With our innovation, high energy and creativity, Women with ADHD have all the ingredients to be highly successful. However, we may face challenges when working in environments not suited for our unique working styles. Check out this article to avoid these common pitfalls, and set yourself up for success!
ADHD & WORK: Avoid these common pitfalls
By Dr. Lara Honos-Webb
Pitfall 1: Playing Small
Some women with ADHD adapt to the work world by allowing themselves to be pitifully underemployed. Rather than find a great match for their skills and interests, they will work at a job far below their natural abilities. In this way, their inevitable screw-ups and difficulties with following directions will be balanced by being more capable than those they work with. This strategy has its own set of painful problems. For one thing, knowing you could do and be more can lead to an enduring agony. For another, you may find yourself falling prey to negative feedback from people who aren’t as smart as you are.
Pitfall 2: Workaholism
Another strategy ADHD women sometimes adopt is to overcompensate, working inhuman hours to try to avoid possible criticism. It can be shattering when even this strategy doesn’t prevent criticism from heading your way, whether from colleagues, bosses, or clients. Another problem with this strategy is that it can take a tremendous toll on your personal relationships.
Pitfall 3: Destructive Habits
Some ADHD women bring their great gifts to bear in arenas that are good matches but, like someone driving with one foot perpetually on the brakes, they never go anywhere because they are drinking, using drugs, or struggling with some other addiction. This outcome can be heartbreaking for your family and friends. Not only are they aware of your shining gifts, they must also bear witness to the destruction of these gifts. Unlike the strategies of playing small or working tirelessly, in this case your great gifts are present for everyone to see — as is the loss of these gifts through your self-destructive habits.
The tragedy of these three work-life compromises (playing small, workaholism, and destructive habits) is one and the same: an utter loss of self-worth, caused by an environment that focused only on what a person couldn’t do well and hardly at all on what the person could do well. The losses — both in quality of life and to the communities that desperately need the contributions of gifted ADHD women — can be mammoth in scope. For example, when a disgruntled office worker who could be a brilliant artist doesn’t receive the validation and support necessary to pursue her art, not only is she unhappy, but her community has lost an artist, a businesswoman, and a leader.
Solution: Shape your environment, don’t let it shape you!
To make the most of your ADHD gifts, you have to situate yourself in a working environment that is a good match for you.
Following directions, adhering to a rigid schedule, and having little flexibility will drive you nuts. Rather than blame yourself for not fitting into a rigid environment, seek ways to create your sweet spot — an environment that matches your needs. Creating a sweet spot typically requires you to advocate for yourself. Use your knowledge of your gifts to negotiate for whatever you need in order to bring your innovation, high energy, and creativity into the workplace.
If you have the opportunity to create a work experience that will match your needs, don’t hesitate — negotiate for it! If making changes in your work environment itself is too big of a leap for you right now, you can still start to shape your world by bringing your gifts into the workplace. Start by taking seriously the primary needs of ADHD:
- To be constantly stimulated
- To feel excitement
- To change your pace often
- To be able to innovate
- To create structure rather than follow others
Addressing a specific need can be as simple as listening to punk music in your headphones while doing administrative work; or leaving your office to meet with people rather than sending an email or picking up the phone; or maybe suggesting fun activities to coworkers, or spearheading charity walks. Do whatever it takes to give yourself a sense that you’re shaping your work life, not just being shaped by it.
What strategies have you used to thrive at work? What challenges do you experience? Share your feedback and questions in the comments section below or tweet us @ADHDWomen.
Dr. Lara Honos-Webb PhD is a clinical psychologist, worldwide ADHD expert, and author of The Gift of ADHD, The Gift of ADHD Activity Book, The Gift of Adult ADD and The ADHD Workbook for Teens. She champions a revolutionary approach to ADHD, that focuses on leveraging our gifts, and transforming our “symptoms” into strengths. Learn more about her work at www.addisagift.com
Wow this article rings so true for me. I have ADHD and recently left a painfully boring and unfulfilling job to go back to school and get to a better place career wise. Reading this gave me a lot of validation that I’m going in the right direction. Thank you!
Hi Jenna, thanks for sharing your feedback with us – glad to know this article resonates with you!
Hi Jenna, Glad to hear you are feeling more fulfilled on your new path. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!
Omg! This article is awesome, every single thing that you’ve mentioned there does rings true to me ., absolutely everything!
I left a boring job disability support worker and went back to Uni to study coaching, and now planning to launch my own coaching business fir women with ADHD.
I thank you so much for your great work ., love it.
I love all your articles.,
Thank you Sophie!
Thank you for what you do! For 32 years I have been educating people on the strengths of ADHD. I was not diagnosed until 2012. My testimony is big my struggles were real!