Some adults with attention deficit disorder (ADD) adapt to the work world by allowing themselves to be pitifully underemployed. Rather than find a great match for their skills and interests, they will work at a job far below their natural abilities. In this way, their inevitable screw-ups and difficulties with following directions will be balanced by being more capable than those they work with. This strategy has its own set of painful problems. For one thing, knowing you could do and be more can lead to an enduring agony. For another, you may find yourself falling prey to negative feedback from people who aren't as smart as you are.
Another strategy ADD adults sometimes adopt is to overcompensate, working inhuman hours to try to avoid possible criticism. It can be shattering when even this strategy doesn't prevent criticism from heading your way, whether from colleagues, bosses, or clients. Another problem with this strategy is that it can take a tremendous toll on your personal relationships.
Some ADD adults bring their great gifts to bear in arenas that are good matches but, like someone driving with one foot perpetually on the brakes, they never go anywhere because they are drinking, using drugs, or struggling with some other addiction. This outcome can be heartbreaking for your family and friends. Not only are they aware of your shining gifts, they must also bear witness to the destruction of these gifts. Unlike the strategies of playing small or working tirelessly, in this case your great gifts are present for everyone to see -- as is the loss of these gifts through your self-destructive habits.
The tragedy of these three work-life compromises (playing small, workaholism, and destructive habits) is one and the same: an utter loss of self-worth, caused by an environment that focused only on what a person couldn't do well and hardly at all on what the person could do well. The losses -- both in quality of life and to the communities that desperately need the contributions of gifted ADD adults -- can be mammoth in scope. For example, when a disgruntled office worker who could be a brilliant artist doesn't receive the validation and support necessary to pursue her art, not only is she unhappy, but her community has lost an artist, a businesswoman, and a leader.
More Answers from Lara Honos-Webb, PhD