As a therapist and ADHD counselor, I am often asked what the best career for someone living with ADHD is. My answer is always this: There is no “best” career for people with ADHD. It all depends on your interests and how your particular type of ADHD affects you.
Some people thrive in careers that are extremely structured and have a defined endpoint to each project. Others crave flexibility, hate detail work, and feel stifled by such constraints.
For example, the world of accounting can be a great match for those needing concrete results, a quiet environment, and built-in deadlines. For others, sitting at a desk for just 10 minutes can make them too antsy to be productive.
Not surprisingly, many people living with ADHD are drawn to careers that are fast-paced and offer little repetition. This makes sense when you take into account that many people with ADHD get bored easily and crave stimulation. If you have the more hyperactive/impulsive type of ADHD, you may be attracted to jobs like first responder, law enforcement, firefighter, entertainer, sales, and entrepreneur.
Those with the inattentive type of ADHD might fare better in the arts, library sciences, computer sciences, high tech, and more. Keep in mind that many of these fields require a fair amount of intense academic study, and the effective performance of these positions requires attention. This may not be ideal or even realistic given your type of ADHD and how well your symptoms are managed. If achieving symptom control has been problematic, certain fields may not be the right choice.
Either way, the best match for you is a career that appeals to your strengths and passions. Do you work best under the gun or do you need more flexibility? Do you need lots of structure in your day, or are you most productive being your own boss and working your own hours?
If you’re unsure about any of these questions, it might be a good idea to work with a career counselor to help explore your options. These types of counselors might be useful at any stage in your career — whether you’re still in school, just getting started in the workforce, or established in your field and looking to make a change.
In the meantime, here are some tips to help get the wheels turning.
How do you choose?
Start by doing a self-assessment. Besides noting your personal interests, what are your current skills? Think about more than just concrete skills (such as, “I’m good with my hands”), but also your interpersonal skills. Do you work best alone or in group settings? What are your energy levels like? Do you like to juggle various activities at one time, or do you prefer to stick with one project until it’s done? What is your aptitude in math, reading, and spelling?
Think about your previous jobs. What previous jobs did you excel in? Which were too difficult or too boring? Why?
Review your ADHD traits and symptoms. Which are challenging for you? Which are actually assets? Would the challenging traits interfere with the job of your dreams?
Many of us have some idea of what we’d like to do. Perhaps you’re drawn to the sciences, arts, education, or the legal field. Make a list of your dream jobs and see if they match up with your particular interests and abilities. You may also find it helpful to review your interests and abilities with a career counselor.
Plan ahead when you can
If you’re in college, access the resources there. Make an appointment with a career counselor at your school. They can help you find the right career by assessing your strengths and challenges. Career counselors can also be found at rehabilitation centers in your state. You can even hire a career counselor in a private practice to help steer you in the right direction.
Wilma Fellman, MEd, LPC, an expert in ADHD and careers, and the author of “Finding a Career That Works for You,” advises her clients to read about various careers that interest them. Talk to people in the field to get a more detailed idea of what the work is like and then observe the job by visiting a few times or applying as an intern or volunteer. You’ll save yourself a lot of time, money, and heartache by doing your homework.
In my case, I was drawn to both the arts and the mental health fields. I loved the freedom of self-expression as a painter, but realized early on that artists have a pretty tough time supporting themselves through their work. So, I decided to become an art teacher. Lo and behold, when we entered the student teaching phase in my fourth year of college, I failed miserably because I couldn’t handle working in a large group setting.
I felt overwhelmed and scattered (this was long before I knew I had ADHD). I graduated with an art teaching degree, but instead of securing a job that I knew would be a bad match for me, I jumped into my second passion, psychology. I earned a degree in clinical social work. This course of study worked perfectly for me because I enjoyed writing papers and learning about mental health. And since I loved working with people as a psychotherapist, my career was a great match.
Something was missing, though. I missed my art and a creative outlet. What worked for me was combining my psychotherapy work along with my creative muses. To this day, I work with clients to help manage their ADHD, but I also have an art and music studio to honor my creative side.
Managing your ADHD at work
Once you’ve made the decision to move forward with your new career, remember to take care of yourself. This means figuring out how to take care of your specific ADHD challenges. If you’re not great at managing the finer details, can you hand that part of your job off to someone else? Can you hire an assistant who will control the paper piles in your office or maintain a daily schedule for you?
Working with a career counselor or mental health professional — and better yet, one with experience in ADHD — can help immensely. They can help you come up with strategies to improve your productivity, such as working on time management. They can also teach you organizational skills and other tactics to help you manage your ADHD on the job.
Bottom line: Know thyself. Learn about possible careers that appeal to your strengths and interests, and get support in challenge areas once you’ve landed that dream job.
- Workplace Issues. (n.d.). http://www.chadd.org/understanding-adhd/for-adults/workplace-issues.aspx
ADHD-US-NP-00023 AUGUST 2018