Issues at Work? It May very well be Undiagnosed ADHD
We talk too little about ADHD in the workplace – especially the undetected, undiagnosed, relentless symptoms that threaten too many careers.
Contrary to popular belief, ADHD doesn’t just affect children; it persists into adulthood for the vast majority of people. Some learn of their ADHD after undiagnosed and treated during childhood. This happened to me after relentless problems in the workplace awakened me with this reality.
When I was in my early twenties, I had the slightest suspicion that I had ADHD, but I didn’t dig any deeper then. Although I could enumerate many moments of impulsiveness, inappropriateness, and emotional dysregulation, I dismissed them as flaws in character. The same was true of my talent for losing items and my inability to finish a book. But I got good grades in school and was able to find and keep a job. I also thought ADHD was a boy’s problem. Could an Adult Woman Really Have ADHD? It was hard to imagine. Even unthinkable.
At the time I was working as a technical support specialist in a call center. I found the job very stimulating as every call was a new challenge and I was able to speak to a lot of people every day – a dream for any extrovert.
It wasn’t until I switched jobs at 26 that my undiagnosed ADHD symptoms were unleashed and no longer ignorable.
[Read: Practical Work Strategies for Clever ADHD Brains]
I applied for a position in finance even though I had no experience in the field. But they were looking for someone who spoke French and I was never a challenge, so I sent my résumé.
Since one symptom of ADHD is “risk taking”, we may or may not be really brave. Sometimes “taking risks” is just another word for “jumping into situations without thinking”.
But I actually got the job and I was very happy about it. Then the problems started. The office environment – the silence, the constant typing, the phones ringing in the background – was different and an immediate challenge for me. “This is going to be difficult,” I said to myself.
My job involved studying large spreadsheets for overdue invoices and informing customers about them. I also had to make sure the invoices were correct.
[Follow: A Career Happiness Formula for Adults with ADHD]
I was motivated in the beginning. I thought I was doing well and would even brag about my job. But the truth is, I’ve lagged behind my peers. To make matters worse, my boss would never explain anything to me or give me feedback. I soon felt marginalized and isolated.
It didn’t help that my communication skills were terrible. I was tough, impulsive, easy to get angry with my co-workers, and harsh in my emails. I even had to apologize publicly once in front of all my colleagues for something I wrote. Meetings were painful. I always scribbled and fidgeted, I really wanted to get up and leave.
I couldn’t chat much with my colleagues either. Not only because I had nothing in common with them (although I tried very hard to fit in), but also because my boss gave me a stern look every time I tried. I was paid to look and type at my computer screen, not chat, he said.
My boss knew I was prone to distraction. He even let me move closer to him one day so I could concentrate on my work. Again, I had no idea at the time that this was ADHD. I just knew that I needed stimulation to get started. No chat? Well then music. But the problem is, I would get lost in the music and it would affect my work day. Distractions were such a problem for me that I got the following feedback: “You leave everything for the last minute and at the end do a lot of things at the same time.”
I stayed in the job for a few more years and then quit when I received a long list of things to work on or to be fired. The list basically covered every aspect of the job.
I left this place feeling like a failure. Why did it turn out so bad?
A few months later, I took a new job in finance, with much better pay and more responsibility. I joined the treasury team for a large pharmaceutical company.
Even though I had sworn to no longer work for a large corporation, I needed the job. Also, I thought that not all offices are similarly awful.
But this position also failed.
My organizational methods and other “quirks” were often the point of criticism and ridicule at the new workplace. I had a huge calendar on my desk in which I wrote down all my tasks and reminders and marked them in different colors. I didn’t know then, but that was what my ADHD mind needed to keep track of. It worked perfectly for me.
But my co-workers said it looked unprofessional and made fun of me for needing a paper calendar instead of using an electronic one. “You’re not going to take your huge calendar everywhere, are you?” I tried to follow their suggestions, but it didn’t work. I had to see the memories in front of me. I missed my calendar.
These incidents, along with other stressful events in my personal life, marked the beginning of my downfall.
I started making frivolous mistakes almost every day. I would forget to attach a PDF file to an email. I would miss out on really important payment dates like payroll. I would pay twice. They were stupid mistakes, big mistakes, and embarrassing mistakes. And they seemed to escalate every week. I felt guilty that other people got extra work because of my mistakes.
“That’s it. I can’t make any more mistakes or they’ll fire me,” I said to myself almost every day. At the end of the work day I went through a list of all the mistakes I had made that day. “What’s wrong with me Not? Why did I forget / miss this very important thing? Am I just sabotaging myself? “
I thought I could start over. Better take care, try harder, be like the rest of my colleagues. I even bought an agenda, but that didn’t work either.
It was too late. I had four bosses who sat on my neck and criticized my every move. I was eventually fired, and my bosses didn’t hesitate to say how much my attitude felt towards the company.
It took me a while to find a job again. My confidence was gone.
Then I was diagnosed with ADHD.
Make no mistake – workplace ADHD symptoms can capsize your career. If the environment isn’t right, they can make the job virtually impossible. That’s why I get angry when people say, “Everyone has a little bit of ADHD”. “Really?” Are you constantly thinking about quitting? Were you actually fired because of your symptoms?
Looking back, I find that I was successful in this job as call center IT because I was able to use my own time management tools and interact with my colleagues. I was able to concentrate and do my job with confidence because I was stimulated and motivated to help.
I now also realize that I wasn’t the problem at my other workplaces. The work environment just wasn’t suitable for me.
Today I have an amazing and rewarding career in IT. I cope with my ADHD symptoms much easier because I love this exciting and stimulating job. In fact, I was labeled professional and well organized!
If you are an adult with ADHD struggling in the workplace, take a long time to think about finding a job that fits your unique way of working. Our brains work differently, and trying to adjust to something that doesn’t appeal to you will only cause unnecessary pain and stress. My advice? Find where you are successful – and never look back.
Problems Working With ADHD: Next Steps
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Updated May 21, 2021
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