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The ADD/ADHD Professional: Is That a Contradiction in Terms?

by Joan Tabb in Blog

Controversial title? Perhaps. But in my experience as a career coach the several clients I’ve had with ADD/ADHD really do have more extreme strengths and more extreme challenges than the norm. Each of them have benefited tremendously from the process of sorting through, reflecting and determining preferences, natural talents and areas of keen interest. And of course, there’s the vital though a bit painful process of sorting through what hasn’t worked and what skills need to be developed or inherent weaknesses need to be addressed. Especially with some extreme weaknesses, it’s crucial to know one’s  least favorite tasks and least favorite type of people and situations…those that clearly spell DANGER.

Let’s face it;  all of my clients with ADD/ADHD came to a career coach with issues. They were not necessarily the ‘aspirationals’ doing just fine and wanting to go further, faster. They were stuck, frustrated and at an unchosen block in the road. They were not Richard Branson, taking off like a rocket ship on each business endeavor they touched. But they were and are very talented, motivated and courageous people; willing to look themselves 360 and learn what when wrong, what went right and how to proceed better and stronger in the future.

And in fact, they did have their share of booming successes…one was a high school valedictorian, lead of a music group and graduate of a major UC. Another one had his MBA, had earned well up in the six figures and was a responsible husband and father. Another was a 15+ year professional who was dealing with being laid off for the first time.

Yet all had reached a sand trap in the golf game of their career. One was struggling to translate college success into career success. And two others were mid-career ‘winners’ who had been laid off and not able to get back on track for a long while. Without structure, all were stuck. And without strong inner accountability, all missed appointments with me unless I called and emailed at least twice before each session.

Those with attention difficulties often are easily distracted and impulsive. They lack natural structure and get lost in time. They MUST develop ways to discipline and provide accountability for their time and tasks. The best description of their reality is being seated in front of a TV screen that constantly changes channels; so in fact, their inner worlds are plenty distracting.

The flip side is that they are richly stimulated from within and usually have deep reservoirs of creativity that they can tune in to. They might look spacey from the outside but inside there is often a lot going on! And every person I’ve ever met with ADD/ADHD has had an unusually high IQ as well as attention issues.

These people need to set up ways to impose structure, accountability and a supportive work situation with an understanding manager…without those things disaster can often result.

In one case the individual had to learn the hard way that his creative juices were not well placed in an entrepreneurial situation with no checks to balance out his impulsivity. He had brilliant ideas for a restaurant but overspent on the facility and its design, construction and outfitting, while coming up short for inventory and staff! Had he known early on and accounted for his impulsive nature, he might have brought in a partner with complimentary skills to build a solid business foundation.

And deadlines? Another bright woman, a professional sales rep with ADD was terrific developing strong relationships with her customers but in her fast moving style she sent in sloppy and incomplete orders, creating havoc with the home office and resulting in unhappy customers over time. With repeated errors she finally lost her job.

The good news is that one can become a mature professional with ADD/ADHD and a whole host of learning disabilities. And the key, once again, is to know oneself. Develop self awareness and learn to capitalize on one’s strengths and compensate and mitigate for one’s weaknesses. Avoid environments, cultures and people that demand individual sole accountability and look for more flexible environment and managers where you can work together to build and structure.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Those with disabilities just need to focus on them a bit more and do as much preemptive problem solving as possible.

Think of Dr. Ruth. Wherever she went, knowing she was about 4 feet 8 inches, she always brought her stool along to give her the added inches. If you have ADD/ADHD, take the time and effort to explore and discover:What do you need to bring along to work to measure up to your full professional potential?