“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life. And the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart you’ll know when you find it.” – Steve Jobs
“I love what I do for a living.”
I have heard both these statements numerous times, not only in my career as a therapist from clients, but throughout my whole life. In fact, I have said both and thankfully, I can say and live the latter – “I love what I do for a living!”
Those with ADHD tend to run into frequent problems in their careers and/or jobs.
It doesn’t have to be that way: Adults with ADHD frequently excel in the workplace, once they adapt to their cognitive style and develop empowering coping skills.
The difference between a “job” and “career” is often underestimated. It’s easy to confuse them for each other and to assume they both lead to the same place. It’s also really easy to think your job will turn into a fulfilling career someday. However, there is a clear difference between a job and a career — and where each leads.
A job is, well, basically a job. It leads nowhere and it is a transactional contract. You are trading your time, energy and abilities for money. Period. A career, on the other hand, is more than just a job — a career is your long-term plan for a fulfilling work life that is in line with your skills, personality, passions, and values. A job will pay the bills and some people, like many students, are just looking for a little extra money or enough to help them pay tuition. Others need to pay the rent until they find a more satisfying job. And there’s nothing wrong with this!
A job can be part of your career plan, but more commonly, it leads to a dead end and keeps you trapped in a career you weren’t planning on entering. You probably don’t really care much about how you perform at work and you are always watching the clock. You can’t really get the motivation needed to buy into the company’s values, and you look forward to payday more than any other day of the week. But, you live for a career – you are consumed by it and could talk, read, write, and think about it off hours. (Oh, wait, that’s just me.) Seriously, a job energizes you and you wake up in the morning looking forward to work and the challenges of the day. It makes you feel like you are doing what you are supposed to be doing – what you have been created to do.
If you just have a job, don’t lose all hope. There are ways to keep a job from taking over your career plans. Look for opportunities to advance in the field you’re working in, as this can both make your work life more tolerable in the short-term and help you out in the long-term by adding valuable experience to your resume. If you discover that you really enjoy this career path, you can always change your plans. Avoid getting stuck by actively looking for a job in your ideal career and paying attention to how much energy a job brings to you and your life. (Note: energy is not the same as level of difficulty.) A salary and all the benefits that can come with a permanent job can lull you into a complacency that you may regret later.
In the long-term, you need to keep an eye on where you are relative to where you want to go. The things we spend the most amount of time doing is most likely what we’ll end up doing in five or ten years from now. If you are making an effort to get to where you want to be, your job will be a helpful step in getting there. If you just live to work each day, you might find yourself there in five years! (And, this is fine, if this is what you truly want. There are many out there who see their jobs as a means to do what they really love during their leisure hours.) Try to have some plan, either written or mental, of where you are and where you want to be and refer to this frequently to make sure you stay on track.
The big question from clients at this point is, “But, how do I know what I’m supposed to be doing?”
My answer, “Pay attention to how you have been built.” Self-discovery is a powerful tool in the search for a career.
Sometimes, knowing what you shouldn’t do is just as powerful as what you can do.
Explore the following aspects of who you are:
I personally prefer the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). So much so that I became certified in it administering, interpreting and presenting it. It is fabulous. If you already have your MBTI letters, have a look at them again. If you feel the MBTI was “useless” (tragic really), the person who gave you your feedback did not go deep enough. There is more to the MBTI than what people share at the company party. If you get an interpretation done, make sure you leave with a summary of your particular strengths, weaknesses and an action plan as to how to use your MBTI feedback. As a psycholgist friend of mine once said, “It doesn’t matter what goes on between your ears. What matters is your behavior, how you do your job and how well you get along with others.” The MBTI is useless unless you take actionable steps with the knowledge you have about how you think.
Take an inventory of all the things you have ever done in your life in terms of categories of activities (researching, networking, writing, creating, music, administrative, organization, planning, leadership, etc.) and evaluate whether, first, they were easy to do and, second, how much you enjoyed doing them). The Strong’s Interest Inventory can be very helpful in this area.
It is a lot easier to live life (and more meaningful and purposeful) if you know why you are doing what you are doing. When you work in an organization where your values are not aligned with theirs, there can be a lot of frustration on your part. This is how employee engagement, productivity and energy get depleted and contribution becomes subpar. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, you are bound to not give your very best. This can lead to dissatisfaction (with yourself, the organization you work for and for your life in general) and makes you vulnerable to burnout.
What are you about? What is your life purpose? Aligning your career (and your life) with your personal mission statement will give you a sense of being consistent with who you are. Working and living in accord with who you are is what gives energy to push through difficult challenges and increased workload.
(This is helpful for everyone, regardless of whether ADHD is an issue or not). Knowing where you stand with each of your executive skills will help you make decisions to be more productive, focused and organized. You can make decisions regarding what skills you work most effortlessly with, what skills are weak and need to be bolstered by those that are strengths, where to build additional skills, and how to manage the energy drain that comes from working out of your weaknesses.
What are you the most passionate about in your life? What activities are you involved with that get you jumping out of bed in the morning? Is it working with a particular population, a cause, an issue, or a change in the world that you want to be a part of? Are you all for the sale or the rollout of a program? Are you “called” to making something possible which is impossible at the moment? Are you all fired up about seeing an unmet need that you would like to find the solution for? Passion gives and sustains energy when things become difficult.
You can’t get to your destination if you don’t know where you are headed. Begin with the end in mind and imagine how you would like to live in your retirement. Work out all the details, right down to what kind of home you want to live in, car you want to drive, how much discretionary funds you want to have available (for travel, toys, hobbies, etc.), how often you want to eat out, how you want to spend your leisure time, etc., etc. Once you have filled out all the details, work backwards.
A job often comes out of an immediate need. A career is an outgrowth of and an expression of who you are and who you want to be in the world.
Regardless of whether you are looking for a job or a career, keep in mind the differences between the two. Regularly review your career plan to see whether you’re on track for meeting the goals which will give you energy, meaning, fulfillment, contentment, and joy in your life. If not, a revision to your long-term plan is in order or you are off track with one of the areas in your life and you need to refocus.
After all, you “date” plans, you don’t “marry” them. But, you also don’t want to be afraid to commit or pivot if you need to.