13 Mar Neurodiversity Celebration Week: The Superpowers and Challenges that come with having ADHD in Business
ADHD is often described as underdiagnosed in the UK, and this is no doubt the case across the world too.
After being diagnosed with ADHD, I suddenly began to understand the reasons why I behaved the way that I did during some situations, whilst trying to learn coping mechanisms that would enable me to improve these periods and become less of a distraction for others. One thing to highlight before you read any further is that having ADHD as a business owner is not always easy, but it does bring advantages! In my opinion, ADHD creates complex behavioural traits and as it’s Neurodiversity Celebration Week, I wanted to write this blog post to share some of my experiences.
From impulsiveness to hyper-fixation and restlessness, my ADHD symptoms vary from one extreme to another on an almost daily basis. Initially, I tried to hide my symptoms through fear of becoming a frustration and nuisance to my colleagues and friends, but in recent months I’ve begun more advanced therapy for my ADHD and that’s been a major turning point in helping me to learn that my often frustrating qualities can also become superpowers within the workplace.
Benefits of ADHD in the workplace include:
Hyperfixation, sometimes described as hyperfocus, is a very common symptom of people with ADHD. For me, Hyperfixation is the complete ‘tunnel vision’ towards one project or task, to the exclusion of everything else. I’ve operated like this for a while and when I get into this mindset, I tend to hyperfixate so hard that I forget everything around me. I will work on a sales strategy for three hours without remembering to check my emails, and if I’m working at home often without any food or drink. When I finally snap out of it, I’ll desperately need to refill my water and get some food. It feels good to dive deep and get things done!
My ADHD means I think differently from neurotypical people, which often results in taking a creative approach that others might not think of. When I’m in my creative zones, there is nothing stopping me and a river of words and ideas flows that I can share with my team. I love brainstorming super creative ideas for clients and being involved in the ever-advancing tech industry.
Studies say that ADHD people are usually sensitive and feel ‘big feelings’; they typically have a great deal of empathy for others. I’ve found that I’m a great listener and can read people very well, whether it’s via video call or in person. This is extremely valuable as a business owner as I feel I can understand when my team needs support quickly, and whilst in meetings with prospective clients or candidates, I can get a sense of what they’re looking for, what their pain points are, and how I can help them with my skills and experience.
This is definitely one that I align with. ADHD is often correlated with increased resilience and I can see why. ADHD folks have to deal with daily struggles and strive to function within our society in the same ways as our neurotypical peers. The challenge of trying to ‘fit in’ is difficult and going through those challenges and overcoming them builds resilience. Resilience is essential as a business owner – there are always ups and downs. I’ve seen amazing times with booming periods of business and painfully slow ones such as during the Pandemic, the terrible war in Ukraine and even the Brexit transition. Without the experiences and challenges I’ve had, thanks to my ADHD brain, I may have given up on entrepreneurship and gone back to a day job a long time ago.
And like most things, there are always difficulties. These are just some of the challenges I’ve faced:
Racing Thoughts and Anxiety
One of my friends recently asked me what living with ADHD was like. I described it as being a part of a Formula 1 race with cars flying passed – it’s a constant array of ideas, thoughts, and interests. This has been a struggle for me my whole life and I never knew it was a symptom of ADHD and potentially one of the reasons that ADHD diagnosis is missed during childhood.
Racing thoughts can make it hard to focus on work and anxiety can be a major struggle when working with others. A blunt email can cause hours of overthinking – did I do something terribly wrong? Do they hate me now? Which leads me into the next challenge.
Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria
This condition is common in people with ADHD. It means that any perceived criticism or rejection is felt extremely deeply, to the point where it’s physically uncomfortable to bear it. Emails are often a trigger for the RSD part of my ADHD. Tone can be difficult to read in emails! I’ve let one email throw me off for hours, internalising the feedback and ruminating on it excessively.
Task Initiation and the Need for Urgency
A classic symptom of ADHD is struggling with task initiation. You know exactly what needs to be done, but you just can’t start. I often feel that way with big client projects. I need urgency to light a fire under me and get myself moving. I’ll set a deadline for myself, have plenty of time for a project, and still not start it until the home stretch. Then my hyperfixation will launch me into overdrive and I’ll power through. There’s nothing wrong with working this way – society has just trained us to think it’s morally inferior or lazy to do so. The work will get done however it gets done!
I used to think that ADHD was something to keep quiet and I would never disclose it to my previous employers for fear of being rejected at interviews. Now though, I embrace the unique qualities that I possess and I see the benefits of what results they can bring when I utilise them. I’m also grateful that I have a very supportive team around me at work, who don’t seem to get too annoyed with my sometimes distracting behaviours (sorry guys!). We work well together as a team and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
If you feel like you might be struggling with ADHD-type symptoms, I would definitely recommend referring yourself to be tested. I felt so much better with the official diagnosis and being able to build an understanding of what this means for my own future.