by Russell Barkley with Christine M. Benton
If you have ADHD, or you work with people who do, you've heard (or asked yourself), "Since I have ADHD, what type of work should I do?" Here's a chapter excerpt from Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Russell A. Barkley with Christine M. Benton. Copyright © 2010. Reprinted with permission of Guilford Press.
It's important to have a job where you get as much of what you need to succeed as you possibly can:
Are there jobs you should favor over others because of your symptoms?
Is one type of workplace better for you than others?
Is the work you'll do as important as the environment in which you'll be doing it?
These are questions you should try to answer whether you're just entering the workforce or you already have a job. Naturally there are no easy answers. (Sorry.) But you'll be on the right track if you start by knowing what you're up against and also what you have to offer. If your ADHD includes hyperactivity, a job that requires you to plant yourself in a chair in front of a computer all day is not likely to be ideal. You might toss out any thoughts of becoming an accountant. If your downfall is not being able to finish even short tasks without close supervision, you won't want to become a lone-wolf traveling salesperson or a telecommuter working from a home office.
But these are points to consider more than they are firm rules. I know many adults with ADHD who have chosen a job or a field that on the surface doesn't seem ideal for the strengths and weaknesses normally associated with the condition or with their particular version of it. Yet they do as well as most people. How? They get support from a supervisor. They've been given the go ahead and the resources to adapt the workplace and working procedures to their needs. They demonstrate a commitment to building their skills, and they take medication that greatly reduces the impact of their symptoms - particularly critical if hyperactivity or impulsivity is a problem for you.
Realistically, we can't all pick and choose among a number of job opportunities, especially if the job market happens to be tight. That's why it's important to map as many different routes to success as you can. Know what type of work might keep you interested and be doable every day. Figure out what type of environment is one in which you're likely to thrive. Know what types of work procedures will keep you on track and which ones will throw you off. Figure out what types of people will inspire, and possibly help, you to succeed. Then do your best to find as many of these favorable elements as you can in any job you consider. For most adults with ADHD, finding the right job will be a matter of identifying the right mix of the work you do (including the procedures) and the environment (including the people) you'll be doing it in. Challenges in one can be offset by benefits in the other.
The way many people find such a match is, unfortunately, through trial and error. That process can be painful if it doesn't lead fairly quickly to a good fit. So another route to consider is to find a professional life coach or vocational counselor who works with people who have ADHD. This person can at least help you define your needs accurately. A coach can also help you identify lines of work that might be good for you. And a coach can train you in job interviewing - research has shown that adults with ADHD don't interview as well as other adults either.
Editor's Note: There's no right-every-time ADHD-compatible career, but there is a career that matches your strengths, interests and passions. Investigate the characteristics and demands of each career that interests you (many appear in the remainder of this chapter of Taking Charge of Adult ADHD) before making a decision. Applying some creativity, you can "customize" almost any career for any even better fit.
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