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Creative, ADD-friendly jobs that do not require much multitasking?
January 17, 2014 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I am an inattentive ADD-er, and have a difficult time juggling tasks. I recently finished two jobs that were unsuitable for me, and am contemplating a career change. I'd like to hear job or career suggestions that do not involve much multitasking and would play to my strengths. Details inside.

I am in my late twenties. Below is a brief description of the jobs I've held thus far:

Job 1: I taught ESL in China. The kids were awesome, but I could not handle so many stimuli coming at me at once - class interruptions would often lead to me losing my train of thought, which provoked in me a lot of anxiety. I learned that crowd control is not something I would like to deal with in the future. Also, I hated hated hated lesson planning.

Caveat: I spent some time tutoring adults privately on the side in cafes throughout my city, which I loved. I was able to build up a decent client base. I learned that I can be an effective speaker so long as the lesson size is small or, preferably, 1-on-1. I realized that although I love playing with kids, I would much rather work solo or with adults so I don't get distracted all the time. Also, using my creativity by tailoring lesson plans to each individual student was pretty awesome. I think what I liked most about this job was that I was able to be creative, only had one (adult) student that I had to focus on at a time and I had a lot of variety in both location and also who I got to work with.

Job 2: Was in a fast-paced, high-pressure office setting. I took this job, the specifics of which I had little interest in, because it paid well and I wanted to remain in China. Big mistake. I knew from the first couple of days that I would not be able to maintain my sanity for very long, and eventually ended up hightailing it back to the good old US of A.

So, I'm taking some time to think more about what I would like to do instead of where I would like to be (China!). I read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and would like to, as Mr. Covey puts it, "begin with the end in mind" this time around. I recognize that there is no perfect job for me, but would like to decide upon a career track that plays to my strengths and interests.

Strengths: I have a creative mind, and enjoy coming up with ideas, songs and stories. I often have an idea, tune or story in my head. I can write okay. I more or less know myself. I'm pretty good with foreign languages (I majored in Chinese). I learn things quickly when I am able to put my (usually unfocused) mind into it. I am good with 1-on-1 situations. I am good at coaching and listening to people. I enjoy watching people grow.

Weaknesses: Inability to multitask. I cannot get any work done with music on; I will just focus on the music instead. Sounds will irritate me if I am working (white noise is cool). I often pass my own car in a parking lot when with friends, because I am focusing on my conversation with them.

Anxiety in public settings - Even with friends, I've always preferred small groups or 1-on-1 to huge parties. I enjoy playing piano and coaching/tutoring people, but becoming a concert pianist or public speaker would be a nightmare job for me. Never in my life have I focused on one skill long enough for me to be able to call myself great at it. ADD sucks.

Also, although I consider myself to be relatively intelligent, I am sometimes perceived by others as stupid since I am forgetful, highly distractible and horrifically bad at planning. I need to do something or write something down as soon as I think about or am asked about it, or it will vanish into the cosmos for all eternity. I recently started ADD meds and am seeing a counselor to try and improve in these areas, although I doubt that they will ever become strengths. With my therapist's help, I was able to clean my room and organize my desk. This has never happened in the history of, like, ever. I still would like to stay away from jobs that prioritize precision, organization or data, as I am most definitely not detail-oriented. I have always been more about ideas and the big picture.

Please give me career suggestions that would allow me to exercise my creativity and do not involve very much multitasking. Miscellaneous/related advice is also appreciated. Jobs that would provide my ADD-addled brain with constant change and stimulation are a plus - I love learning new things and traveling! Working from home would be nice so I could take my work with me, but might not be realistic. At the moment, I've been looking at careers such as creative/technical writing, instructional design, freelancing/starting my own business (vague, I know), some type of tutoring/counseling, and translation. My dream job, for what it is worth, would either be a young adult/children's fiction author or composer (but I have no degree in music or writing, gack!).

PS: I recently took the MBTI and am an INFP, which I feel fits me pretty well.
posted by CottonCandyCapers to Work & Money (5 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
You're basically me.

I'm a copywriter for a big ad agency, which kind of sort of sounds like it would be a good fit.

In terms of the multitasking, you could multitask as much or as little as you want, around my parts. There are different types of writers for different types of projects.

Things that would fit you about my job:

* Jobs that would provide my ADD-addled brain with constant change and stimulation
* I love learning new things and traveling
* Working from home would be nice so I could take my work with me (You can sometimes do this)
* exercise my creativity
* coming up with ideas, songs and stories

Things that wouldn't fit:

* preferred small groups or 1-on-1 to huge parties (You will have to deal with both)
* prioritize precision, organization or data, as I am most definitely not detail-oriented

Honestly? Half of any "fun" job isn't fun. You have to, have to, have to grow some speaking skills, detail orientation, precision and focus to execute your ideas. The parts that would make you a great creative/copy/technical writer (that you detailed above) ARE THE FUN PARTS!!! The parts that everybody wants to do. Very few people really want to sit down with an 85 page copy deck and slog. But you have to, if you want to do the fun part.

I mean, even if you want to be a composer, but don't want to slog through the hard parts, you won't be a very good composer.

Your detail orientation, presentation, and precision skills don't have to be your forté, but they do have to be passable enough to get the job done—whatever the job.

And it's doable! I am literally you. From the walking past my car because of conversations, to not tolerating music while working (dude, wear headphones with white noise), and I've managed to forge myself a successful career in spite of the crap that ADHD does to my ability to cope.

You can do it, just keep building the "boring" skills!
posted by ulfberht at 10:27 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


To build on what ulfbehrt says, I think one thing to keep in mind is that when you're relatively smart and high achieving in some areas, and you have another set of skills (planning, organization, details) that are blatantly not up to par with the rest of your abilities, it's easy to get a complex about them - to feel deeply ashamed and humiliated about your inability to be detail-oriented until you start catastrophizing and convince yourself you could never do a job that involves details, because you will inevitably fuck it up. And then every time you do fuck up something detail oriented, it's just another piece of evidence of your profound, incomparable ineptitude.

I think it's important, when you start thinking this way, to take a step back and look around you and remember that lots of people are bad at planning; lots of people suck at details; lots of people are super disorganized. Most of those people, though, don't even realize what they're bad at. They keep muddling along, screwing up and fixing their screw-ups, without ever letting it affect their self-image. In some ways, you're a step ahead of the game, because you recognize your weaknesses and you're actively trying to account for them. Don't prematurely count yourself out of jobs you might be able to do, even if you can't do them perfectly.

That said, it seems like a pretty solid life for you, at least in the short term, would be to try and build up a client base working as a Chinese tutor and carving out some time to work on that YA novel you've always wanted to write. I mean, if that's your dream, you should go for it, right?
posted by pretentious illiterate at 10:46 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


I have (medicated) ADD, and I'm very annoyed by random sounds, but I've learned ways to deal with them (headphones, ear plugs, white noise.) Lots of people miss their cars in parking lots--I don't think that's a particular worry in a work environment.
You can learn to handle details, even if you can't learn to love them. I hate Excel, but I use it every day. In my experience, jobs with constant change and stimulation (emergency rooms, TV news) often require considerable multitasking. The meds should help with your distactibility, but some of conquering that is also just biting the bullet and nudging yourself back to the task at hand.
I think you might take a more analytical look at what your actual skills are--"watching people grow" is nice, but it's not something you earn money doing. What you enjoy doing and what you're good at don't always intersect, so you have to find a way to either advance your skills or create a job that makes the most of your strengths. If you want to write YA fiction, you can either become a ghost writer for a popular series of books or you can write your own. You don't need a degree in writing, you need sample chapters to get the ghost gig or a publisher.
I think you're also focusing on what you enjoy a bit too much--every job, every career has sucky bits and there's no real way to avoid them. In another thread, someone mentioned Mental Contrasting and if-then planning, which I've found very useful in figuring out what I do next.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:02 PM on January 17


...you have another set of skills (planning, organization, details) that are blatantly not up to par with the rest of your abilities, it's easy to get a complex about them - to feel deeply ashamed and humiliated about your inability to be detail-oriented until you start catastrophizing and convince yourself you could never do a job that involves details, because you will inevitably fuck it up. And then every time you do fuck up something detail oriented, it's just another piece of evidence of your profound, incomparable ineptitude.

Side note about the above comment by pretentious illiterate: start working hard to embrace this aspect of yourself, by accepting that you'll always suck at it, that it's no big deal, and that you'll mitigate it by using tools and scheduled activities (i.e. todo lists, "pay all bills for the month on this day at this time every month", and so on.) In particular, embrace and learn to effectively use tools provided by employers for this purpose (bug trackers, Agile virtual whiteboards, etc.) -- I've done this, and now in my 40s my creative work has taken a back seat to me being the one who always keeps things going on and organized, yet my brain makes connections between people's expectations and the schedule that nobody else makes. It makes me feel like I have a superpower that the citizens of My Job City actually value.

The point being: just because it isn't an innate skill doesn't mean you shouldn't work really, really hard to learn how to do it through tools and processes. When I was younger, I took the avoid-stuff-I-can't-do-at-all-costs approach, and in retrospect it was a big contributor to how long it's taken me to be successful. It was only when I found myself in a position where my choices were "find the tools and processes to adapt or quit my job because I can't do it" that I discovered the magic of pushing myself to learn that which doesn't come naturally.
posted by davejay at 1:36 PM on January 17 [3 favorites]


It looks like you already found a job: 1-on-1 tutoring. Can you get enough consistent paying clients? Can you work for an agency that tutors? Sylvan Learning Center is one of many.

Your struggle with organization and attention to detail are not unlike my own. So here is the advice i would give myself: you do not have to be perfect at these things, but if you want to be successful, you need baseline competence. Just remember that it takes a long time to change. I've been working on being able to keep my commitments for 6 years, but started by relying on my memory. Now I am a calendar master, entering in and monitoring every detail of an event. I used to have to think SO MUCH about how I will get to an event on time and how I will make sure that i have the necessary materials. Now it is more or less second nature. Now people are impressed by my organization and focus. What little tricks can yiu do right now to improve? You will still mess up (a lot!) But you will be amazed when you look at your old self.
posted by jander03 at 6:51 AM on January 21


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