Last week’s article answered the question, “What are the best careers for ADHDers?” Rather than finding the answer in a generic list of careers, it’s all about you, your interests and unique strengths. This is because if your job doesn’t capture your interest, it’s hard to feel motivated and your ADHD symptoms get worse.
These days we know that ADHD lasts a lifetime, (it can be successfully treated and managed though!) but the old wisdom was that ADHD was a childhood condition that people outgrew. One factor that supported this belief is that ADHD symptoms can seem to ‘disappear’ (at least to an outsider).
The match between your work environment and your unique strengths and personality can help or hinder your ADHD symptoms.
Being a student with ADHD is tough! It involves sitting still in class, not fidgeting, and not jumping up to talk to friends. Attention needs to be on the teacher rather than staring out of the window and the rule is to raise your hand before speaking instead of impulsively calling out the answer.
The penalty for breaking the rules often involves staying inside at break time. That actually makes things worse, because running around outside helps ADHD symptoms.
When you graduate you have a lot more control over your daily environment. You have the freedom to pick a job that works with your strengths. When you do that, your ADHD symptoms seem to disappear.
Here is an example, Tom was hyperactive as a child and always getting into trouble at school because he couldn’t sit still and loved to talk in class. When he left school, Tom got a job in sales.
Every day he travels in his car from company to company. His high energy and love of talking are now a huge benefit. Work colleagues are envious of his stamina, communication skills and rapport with clients.
Some ADHDers find the right workplace environment by luck or because they were subconsciously drawn to one that would work for them. Others have to be more conscious and strategic about it.
Here are six factors to consider when deciding on the best work environment for you.
Lifestyle means ‘the way a person lives.’ Every job creates and influences your lifestyle. When you are living with ADHD it’s important to take into account every aspect of the job, including the lifestyle. There is an underlying belief that if we are lucky enough to get a job, we should adapt and get used to the lifestyle that it brings. When you are in your early 20s and gaining work experience, it’s often by experiencing different environments that you find out which ones you excel in.
If you are in your 40s, 50s and 60s and know for sure that X doesn’t work for you and your ADHD, then by all means give yourself permission to look for a job lifestyle that suits you.
Here are some examples of job characteristics that influence lifestyles.
Certain jobs require shift work, including night shifts – firefighters, police officers, nurses, doctors. Some ADHDers like the variety while others find it impedes their sense of freedom. Shift work also interferes with a sleep schedule which for some ADHDers can be a big deal because of the effect it has on their ADHD symptoms.
Some jobs have a workplace culture that requires long hours – start-ups, tech industry, some lawyers, etc. It can be awesome if you are passionate about your job and love the excitement and intensity. It does mean little down time for self-care like exercising and also just vegging out, which some ADHDers need in order to manage their ADHD symptoms.
Traveling for work and spending lots of time away from home sounds like a dream come true for some ADHDers who like variety and adventure. For other ADHDers who thrive on routines and structure, each day being different would feel unsettling. Plus, navigating the different time zones and the disruptive sleep schedules could be problematic for some.
Some ADHDers are not early birds and find it hard to wake up and get up in the morning. Some jobs require very early start times – construction workers, postal carriers, etc. If you find it hard waking up in the morning like many ADHDers do, this might not be the best job choice for you.
There is a lot of moral judgement about waking up early. Waking up early is considered noble and hard-working, and people that wake up later are considered ‘lazy.’ Some ADHDers’ default sleep cycle is 3 a.m. to 10 a.m.
It could be argued that getting a job that requires a very early morning would help to get on a different sleep schedule. However, many ADHDers find having an early start time means they either get no sleep, because they are anticipating the alarm all night, or they fall asleep so deeply they sleep through the alarm. Missing work or arriving sleep-deprived takes a toll on your self-confidence and could mean being let go.
Remember the aim is to find the best job for you, and part of this is acknowledging every part of you so you can set yourself up for success.
2. Physical Space
The physical space of your work place also has an impact.
Some ADHDers find when they are walking into their office and about to sit at their cubicle, they feel like the world is closing in on them. Knowing they will be there for the next eight hours seems to suck all their energy away.
One client got his dream job in a top restaurant. However, it wasn’t till he started to work there that he realized how noisy it was. The restaurant was modern, with metal surfaces and open floor plan. He felt like he couldn’t think, and he became scattered and distracted.
Certain jobs offer the ability to work from home. Some ADHDers love working remotely because they don’t get caught up in office politics, have zero commute time, and can be more productive without the natural distractions of co-workers.
Other ADHDers thrive on having a place of work, and get inspiration and motivation from the people around them and the direct accountability.
There isn’t a right or wrong answer to the best physical space, just what is optimum for you.
If you are good at your job, you get promoted. Promotions are usually a great thing. They mean that your talents are being recognized, the company values you, plus there is the prestige of a cool job title and a pay increase.
However! With each promotion you spend less time doing what you are good at and more time managing people, projects, budgets and paper work.
For many ADHDers this can be a nightmare. It involves all the things they aren’t good at. They become miserable and wish they could go back to the good old days and just do what they were naturally good at… designing houses, teaching kids, looking after patients, etc. In their new role, performance can plummet, ADHD symptoms get worse, confidence gets shaken and depression can set in. Sometimes it can even mean getting let go.
For some ADHDers, that overview management role is their zone of genius, but if not, consider dropping down the career ladder a few rungs and get back to what you are good at.
4. Is it Still Your Dream Job?
Jobs can change. What used to be your dream job might not be any more. There might be more red tape, different management, new bosses, etc. It’s important to evaluate what is actually happening now, rather than what used to be. If your ADHD symptoms seem to be getting worse, that could be a clue that something in your work environment has changed.
Sometimes you change! Working long hours might have been perfect when you were a single 20-something. Then over the years your priorities changed and now it doesn’t suit you anymore.
And that is okay. We don’t expect a job to last a lifetime anymore.
Change is normal. Keep an open mind, and keep looking forward.
5. Your Physical Energy
How much physical energy do you have?
If you have lots, then a job that requires moving around would be a good choice, because then your energy is used to your advantage. In contrast, if you have a desk job you will be looking for reasons to move, and that could be seen as disruptive to others.
If your general energy levels are on the lower side, then a more sedentary job is perfect for you.
Remember one isn’t better than the other, it’s just what works best for you.
The people in your place of work make a big difference to your performance and ADHD symptoms.
Your boss usually has the biggest impact – management style, personality, and willingness to make ADHD accommodations IF you choose to disclose your diagnosis to them. A micro managing critical boss is the worst type of boss when you have ADHD. To learn more about ADHD and your boss, there is an article called ‘Does your boss make your ADHD worse?’
Co-workers are also part of your work environment, and they can influence your enjoyment of your work life experience. Supportive co-workers who offer comradeship, humour as well as having a good work ethic are the best. The opposite would be being surrounded with mean-spirited, bullying, judgmental people.
People living with ADHD often think the problem lies with them. If they could just do X then everything would be okay. It is good to be proactive, take responsibility, develop communication skills, etc. However, remember: it’s never just about you; relationships are reciprocal.