ADHD, Psychology

How to decide on a career

Many people struggle to decide on what kind of job they want, and it’s even harder if you have ADHD.

There are many good resources out there to get you started, like this great video. But, in my opinion, they are only half of the equation.

The jist of it is: What do you enjoy doing? What are you good at? What will people pay you to do? Write down the answers for each, and pick one thing that answers all 3.

But there is a problem. Let’s say you are great at playing guitar, and enjoy composing your own songs. Your dream is to sign a deal with a record label, and play in front of millions of adoring fans. But say it all came true, you are now a rich and famous rock star. If you’re feeling a bit nervous playing in front of your friends now, imagine the anxiety of playing in front of a huge crowd. Imagine the embarrassment you would feel if you got a note wrong or if a string breaks mid-song. Imagine hundreds of fans tweeting at you angrily that you didn’t play their favorite song at your last concert. Imagine releasing an album in a slightly different style that you’re quite proud of and think is “unique”, only to have thousands of furious fans posting on forums about how upset they are with the change and calling you a “sell-out”. Imagine constantly having to deal with paparazzi. You go out for a beer with your best friend, and the next day a picture of you two is all over the Internet. Your most loyal fans tracked down your friend and are calling them 24/7, hoping to learn more about you and hopeful to be introduced. No wonder so many rock stars turn to drugs. Would you be able to handle all of that?

The second part of the equation comes from this great blog post: “What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich and does it come with an olive?”.

We tend to only think of the glamorous parts of a job, and not all the shit that inevitably comes with any career choice. It’s important to imagine the daily grind, the worst case scenarios, and wonder if we can live with that or not.

I chose to be a game programmer. I have a love-hate relationship with my job. There is no greater feeling than having your game be played by thousands of people, but, at the same time, you have to endure the repetitive, mind-numbing work that comes with it, fixing frustrating bugs with a tight deadline, bad reviews from people who dislike something, etc. And yet, I can live with that.

Here’s the questions I asked myself to decide:

1. What subject are/were you best at in school?

Or which were you least bad at, you don’t have to be an A+ student to consider it.

Did any subject just make more sense than others? Did it peak your curiosity? Did you feel an urge to research stuff related to it that wasn’t necessary for school?

What was it about the subject that you liked? Was it the creative side, the problem solving, the teacher/community?

Try to look up what kind of careers there are that have the same elements.

Again, you don’t have to be an A+ student. A lot of what we have to do in school is BS we won’t have to deal with in the real world. For example, during my CS degree, we often had to do programming “on paper”, without access to a computer. So you had to memorize a lot of syntax, and it was much more error-prone (did you get the number of elements in an array with Length or Count?). In the real world, you have autocomplete and Google at your disposal at all times, plus friendly compiler errors, and it’s much easier. If you can quickly understand algorithms and change them to apply to different problems, you’re probably going to be a great programmer, even if you struggle with memorizing syntax or formulas.

2. What kind of homework did you dread the least?

Most kids hate homework, more so if you have ADHD.

But was there any kind of homework that you dreaded less, maybe even looked forward to sometimes? Maybe you were ok with problem-solving in physics class, or following the straight-forward algorithms for math exercises. Maybe you hated that, and instead loved the creativity an English essay inspired in you?

Homework is a good way to assess the “shit you can live with” part. It’s something you’ve had to do instead of more pressing desires (like video games or binge-watching that TV series). If you found it easier to give up on other desires in order to do certain kinds of homework, but not others, it’s worth figuring out why.

3. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Schoolwork is not the only indicator for what you can do with your life. The way you spend your time outside of it can also provide interesting possibilities.

Perhaps what you love doing every day is just hanging out with friends, drinking a beer, and talking. Maybe you’d be great at a bar-tending job, with an end goal to have your own bar? Or, if you just enjoyed listening to their problems, empathizing with them and giving them advice, you may be a great therapist or coach?

Maybe you just like to play video games all day. What aspects of that do you enjoy? Do you like management sims? Perhaps you could look into opening your own business. Do you like creating mods? Maybe you should give programming a try. Making custom maps? Game designers do that! Drawing fan art? I see “digital artist” in your future.

4. What kind of stress do you respond well to?

Think about stressful situations you’ve experienced throughout your life. Not just ones that you find stressful, but that others in similar situations would react poorly to.

When your best friend got injured while you were playing outside, did you keep cool and apply pressure to the wound or call an adult over for help? That is a big asset, many people may freeze or panic in that situation, maybe get nauseous at the sight of blood. You may want to consider a career as a doctor or paramedic.

If you have ADHD, you’re probably terrible at figuring out what you’re good at, so make sure to also ask friends when considering this.


What questions do you ask yourself when deciding on a career?

1 thought on “How to decide on a career

  1. I like the last idea about the way one behaves.

    I think it’s the best and only approach to offer to young people who seek their career path.

    Too often we concentrate on the what of things, while the how is really meaningful.

    Every job needs a lot of details to learn and memorize, and every few years we will need to ramp up that knowledge. So today, being 36, I would not ask anyone whether they prefer maths or music.

    I’d ask them what they feel when they have to solve algebraic equations and what they feel when composing music.

    How they approach it, what exactly is fun and what’s difficult, and what could be done to change it.

    I wish someone told me that when I was 15 or even 20. It would have saved me lots of stress and ill-headed efforts.

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