Over my last year of college, a growing cognitive dissonance took hold of my life.
On one hand, I’d been accepted to grad school and figured more school was the next step to the career I wanted to have. On the other hand, I felt in my gut that I was temperamentally not very well suited to being in school, despite the fact that I enjoy learning.
In the end, my gut won. I’ve written here about how I got through college, and I just wasn’t cool with the idea of getting through grad school, even if it was the logical next step towards my professional goals. I wanted to find an environment that fit better with the way I work as someone with ADHD.
Shortly after graduating, I started taking the occasional freelance writing job off online jobs boards. I didn’t have any particular aspirations of actually becoming a professional writer, and I hadn’t studied anything writing-related in college – it was just a convenient way of making a little money.
What I hadn’t expected was how easy working as a self-employed writer would be. I don’t mean it was easy in the sense that I didn’t have setbacks because I did have setbacks – for every gig I got, I was probably passed over for ten others. But it was easy in the sense that freelance writing as a way of working fit very well with how I operate as an ADHDer.
It’s Very Reward-Oriented
Because of the way they’re wired, people with ADHD are often very reward-driven. If we get a hit of dopamine from something, we’ll do that thing over and over again, which is why we’re prone to addictive behaviors and wasting a lot of time on everything except what we’re supposed to be doing. (If you read my maze post, you’ll recall this is partly why people with ADHD tended to solve the maze differently than people without ADHD.)
This way of doing things is a better fit for some environments than others. If you ask me, it’s a pretty awful fit for a classroom environment. But it works well when you’re a self-employed writer because the process of writing a new article from beginning to end is full of little rewards:
- You’re always on the lookout for new clients, so when you get a new client who wants you to write an article, that’s a reward.
- Actually writing the article is full of tiny rewards that involve figuring out how to phrase things in a way that gets across what you want to say.
- Finishing the article is rewarding in two ways: it’s intrinsically rewarding to complete a new piece of writing that expresses something in your words, and it’s extrinsically rewarding to know you’re now going to get paid a certain amount!
- Publishing the article carries the rewards of seeing your writing “in print” and (depending on where it’s published) getting some sort of response from readers on what you’ve written.
Therefore, the fact that the writing process is a series of little rewards helps keep me on track all the way through.
There Are Lots of Tight Deadlines
Like many people with ADHD, I am a talented procrastinator. If you have a task that needs to be put off til later, I’m your guy!
When it comes to work, there are basically two ways to deal with this: find a strategy to counter your tendencies towards procrastination, or find a job where things always happen on tight deadlines anyway so being someone who focuses best when the clock is counting down actually becomes an advantage.
Being a freelance writer falls into the latter category. If there’s one thing I learned in school, it was how to write under a time crunch! I’m putting that skill to good use.
Nothing About the Future is Guaranteed
As a freelance writer, you have to always be looking for new work. You make your living from a bunch of temporary smaller gigs, so there are no guarantees in terms of job security. This can be stressful, but if it can also focus your energies if you’re the kind of person whose interest and motivation gets easily sapped by routine.
I’m not sure what will happen long-term as far as my work/jobs/career/whatever, but over the last year and a half, I’ve gone from doing a few writing jobs on the side to realizing “hey, I could make a thing out of this” to getting the majority of my income from writing.
Of course, I’m not saying professional writing in general is a good job for people with ADHD – obviously, some people with ADHD don’t like writing, and it would be a horrible job for them. But for me, it seems to clash with my ADHD symptoms less than a lot of other jobs would.
So if you’re currently in an environment that feels like it’s at odds with your ADHD, know that even if you can’t get rid of your ADHD, you can find environments that are more natural fits to your strengths and weaknesses. I wouldn’t say definitively that I’ve found one of those environments since I’m still figuring things out, but I feel like I’m moving in the right direction.
And if you are in an environment that’s a good fit for your ADHD – in particular if you have a job you like – let us know what your secret is!
Photo credit: FreeImages.com/Andreas Hunziker