed myself and my colleagues every time. My resume became a patchwork of one-year-here and two-years-there — sometimes less.
At age 46, I was diagnosed with ADHD. At the time, I had a job that required intense attention to detail and a rigorous process for doing every project. I was failing miserably. Eventually I quit — just before getting fired — and I job-hopped two more times in three years. When I turned 50, I knew I couldn’t sustain a career in a field where no job had lasted. Maybe it was time to come clean.
Working with My ADHD
Right around that time, I saw a listing for my dream job, as a writer for a federal agency. Federal regulations allow job applicants with “disabilities” to apply under a “Schedule A,” and, if hired, receive accommodations. Although ADHD is recognized as a “disability,” I didn’t like the idea of taking a job away from someone else. Even in this, I had impostor syndrome.
A friend who knew my work history said, “Your ADHD has been career-negative for long enough. Make it a positive this time.” It made sense. My therapist wrote a Schedule A verification, and I applied.
Freedom to Do Things My Way
When I was offered that job, I knew it would be different. I explained my struggles to my boss, to my colleagues. I told them exactly how my brain processed information. I said I’d give them the product they wanted every single time, but I needed the freedom to do it my way. I explained what I needed to make my part of the process a success.
I was scared at first, ashamed even, to ask for special treatment and admit to my imperfections. But no one has ever reacted with anything but understanding. In fact, several colleagues, still in the closet about their learning differences, have thanked me. It’s not a secret I struggle with alone. It’s a fact.
I’ve learned that my ADHD is a big part of what makes me creative. It’s what allows me to come up with solutions no one else has considered. Once I stopped struggling against my ADHD and embraced it, I became a better employee. For the first time, I’m not scared at work. I’m not hiding anything, and I don’t feel like an impostor. My ADHD is, indeed, a good thing. Just not when it comes to dusting.
Working with ADHD: Next Steps
- Free Download: Need Help Finding Your Passion? Use This ADHD “Brain Blueprint”
- Read: Great Job! A Career Happiness Formula for Adults with ADHD
- Read: How to Align Your Career with Your Passions
- Read: Teachers With Adult ADHD: Work Accommodations Available?
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