what if I can’t succeed in the world of work?

A reader writes:

I’m a professional in my late twenties. I spent my twenties getting some degrees and doing fellowships, internships, and various contract jobs.

Through all of that, I landed a great full-time job – not my dream job, but maybe 60% my dream job. Coming in, I knew it would be a bit of a struggle, with a steep learning curve and a not-super-supportive environment, but I was confident I could learn and succeed. But it has been BAD.

My performance review was not great. I know people are annoyed with me for not being able to deliver or remember everything going on, and I don’t have a good reputation in the office now. Colleagues, some younger than me, far outpace me. And then I am filled with anxiety and then I can’t focus and so I make a mistake which makes me filled with anxiety … And so on. I’m constantly making mistakes and unable to get work done, even after almost a year here. Basic things too, like work processes I should know.

There is not a lot of empathy for low and mediocre performers in the “work blogging” sphere in general. I’m already full of guilt. I need an outside perspective – because I keep trying to tell myself “this just isn’t a good fit, you can learn some things and move on!” But I shouldn’t be THIS bad at it, even with the challenges within the organization, I should be better at my job. I make silly mistakes always. (I went to some specialists who think I have symptoms of ADHD. I’ve always been TERRIBLE at details, easily distracted, and a major procrastinator.)

I excelled enough at my fellowships, etc., that my bosses tried to hire me on full time – but they were much lower pressure/responsibility than this job. At this job I can’t do anything right. It’s too much for me, but here’s the scary part – it’s a regular job. Not more than what peers my age do, and often less.

I’ve gone to counselors, including, recently, a career counselor. I started taking medication to help me focus. I read a million blogs. I connect with professionals in similar jobs to see how they do things. You speak about low performers with a lot of responsibility laid in their lap. I’m trying to claim that responsibility, but every day I mess up and I lack focus.

So here’s the big question – what if some people simply cannot excel in the modern work world? What if I am one of those people? What if I am someone who can only aspire to be mediocre at work, snubbed by job bloggers and high performers everywhere? I write a bit facetiously, but I’m serious. It’s not like all humans have evolved to be amazing at modern office life and the knowledge economy.

But it doesn’t matter, because I live in the modern work world and I need a job. So what can someone like me do, who can’t seem to make work work? How do I know where I am the problem, and where the problem is a job that’s a bad fit? And are there any steps you can recommend I take to find some modicum of success in my career when basic work responsibilities seem too much?

I wrote back and asked, “Are you being treated for the ADHD? That was buried in your letter, but ADHD could account for everything you’ve described here.” The response:

I have not had an official diagnosis for ADHD, as they are expensive and time-consuming and I was dealing with other health issues that took my time/money. I did visit a psychiatrist and tried a couple different medications he prescribed. I’m currently on a low dose for one but haven’t noticed any improvement, and the side effects are bad enough I don’t want to up the dose. I’ve been reading/applying a ton of resources on managing ADHD symptoms and I visit a mental health counselor about twice a month.

I’ve managed to overcome these symptoms in past positions and school, but maybe with this higher level job, finding the right medication is the only way. I guess I desperately want the answer to this to be “you’re fine and this job is just a bad fit and you will excel elsewhere without treatment!” (The job lacks a team atmosphere, which I like in my work life.)

But what if, even with treatment, I am simply a mediocre employee? Statistically speaking, there are going to be people who just are mediocre in the modern workplace, right? So two questions to sum up my rambling:
1. Can we expect everyone to be a high performer at work?
2. And if some of us are simply mediocre (like I suspect I am), how do we find some success in a world of high performers?

I really do think these questions are premature! Everything you’re describing here lines up so well with ADHD that that has to be your first line of attack — because there’s a really good chance that if it’s ADHD and you successfully treat it, you’re going to have a totally different experience at work. So please please please, tell your doctor that these medications aren’t working for you and ask about alternatives.

Also, you are drawing some really dire conclusions about yourself based on one job. ADHD and medication issues aside, maybe this is the wrong kind of work for you. Maybe there’s something about this boss or this culture that really doesn’t intersect well with you. It doesn’t make sense to conclude that you’re doomed to be a mediocre employee forever, based on a single job! I suspect this experience has so demoralized you that it’s warping your thinking, and I think it will help to step back and remind yourself that this is a single job, not a pattern.

I’m not going to say “you’re fine and this job is just a bad fit and you will excel elsewhere without treatment!” because I don’t know enough to say that, but I am going to say “you’re probably fine and this job is definitely a bad fit, and I suspect that once you have treatment and the right job, you’ll do a lot better.”

But let’s answer your questions about mediocre employees anyway, because they’re good ones.

No, we can’t expect everyone to be a high performer at work. By definition, that’s not possible. Most people will be average, and some will be not particularly good at all.

But just because you’re average (or worse) at some things doesn’t mean you’ll be average (or worse) at everything. So for people who are feeling like they suck at work in general (which again, is not you — see above), the first trick is to figure out if there’s something that you’re much better at than the other things you do, even if it has nothing to do with the thing you’re doing for pay right now. From there, the question is whether you can build a career around it or not — and if you can, whether you’d want to.

We live in a world that rewards some talents and not others. If the thing you’re pretty good at is also something that it’s easy to find work doing, then you’ve lucked out, and this element of life will be much easier for you. But if the thing you’re pretty good at isn’t something we tend to reward monetarily — many forms of art, for example, or being highly empathetic — then it’s tougher. (And sometimes you might not want to turn your particular talent into a job. You might be able to use your artistic talent to work as a graphic designer, but if you have zero interest in taking artistic direction from someone else, that probably isn’t the job for you.) As a result of all this, there are indeed a lot of people who good at something but are stuck working in jobs that they’ll never be that great at.

I suppose in theory there are also people who genuinely aren’t good at anything, but I’ve never met one of them. The more common problem is that the things they’re good at don’t correlate with the things our world pays people to do — or that they haven’t figured out how to turn it into something they get paid for.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re someone who’s always going to be mediocre at any type of paid work that you can get. It’s going to limit you professionally, yes — you’re probably not going to get great raises or promotions, and you may be limited to working for employers who are relatively mediocre themselves, or in jobs that don’t challenge you in particularly interesting ways. But you’re not going to be cast out of society. You’re just going to have a narrower range of professional options — which is true for lots of people, thanks to geography and education/lack of education and socioeconomic class. If that’s the boat you ever find yourself in, the best strategy is probably to take a utilitarian approach to work (this is what you do to get paid and it’s okay if you’re not a rock star in your field) and look to other parts of your life for fulfillment, like family, friends, hobbies, community, etc.

But again, that’s not your boat right now. Your boat is the “get the ADHD successfully treated and see what happens” boat. And once you do that, there’s a whole harbor of potential boats you can explore. (Apologies for going with that tortured metaphor.)

{ 432 comments… read them below }

  1. MuseumChick*

    I never thought I could get paid for doing one of the few things I’m good at, falling into the rabbit hole of research obscure topics. I now work in a museum. :)

    1. DJ Roomba*

      Totally agree with the above – for me, my 20’s were the time to find the right career for me…college doesn’t really prepare you for that IMO (and I had internships every summer as well as during some semesters). Maybe my experience is an anomaly but I have found that it takes at least 3 months to really understand a job and the expectations people have of you, more time if its a brand new, complex industry, so internships don’t fully educate you on what a real job would be like.

      I started off in banking and did horribly – including a terrible performance review – so much so that I felt like it was a race to my finding a new job and quitting or being let go. Luckily I found a new job in a different industry, and that went well for a few years until the recession when many in my field (including me) got laid off. Then, finally, I found my niche in something completely different from my first job and pretty different from my second and went from the banking “problem” employee to a top-performer, handpicked for development as a future leader.

      Point being – don’t be too hard on yourself. Take Allison’s advice and give yourself time to find your place.

      1. Not Rebee*

        College definitely doesn’t prepare you for this, primarily because there are too many options! My college tried, and our seminar was basically “look, just because you’re history majors doesn’t mean you have to be historians when you grow up” and that honestly almost made it worse. What do you mean I can do literally anything? I can’t decide what to have for dinner each night how do you expect me to choose out of literally every job in the world? However, I think the thing to take out of that is that your education and previous experiences do not prohibit you from picking any career decision you might have. You may need additional schooling or work experience, but no, your BA in English Lit will not prevent you from getting a position doing sciency things if you otherwise mostly meet the requirements for your sciency job.

        Another thing I think is key is realizing that there’s no harm in graduating from college and finding a job that isn’t a forever job. It doesn’t have to be a perfect fit, you don’t have to love it, you just have to learn from the experience and use it to find something better for yourself.

    2. Pepper flakes*

      May I ask what kind of job/title you do at the museum? Falling in the rabbit hole of obscure questions is something I do pretty well as well. So, I’m curious.

      The original question resonated with me. I struggle with my current job and I wish I can fins the niche I’d be great at, like so many of the comments mention. How did everyone find the right job for them? I’ve been reading books on career, thinking about this topic for a while, but it’s so overwhelming. And I’m 40 years old and have worked in several jobs. I’m afraid I might be too old to make a switch.

      1. periwinkle*

        I finally figured out what I wanted to do at age 44 or so, then switched fields when I completed my master’s… at age 47. It took all those years to figure out the right field! Did contract work for a couple years, landed a permanent role in a great organization, and was just moved into a new position which is basically 90% my dream job (the other 10% is salary-related but we’ll revisit that later on). I’ll turn 53 this week.

        So it’s definitely not too late for you to switch if you’re ready.

        1. Renna*

          I’m 29 and I feel like so many people my age already have it figured out and are famous or have made millions or are generally ridiculously successful and that I’m behind everybody else. I don’t want to be famous or have millions, I just want to be in a job I like that lets me pay all the bills, pay off the credit cards, travel once a year, and have a savings account. Like, it doesn’t seem too much to ask for, especially when SO many of my former schoolmates are surgeons or lower management or what have you when they’re younger than me. But it has been a really painful struggle to even get into a semi-comfortable job.

          This makes me feel a little better, although I hope I can figure out the right field sooner rather than later.

          1. Rainy*

            I’m 42 and I fell into a career doing something completely different from what my degrees are in a couple of years ago. I’m good at it, too, or so leadership says! If you’d asked me at your age what I was going to be doing at 40 I would have had a *very* different answer, but I’m a lot happier in my current line of work. :)

      2. MuseumChick*

        My official title is “Collections Manager” so, taking care of the museum collection is my main job. But that also includes researching the objects, the people related to them, the events related to them etc. I also process research requests for the public.

      3. Cassandra*

        I’d like to suggest (both to Pepper flakes and to the OP) a book by Herminia Ibarra: _Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career_. Ibarra starts from a very different place from the Color of Your Parachute ilk — she says that we learn where we fit by doing a variety of things, and no quizlet or personality test is a shortcut through that.

        This book isn’t magic, but it may help reframe suboptimal (but not Evil Bees) work experiences as steps on a path rather than signs of personal worthlessness.

        The book is in a fair few public and academic libraries. Ask for an interlibrary loan if your library doesn’t happen to have it.

        1. Teapot librarian*

          I’ve already made my career shift, but I’ll be talking about shifting careers at a conference in a few months, so it sounds like I should read this as well. Thanks for the recommendation!

      4. A different fed*

        I do not most of us find the right jobs, unless you are the little boy who wanted to be a fireman and became one.
        Most of us are not making 6 figures. Most of us fall into a job -go for the interview and get hired. We generally do not say “Oh- must work for Google” and refuse to work elsewhere. We take a job. It pays the bills. If you are lucky. If you are lucky, it pays more than bills and you work with nice people . If you are really lucky, some of it is interesting.
        As Alison and my supervisor has said, everyone cannot be exceptional. See definition. There is nothing wrong with just meeting expectations.
        Do not be so hard on yourself .

    3. Fiennes*

      I have ADHD, & I wasted years thinking I had to be lazy or undisciplined to get distracted as often and easily as I did. Medication wasn’t an answer for me, due to complicated medical stuff I’ll leave out of this. However, my job now is almost wholly self-directed, with large long-term deadlines but almost no check-ins along the way. So I work whenever I can work, get other things done when I can’t. I was genuinely shocked to learn I’m actually more productive than most in my field—even working fewer overall hours! Turns out I can manage long-term independence much better than daily details and set times of necessary focus.

      LW, I too used to despair of ever making my way on the working world. But keep looking. If medication doesn’t work, you can still find jobs that will play to your strengths without magnifying your weaknesses.

      As an aside: I really think we should tell students to think about work in terms of their strengths AND their weaknesses. IMO it can help just as much to know what you’re not good at! Had I fully understood this as a college student, I never would’ve flailed my way through my first, abortive career. We ought to be better at helping students and inexperienced job seekers realize that, for instance, if you’re bad at details, you shouldn’t go into law. If you work best with a tightly defined schedule/hierarchy, a new startup may not be ideal. If you don’t have fine motor skills, don’t think about becoming a dentist — etc. This general omission from career advice for the young seems more egregious to me the more I think about it.

      1. Starbuck*

        I’m imagining this may have something to do with fear of outrage from parents re: how dare you tell my child that there is anything they can’t do if they try hard enough? At the elementary and high school level at least. Also it seems like measuring skills (or asking children to accurately self-assess themselves) is much harder than just giving students a multiple choice survey on their attitudes and feelings around certain types of work, because that’s all I ever got. And then the resulting recommendations were bizarrely specific- I remember my best match at one point was vending machine service technician. Hmm.

        1. Fiennes*

          That’s part of it, I think. There’s also the fact that a lot of young people don’t fully understand their weaknesses yet, or haven’t been in situations where those weaknesses would show up.

          Still, I think it could work if the assessments focused on the job, not the skill. “Law requires a high level of attention to detail,” would give the necessary info without judging whether or not the kid has that quality or not.

          (And I think many parents who bristle at someone else pointing out their kid’s weaknesses would, on their own or with the kid, be able to be more objective.)

          1. Betsy*

            I’m all for this approach for adult career planning.

            Where I think it might not work is that teenagers and children grow and change so much. My weaknesses are nowhere near the same as when I was a teenager. Sure I’ll probably never excel at sports or maths, both of which I was bad at at school. But I cope with stress so much better, and I’m way more outgoing than I was as a shy teenager, and I’m more organised.

      2. Chameleon*

        I have ADHD, & I wasted years thinking I had to be lazy or undisciplined to get distracted as often and easily as I did.

        Yes, yes, YES!! I also have ADHD, undiagnosed until I was 39. I was constantly berating myself for being unable to just *do* something that needed to be done instead of getting pulled off track by something pointless. In my case, I was able to get medication and I now can get through…well, 60-70% of a to-do list instead of 10-15%. It really is not well-recognised in women especially.

        1. Gadget Hackwrench*

          Hell, I was diagnosed at 8, and it still didn’t help. “Your ADHD is not an excuse. It’s an obligation to work harder.” I forget where I read it, but someone once explained it really well how adult perspectives on how to “teach” ADHD kids to function “normally,” have screwed a bunch of people up. Basically a kid says “I can’t do this. I need help,” but the adults don’t believe that so they keep riding you about it, piling on more and more unpleasant consequences, rejection, belittling, until they push you into fight or flight and you DO IT on sheer adrenaline and panic. Then the adults turn around and say “See? You CAN do it!” and pat themselves on the back for teaching you how to do what other kids do, and expect that you will do it without protest from then on. This happens for many/multiple tasks and soon the kid learns that that ALL tasks presented must be completed no matter how distressing. They don’t try to communicate anymore that this is beyond their capabilities, or they need help. Instead they learn that what’s expected of them is to push themselves into a panic state on a regular daily basis. They learn that if they’re not keyed up and in panic they’re being lazy and not trying hard enough. They live in this state of inescapable rush-rush life-or-death GET IT DONE, long enough that they actually develop PTSD over ordinary tasks because they never learned any way to do them except in a complete panic. Things aren’t truely going to improve for kids with ADHD and ASD until the goal of “treatment” stops being “train them to pass for neurotypical on the outside, no matter how much it hurts inside.”

      3. On PIP (but not really?)*

        This is really interesting to read. I posted this late on the last open thread, but on Thursday, I got put on a PIP-“lite” for time management issues – particularly not sending proper updates to my project supervisors (we have to send daily updates and drafts of our deliverables by email.) I’m someone who starts projects off slow, and then gets really focused near the end. I have delivered all my projects on time (I don’t miss deadlines) of good quality, but this pacing has gotten me in trouble. I also lack attention to detail. I have always wondered if I have ADHD (to be honest, this isn’t the first time I’ve been called out for being disorganized) but I have never been diagnosed. I do get counseling for anxiety.

        (P.S. PIP-lite because I’m not considered a low performer, but have recurring performance problems.)

        1. Same boat*

          Woa — this really resonates for me. “I’m someone who starts projects off slow, and then gets really focused near the end.” Word. Unfortunately I have missed deadlines.

      4. Nun Ya*

        I second this comment about thinking about work in terms of strengths and weakness — particularly the strengths part.

        OP, there is an assessment by Gallup called “StrengthsFinders 2.0” that is great at letting you know what your natural or preferred strengths are and giving you advice on how to incorporate your strengths into your daily work and personal life. The premise of the assessment is that typically throughout school and work, we are taught that we must focus on our weaknesses, and this is often to everyone’s detriment. Focusing on weaknesses causes unecessary anxiety and stress, not to mention it is time-consuming. You may feel that you are not cut-out for work simply becuase you have not yet been given the opportunity to use your strengths at work. By using your strengths, you will feel more at-ease and tend to feel you are more successful. I highly recommend that you 1) identify what your strengths are using the assessment, then 2) try to use those strengths in your work, either by talking to your work leaders or searching for a different job.

        1. Rainy*

          StrengthFinders 2.0 (now called CliftonStrengths) is a really valuable assessment. I use it a lot in my own life as well as with clients and it can really help people identify and own their strengths and start focusing on continuing to improve in areas where their talent and interest already lie, and manage around areas of weakness.

      5. Same boat*

        Fiennes — would you attribute your current success with your job to the specific company/organization you work for, or to a change in career fields? Also, if you don’t mind answering in this forum, how were you able to treat ADHD without medication?

    4. Sketchee*

      Excellent to hear of your success, MuseumChick!

      I studied Fine Art and Music. And with a lot of luck, Ive always got paid doing what I love as a graphic designer. It does mean some trade offs. And there are huge aspects of the job that I’m not great at.

      But finding systems and trying ways to work around that takes experience. I couldn’t have understood that 18 years ago at my first job and it wouldn’t have been helpful to try.

      Take practical steps, LW. Like treating what you can and testing ways to improve in the work you’re doing.

      1. Sketchee*

        *wouldn’t have been helpful to try to assess my future ability not knowing what skills I needed yet

  2. Cambridge Comma*

    You don’t sound like the kind of colleague that people on blogs like these condemn. It’s the mediocre performers don’t want to be better, don’t care about doing their job badly, don’t try and don’t want to improve. You don’t fit this type at all.

    1. starsaphire*

      This, exactly! It’s obvious from your letter that you DO care, and that the struggle with this job is painful and frustrating for you. I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with this!

      Alison is spot on: your job is a bad fit, and addressing your health will benefit you both in the short term and in the long term.

      Right now you’re caught in a spiral: you feel like you’re failing, which makes you anxious, which makes you miss things, which makes you feel *more* like you’re failing. I get into these too, and it’s really hard to break out of without some sort of help. But this is actually not an uncommon situation to be in, so please don’t feel ashamed or hopeless, and please don’t give up.

      1. KitKat*

        Things I have learned about you based on your letter:

        1. You write well. It probably didn’t seem like anything special to you, but clear persuasive writing is NOT a skill that everyone has.
        2. You are self-aware. You know that you are not excelling at work, and you are not shifting blame, but looking at yourself.
        3. You are conscientious. You want to do well at work and be a good coworker.
        4. You are resourceful and hardworking. You are actively searching for solutions in a variety of ways.

        In the demoralizing fog of struggling at a job, these may be things that feel obvious and like they don’t even count, but they do! Not everyone has these qualities! I firmly believe that there is a path out there for you to do work that is a good fit for you and for your skills, and that this feeling is not forever.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          5. You don’t hide from or ignore your hurdles. Stay this way. It will serve you so well through life. People like you who have faced their Mt. Everests end up teaching others. It takes time to play out.

          6. You want to contribute to this world, your community. I don’t wanna get started on the numbers of people who don’t want to do this. Keep that desire and be proud of wanting to contribute. Just because you think that you are not there yet is not a major deal. Many people don’t find their spot until they are well into their middle age. I remember my father saying he finally felt like he was coming into his own after he hit 40. Eh, I am 50 plus and I am still not sure where my spot is, I am just following the flow.

    2. kajastet*

      Also, this blog tends to discuss how some mediocre performers think they are very good at their jobs. There was a study that found a correlation between ability and self-awareness which accounts for this. You seem to be very self-aware, so have faith that you will find your way in the work world and try, try, try not to compare yourself to others.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yep. There is a huge difference between the type of person we are talking about and you, OP. These are folks who never have it occur to them to go to a doc or to write an advice columnist. They never take a look to see what is going on inside themselves.

    3. Natalie*

      I don’t know, I think most of our coworkers that are struggling either genuinely don’t know that they’re not doing well, or feel like the LW does but don’t share it with their entire office. I know when I’ve been struggling at work, I’ve only ever talked to my boss, and sometimes not even them depending on how conflict averse they’ve been.

      I have a really good friend who is highly empathic and the kind of ultra positive that reads as really genuine rather than cheerleader-y. And she’s a completely space cadet on many things. She had one stint in a fairly standard white collar work environment where she was a rockstar at their core business but the strain of trying to meet standard in traditional office ways literally led to a breakdown. She’s had to accept that to some extent, this is how her brain is wired and the cost of changing it is too high for her to pay. And she’s had to accept that this means some people will not like working with her. She’s spent her mental capital on building her own sense of self worth and acceptance rather than trying really hard to be organized.

      (And interestingly, she used to always complain about coworkers not being empathic or genuine enough. It’s all where you sit in a way.)

      1. Koko*

        Yeah, I think sometimes we assume that someone doesn’t care because they aren’t improving, or because they aren’t showing enough concern, but they might be trying without results and concealing their concern because they’re embarrassed and hoping not to draw attention to themselves.

        Along those lines, OP, even if you do have ADHD and get it treated and you’re able to turn things around…well, this job might still be tainted by your earlier poor performance. Unfortunately once you get labeled a poor performer whose work needs extra scrutiny it can sometimes be hard to change others’ perception of you. The small mistakes that go mostly unnoticed or don’t seem a big deal when an average performer makes them are big, glaring errors when a low performer makes them. Your boss might be waiting for you to make no errors at all before she stops hand-checking all your work, which may not be a realistic standard even for a typical average-to-strong performer, and every time she finds a mistake it reaffirms her thinking that you aren’t up to snuff. You may need the clean slate that comes with a new job, where you can start off as a strong performer from day 1.

  3. AdAgencyChick*

    So, so premature to judge yourself so definitively!

    I stank at my first post-college job, and I wasn’t that great at the one after that either. It took me a few years to discover the niche field I’m in now, but once I got there I started rocking the house.

    What really helped was what Alison is suggesting: taking a look at the jobs I wasn’t good at and asking myself, was there anything about them that I actually liked and did well? For me the answer was that I wasn’t any good at the business planning aspects of marketing, but I liked the little bit of copywriting that I got to do. Once I made copywriting my full-time work, life got so much better.

    Wishing you well, OP! So been there.

    1. Ama*

      The job where I really struggled and was miserable is the fourth or fifth job on my resume. I had stumbled into reception/office administration right out of college and it seemed like I excelled at it — but I didn’t quite connect the dots that my first few jobs were in low traffic offices where the phone would maybe ring half a dozen times a day and even fewer people came by in person. What I was excelling at was the organization and administration parts — creating and standardizing procedures, following up on billing issues, keeping supplies stocked. When I moved to a much bigger, much busier department where I suddenly needed to keep an entire graduate school running while being interrupted by either phone or an in person visitor every five minutes, I started making mistakes, dropping tasks, and I was so miserable my boss had to discuss my outward attitude with me. But I wouldn’t job search because I was convinced I’d be just as miserable and terrible at any job I was qualified for.

      However, when my boss had to talk to me, it prompted me to do some serious thinking about what exactly had changed from previous jobs. I realized I don’t work well in a job that has to deal with constant interruptions or in an environment where I constantly have to react to crises instead of make proactive plans. So when I started looking, I avoided any jobs with reception duties and also tried to look for positions that seemed to emphasize organizational and project planning skills. I was lucky to find my current workplace — I knew it would be a good fit when in the initial interview, my hiring manager asked if I was comfortable working on project timelines a year to 18 months out — and the last five years have been some of the most satisfying of my professional life.

      1. Manders*

        It’s awesome that you found a job that fit your work style! It does sound like the job you were flailing in was one that very few people could succeed at–sometimes your personal work style just doesn’t match the job, but sometimes the job is way harder than it looks from the outside.

      2. Mad Baggins*

        Exactly this! A year ago I felt just like OP and you, struggling in a job that didn’t fit and wondering what was wrong with ME, and suffered such low self esteem and depression because I thought that meant I would be bad at anything I tried to do. I didn’t realize that I could select for workstyles that would be a better fit, like how often you are interrupted, how much you have to multitask, whether accuracy or speed is rewarded… Once you know how to look for those cues like “are you comfortable working on longer project timelines” then you can better select a job!

    2. Lynn Whitehat*

      I was a terrible waitress. THE WORST. I was slow, I was visibly nervous in front of customers, I couldn’t remember all their little requests for more mustard etc. I thought if I couldn’t “even” be an average waitress, I was obviously bad at work. I’m a successful software engineer today. Waitressing just hits all of my weak spots–talking to customers, rushing, random requests out of left field. I mean, requests for new software features *do* come out of left field, but on a *much* slower timescale. Like, a 30-minute meeting to discuss two weeks of work, vs “also more lemonade!” every 20 seconds.

      1. Brigitha*

        I love this comment. I have been a waitress for almost 20 years, and have trained many new people who fit your description of yourself, but just don’t seem to understand why they don’t excel at “such an easy job”.

        On the flip side for me, I’m learning that while I excel in the type of fast-paced customer-facing environment of a restaurant, I’m actually not great at my other jobs which have mostly consisted of organizing business and office environments. Weird that I feel really organized and on top of things in a chaotic environment and am constantly dropping balls in a slower one. I can remember all the mustard and lemonade for 30 seconds. I cannot remember to remind my boss to turn in that contract next week.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Anyone who describes food service as an “easy job” has obviously never worked in it.

          There are no unskilled jobs – just undervalued skills.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I was an absolutely horrible cashier for a few months in high school and then a few years later I was a pretty great bank teller, which seems so similar on the surface! I was good at the customer facing part and the money math stuff, but I didn’t know what half the produce coming down the conveyor belt was and was not good at keep track of how much stuff I had bagged and had people leave without all their bags on more than one occasion.

        1. Gigi*

          You would do much better as a supermarket cashier in modern day UK. You just scan the items in and the customer bags their own items.

          1. Helena*

            Yeah, the customer needs to take some responsibility for leaving half their shopping behind, surely? They must know how much was in their trolley.

      3. SarcasticFringehead*

        Customer-facing jobs are not my forte. When I made sandwiches in high school, I would volunteer to wash the dishes because I could be in the back with the radio and nobody asking me things; when I came back to a retail job one summer during college, I was genuinely excited to learn that they were 6 months behind on inventory and *someone* would need to sit in the back for a couple hours every day listening to NPR and doing data entry. It took me a little time to realize what that said about me, but once I figured it out, it’s been very helpful in thinking about what kinds of work are good for me.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I do well with a combination of both organized work and customer-facing. While at BigCorp, I was the Queen of Invoices–I was supremely good at it, but bored out of my skull. At tax work, I can be finicky but I get to talk to people! We’ll see how much I like it when I have to deal with the April Showers (the people who have to pay the government and really don’t want to pay us on top of it), but I have run into some really fun and interesting people along the way this season. And of course some exciting nationalities, not all of whom have strong English skills. My Spanish is of the Peggy Hill variety, and those two nice people who chatted in Russian totes threw me, but the wife was much better at English than he was.

      4. mooocow*

        Same here! I lasted 1 day as a sales person in a small grocery store. I had trouble understanding people, I got totally overwhelmed by the need to remember what they said while starting to pick out the items they requested, I was way too slow, and I wasn’t good at the customer-service-friendly-chatter thing either. They never called me to arrange that second shift and that was a great relief.

        I now work as a data scientist (quite successfully, I would say) and realized I have zero trouble being friendly and understanding people when there’s no pressure to memorize random lists of items while simultaneously performing coordinated physical activities.

    3. Jen S. 2.0*

      (In addition to the ADHD piece…)

      This, this, this! I suuuuuucked at my first job out of college. I knew it was a bad fit after about 3 weeks, and I was fired after 5 months — the longest 5 months of my life — for making a big, fat, last-straw mistake, and rightly so. I was already looking for a new job when I was asked to leave, and I did a much better job of matching my skills and talents to the job description the next time. Well, guess what? I liked my new job so much and was so much better at it that I wondered why I had stayed at the old job — miserable and struggling — for so long!

      In the first job, I was an administrative assistant. I felt like I sucked at everything during that job, and it was so awful and depressing and demoralizing. I was spending 8 hours a day struggling through things that were just not my jam, and being criticized for not doing them well, and not being liked / appreciated / supported at work, because I was the terrible admin that no one wanted on their projects. I hated going there every day. Every morning when I woke up, my first thought was how much I hated what I had to spend all day doing. And I had to suck up and smile and keep trying, hoping that I would start succeeding that day

      But when I left and went to a place where what they wanted me to do WAS my jam? Wheeeee! What a difference! I learned that I don’t suck at everything … I just suck at the things that make a great admin (and I DO really suck at being an admin. A great admin is worth his or her weight in gold. I was worth my weight in, like, zinc and copper).

      You don’t have to do everything well, and you don’t have to expect yourself to suddenly excel at the things you’ve never done well. Instead, **find a job where the universe of things they ask you to do are the things you do well!!!**

      For example, I studied psychology in college and I’ve never been great at math; there is no reason for me to expect that I will suddenly be great at, like, industrial engineering, and there is nothing wrong with me if I’m not. Moreover, there is no reason for me to beat myself up and think something is wrong with me if I am surrounded by people who ARE great at industrial engineering. Instead of staying in a place where the expectation is that you will be great at industrial engineering, and slogging through math every day, and struggling and thinking that I’m the only person in the world who sucks at everything, I need to go to a place where the expectation is that … you’ll be great at psychology! And where there’s no math!

      Seriously. Find a new job. Please. You’ll be happier, and so will everyone else — the people at your current place, who can find a person who will do your job well; the person who will take your current job, who will be glad they found their place; and the people at your new job, who will be thrilled to find you.

      1. Sarah*

        Yes! I was coming here to say something just like this.

        My last job was a horrible fit. I was the office manager for a small company, and I just couldn’t wrap my head around the work. All the paperwork and bills to keep straight, having to remember what errors my boss was prone to and how to fix them, knowing when and where to push and how to prep for an insurance audit? Yeah, that stuff takes a brain that is not like mine at all. We were all much happier once they let me go – it freed me up to find something in my skillset, it freed them up to find somebody who had the skills they needed.

        The job I’m in now is something I’m good at, and the difference couldn’t be greater. I don’t wake up dreading every day or go to work and feel like I have to hide how badly I’m failing. I’m not ashamed of myself on a daily basis. There are frustrations, sure, but they’re manageable.

        Get the ADHD issues addressed and then sit down with yourself and figure out if there are any common denominators in what you struggle with at work – is it short-term stuff? Is it remembering routine tasks? Like, I struggled remembering to tell my boss that insurance had to be paid by the 12th, but I can remember exactly where I left off documenting a process and who was in training and who will need extra time. Also take time and identify your strengths – maybe you’re not great at keeping tons of data in your head, but you can resolve group issues and get people on board with whatever you’re working on. That’s a skill! A work environment needs all kinds of people with all kinds of skills, there will be multiple environments out there that need yours.

      2. pope suburban*

        What was the new job, if you don’t mind telling? I have historically had jobs like the one you hated, and I…kinda hate them too. I do okay, but it’s because I have taught myself to remember/do admin stuff, not because of any native inclination or affinity for the work. I’m in an okay spot right now in terms of environment and benefits, but I still just don’t like the work. Seeing that someone else has escaped work that feels like a trap is awesome. :)

        1. Jen S. 2.0*

          In college, in addition to studying psychology, I also worked in the library and really liked it and learned a lot there. The new job was writing articles for the library research database for a psychology-based nonprofit organization! The funny thing was that I had applied for that job several times, and I was puzzled as to why I had never heard from them (nothing is guaranteed, don’t get hung up on one job, hiring doesn’t always make sense, apply and forget it, blah blah blah). Turns out they were on a hiring freeze for a year. It was lifted a month after I was let go, and they called me right away.

          In addition to looking at what I did well, I also really had to look at what I did not do well that had made me such a poor fit, so I knew what to avoid. A good admin often is excellent at getting small details to someone else’s specifications, **even when they fly in the face of what you would do for yourself.** Nope, I’m bad at that; I got yelled at for forgetting people’s travel preferences and accidentally booking a plane ticket where the wrong person had to stay overnight in a city instead of flying in and out the same day. A good admin also is usually very punctual, especially if there are any reception duties. Nope, I’m not a naturally punctual creature, and because I had to back up the receptionist, I got yelled at for being 10 minutes late on a day the regular receptionist was out, and for forgetting that I was on phone duty and going to the bathroom without getting backup. Et cetera. I had to accept that I need to avoid jobs with “assistant” in the title unless it’s “assistant vice president” (not “assistant to the vice president”).

          In addition — and not for nothing — the organization I worked for was in a field in which I had zero interest (math / statistics), so I wasn’t intellectually engaged in the actual work the staff was doing. I’ve done much better at places where the work of the organization makes sense to me and I care about it.

    4. INTP*

      I sucked at a few jobs after graduating too. Like, I was really truly awful. Better medicated ADHD might have taken me from awful to mediocre, but nothing would have made me good at them. I fell into some teaching jobs for various reasons and there were days that I was literally embarrassed every day while trying to do my job because I was overwhelmed and ineffective before this audience. It was awful. I then wound up in a field where I was pretty good but found the work boring and meaningless, and finally now I’m in a field that I’m good at AND I’d be happy to stay in long-term. (I’m a work-to-live not live-to-work person, so I feel like this is my best case scenario.)

      OP, I am betting that you just wound up in jobs that are a really bad fit for your personality or strengths, and there’s work out that that you’ll be much better at than the average person. The thing about the career advice that you get in college and from many counselors and books is that it’s all about what kinds of topics you find interesting, not about the actual day-to-day tasks. That’s how I wound up in some of the jobs I was just terrible at – on paper, they were good matches for my interests, but I just didn’t have the cognitive skills to pull them off. With some experience I figured out which basic tasks and cognitive skills I’m not good at and which I am, and that allowed me to figure out what kind of tasks and job environment I’d actually be strongest in, and aim my career towards something better suited to me.

      (FWIW, I also have ADHD. While it looks different in every person and I can’t say for sure how it will work for you, for me, keeping it managed with medication makes me a little better at any job, but it’s not enough to make me good at a job I couldn’t do before. It might have taken me from lousy to mediocre at some jobs I held while unmedicated, but the jobs I’ve actually been able to be good at, I could do just fine without medication, just better with. While I do think when you’re financially able it will be great to get diagnosed and find a psychiatrist willing to try medications until something works, I wouldn’t focus on that being the solution career-wise.)

      1. ForeverAnon*

        Ya’ll are giving me so much hope! I’m not the OP but I feel the same way he/she does right now and I couldn’t figure out why until I saw the post/comments.

  4. SystemsLady*

    If your medication is an AMP-class medication (not Strattera or an antidepressant) you should know if it works or doesn’t work the very day you take it! Please, please tell your doctor it isn’t working so they can help you.

    (Those should be the medications they’re trying first in 99% of cases – if by any chance they’re trying the others, it will take a month of constantly taking the medication for you to know if it’ll work and the side effects will go away, so a conversation with your doctor will also help you determine how persistent you should try to be)

    1. Also Have ADHD*

      Yes! My cousin (another ADHD-haver) has to try three different meds and doses before finding the right combo for her. This stuff really isn’t one size fits all

      1. Competent Commenter*

        Also, lots of doctors will appropriately start with a low dose of ADHD medication and then if the patient has any improvement at all will leave the dose at that level. Not helpful. It took me a while to move from a very low-dose of short acting Adderall to a truly therapeutic higher dose of long-acting Adderall. It made all the difference. And I know that your mileage may vary, but what I have found with several medications including Adderall is that I would have side effects and then they would settle down over a few days or weeks. That would happen again as I increased the dose. So the side effects I experience now are comparable to what I experienced at my early doses, which is very minor. I wish someone had told me that might be the case.

    2. LibrarianEngineer*

      and if your medication is topiramate (Topamax) it can really really make your brain stupid. I took it for migraine prevention (not its primary purpose) for a short time and could not stand the side effect of brain deadness.

      1. PayrollLady*

        YES! Topamax controlled my migraines, but my brain was so slowed down and foggy that I lost all my creativity which was my unique skill-set. It was tough to taper off after 2 years, but I was much better for it.

    3. Aerin*

      Yes, many medications take a long time to build up in your system. I went to a psychiatrist citing depression, anxiety, and executive dysfunction. She also identified ADHD, and put me on Wellbutrin, which is on label for basically all of those at once. There were a couple of minor side effects (like I got crazy sensitive to Biofreeze for a little while) that went away by the time I reached the 12 week mark where it’s considered fully effective. And taking them every day as close to the same time as you can is absolutely critical. My pill bottle lives in my purse so I can take it right after breakfast regardless of where I am.

  5. Future Homesteader*

    Alison, please delete if this falls into arm-chair diagnosing, but:

    OP, you specifically talk about anxiety. Whether or not your potential ADHD has caused anxiety (highly possible), or they’re two co-morbid disorders, please also talk to your doctor about the anxiety. Even if the ADHD is causing it, treating the ADHD doesn’t cause the anxiety symptoms and thought patterns you’ve built up over the years to go away overnight. Good ADHD treatment should address the anxiety as well! And please know that you’re not alone and there are many, many of us who have these issues and have felt helpless but have been able to treat them successfully (even though sometimes it take a lot of time and some trial and error).

    1. Anna Sun*

      Yes to this. Also, many ADHD meds can make anxiety much, much worse, so you may need a combination of meds to get the results you need. It can take a while to find the right combination, so don’t give up hope yet. Best of luck, OP!

      1. Kathlynn*

        Yeah, so please watch out for this when taking new meds. Somehow both my doctor and pharmacist failed to warn me that Concerta can cause manic symptoms in people with high anxiety. I had this within an hour of taking my first pill, and it just got worse the longer I took the medication. Took me over a month to realize how much it was effecting me. (I would get really hyper-emotional, then crash after about 5 hours. And couldn’t eat, even when hungry)

        1. Hyper-aware of ADHD*

          Partner has ADHD and also had major issues with Concerta (liver-related).

          OP, don’t rule out ADHD medication just yet, and don’t assume it’s not the issue just because it hasn’t been in the past. Medications affect the chemical balance in your body and your body’s chemical composition changes as you age. Even if it hasn’t been an issue in the past and you were able to deal with it sans medication, your body could be different now.

          And if one medication/dosage level isn’t working, try another. It’s a process to find what works for you – and, again, what works for you now will likely differ as you age; multiple family members take medications for ADHD/etc. and every so often have to change the medication because their bodies changed and they started reacting differently to it.

          Not trying to backseat analyze – just don’t want you to rule out medication just yet.

          1. Kathlynn*

            Just to make it clear, I’m not against ADHD meds or meds in general (I take antidepressants for my anxiety and depression). Just one part heads up about how bad the side effects can be (sp you have to watch out) and one part venting about how much it effected me (and wishing I’d been warned)

          2. Heather*

            Yes to trying other meds! I was on Adderall for a long time, and it helped for a couple of hours, then wore off, but the jittery effects stayed with me. Asked my shrink if I could try a methylphenidate med instead; he said no, all meds work the same. I had done my research & knew that was not true – so I found a new shrink who let me try Concerta… and OMG. No jitters, just a (relatively) calm brain for 10 hours at a time. I literally have no idea how I got through 39 years of life without this medication.

            It’s a huge pain and a lot of work, but the end results are SO worth it.

            1. Koko*

              I was diagnosed with ADHD late in life (over 30) and getting on the right medication was a game-changer. Not only did I get a direct benefit from the medication helping me focus, but the medication also gave me a new ability to be self-aware of my own cognitive processes.

              It’s a bit hard to explain but once I was on the medication I was able to pay attention to the way my brain worked and suddenly become aware of places where I’d learned bad habits or not learned habits at all that other people use to stay organized and focused.

              When I got distracted I noticed that I’d gotten distracted and was able to retrace my steps and identify the mistakes I made that allowed me to lose focus, whereas before I was never even really aware that it was happening…I would just find myself at the end of the day wondering why I hadn’t gotten more work done.

              The first few times something came up that I’d forgotten, instead of just kicking myself for it, I realized that I needed to write everything down in a central organized location. Before medication I was hapharzardly writing things down on scraps of paper that I’d lose or not writing things down at all and expecting myself to be able to remember–regardless of how frequently that system failed me it was like it had never occurred to me that there could be a better way.

              With my higher level of self-awareness I was able to start applying cognitive/organizational strategies in addition to the medication.

              If OP is interested, the medication I’m on these days is Vyvanse. It’s similar to Adderall, which is a mixture of two kinds of amphetamine salts. Vyvanse is the precursor to one of the two, meaning you take the inactive form and your body converts it to the active form during digestion. Because you don’t take the active form most people find that it was very few of the physical side effects of stimulants that make you feel jittery or nauseated. Adderall always gave me jitters, killed my appetite, and made me SUPER dehydrated, I was peeing constantly from all the water I was drinking and still fighting extreme chapped lips. Vyvanse has none of those effects – I eat normally, my mouth and lips aren’t dry, and I have a calm, pleasant state of focus.

              Unfortunately because it’s a new med there is no generic available. My insurance copay is $30 vs the $10 I pay for generics.

              1. Kathlynn*

                Concerta taught me that *shocked* people aren’t lying about being able to clear their heads/thoughts, and control their thinking.

                I really miss that, as it slowly faded away after going off the meds. (I stopped them due to side effects and expense. Concerta was ~$100/m vs ~30/m with insurance. Which still seems expensive making nearly minimum wage. )

              2. many bells down*

                This was sort of my daughter’s experience. She can’t currently take medication for her ADHD because so far, every one that’s worked for that has caused another medical issue to get worse. But she tells me “now I know what being able to concentrate feels like.” She was able to identify what were her actual weak points and what was just her getting distracted.

              3. Hyper-aware of ADHD*

                Partner is on Vyvanse as well and loves it! (And he’s tried many different brands – he’s taken meds since elementary school.) Not that, of course, it’ll work for everyone – just another Vyvanse endorsement.

                It does, of course, kill his appetite though. But no other super funky side effects other than that.

              4. teclatrans*

                Yes to this. I recently left a long, rambly voicemail and was bummed the meds hadn’t cured that. But. Non-medicated rambly has its own momentum, I feel trapped in a maze and am pushing to get my thoughts out and in some semblance of order. Medicated, I was not trapped in the ramble, I just had never developed the habits of mind necessary to being succinct (because that was beyond impossible before). It was so odd to observe a symptom while realizing I could employ and develop skills and routines to combat it.

                1. Koko*

                  One of the first things I remember noticing was that whenever I had to wait more than 5 or 10 seconds for anything, I would switch to a new task, and promptly forget about the thing I was waiting for. Like, I’d get logged out of my banking website 4 or 5 times in a row because it was taking so long to log me in that I’d switch to another browser tab and then by the time I remembered I was trying to look at my banking information I would have already been logged out for inactivity!

                  Despite that being a frequent occurrence, it was just something I accepted without noticing or thinking about the fact that it happened all the time.

                  About 3 days in to medication I caught myself tabbing away from something I was waiting for and thought, “Aha! It just happened – I got distracted!” Then I went around asking friends and coworkers, “Say…when you have to wait for something that takes more than a few seconds but less than 10 minutes, what do you do with that time while you’re waiting?”

                  Lo and behold, everyone had some kind of answer. It wasn’t just that everyone else had some ability to remember to tab back later and I didn’t have it. Other people were doing things like using that time to take a screen break, refill their water, go to the bathroom, and stretch their legs. Or they were dragging the running process over to a second window where it would stay visible while they worked on something else in the first window. Or they were setting an alarm to remind them to check back on it later. Other people had strategies that I could copy!

              5. boo*

                “When I got distracted I noticed that I’d gotten distracted” Whoa yeah. I also got diagnosed at around 30, and the revelations that spilled forth afterward were as life-changing as the actual changes to my life, if that makes sense.

                If not: what I mean is, taking the right medication allowed me to make behavioral changes that made my life infinitely better. But having the sudden ability to make those changes allowed me to realize that everyone around me wasn’t just a better person who made the heroic effort to not be messy or keep their paperwork in order or remember whose house they’re supposed to have been at 25 minutes ago. Everyone around me made those things look easy because those things *were* easy for them. It was a shocker.

                OP, you mention not having an official diagnosis because of the expense and time in assessment. I was essentially diagnosed by my doctor saying “Hey, why don’t you try adderall?”

                Almost immediately, my life magically stopped being the twisted version of Cinderella with all the birds and chipmunks helping her with her tasks (in which invisible creatures steal my stuff and hide all the separate scraps of paper where I conveniently wrote down my many individual obligations, making me forgetful and late and where the &@#$% did I put my phone? Oh good, there it is, I’ll put it with my keys… Wait, where the &@#$% are my keys???)

                Anyway, my point, if I had one… Oh, there it is! Right with my keys and phone!

                My point is that sometimes you don’t need an official assessment, and can just say, “My doctor said I have some classic signs of ADHD and I should see you about that,” or whatever (or even just say you have it. I don’t think there’s a certificate) and they might just help you figure out if there are medications and behavioral tricks that can help you.

              6. Mad Baggins*

                This makes ADHD make so much sense. Sounds like medication gave you a new superpower! Thank you for educating us!

            2. BeezLouise*

              Yep. I hate Adderall, but Concerta just makes me feel like a slightly more focused version of myself.

      2. Aleta*

        I definitely stopped trying ADHD meds because they made me so anxious! Going on multiple medications wasn’t an option for me, but it’s definitely something that should be tried.

      3. Gadget Hackwrench*

        Yeah the stimulant based ones can be a problem with anxiety and there are a lot of co-morbidities with ADHD, esp anxiety and depression. Dexedrine aggravated the ever loving hell out of my PTSD. But there are non-stimulant meds these days! It’s no longer the 90s! YAY!

    2. CityMouse*

      Coping strategies for ADHD may also just include finding jobs that are better fit. My brother has ADHD as an adult and kid and has always steered himself away from certain types of jobs. Putting him at a desk all day would be shoving a square peg into a round hole.

      It is absolutely possible LW may have ADHD and benefit from appropriate treatment, but that is something that should be determined by a qualified medical professional.

      But even then, this job just sounds miserable and it sounds like LW has done better at other jobs. I say talk to a doctor, but also that there is no shame whatsoever in not working out in a high stress place, ADHD or no.

      1. London Bookworm*

        One of my good friends has an ADHD diagnosis, and while he did poorly in school and needed extra time to graduate, he’s now working happily as an event and stage manager. It’s collaborative (unlike the often-solo work of school) and fast-paced in a way that allows him to thrive.

        Similarly, a friend of mine who struggled with school and office jobs is doing very well for herself working in veterinary care, because she enjoys working with her hands but has trouble staying still in front of a computer.

      2. sb*

        Yup. I’m not formally diagnosed, but I’ve had several licensed psychologist friends confirm casually that the only thing standing between me and a formal diagnosis is actually getting tested. I burned out on research, hard — there wasn’t enough short-term payoff from stuff I did to give my brain the positive feedback it needed, and I couldn’t focus at the right level to be creative with ideas but not just daydreaming. (Maybe medication would have helped, but I was pretty sure I would still not have enjoyed that job even if I could have focused on it better.)

        I found something that I really enjoy, am very good at, self-medicate with caffeine, and know that if that ever stops working, I have medical options. A bunch of people felt that my career change (related field, went from research to industry) was a step down, prestige-wise, but I’d rather be very, very good at something “easier” than mediocre at something “better”.

        (And now I’m a manager in this second field, which I’m still not very good at yet, but this time around I’m enjoying being pushed out of my comfort zone. Probably because it’s about a 50/50 split between managerial duties and the work I was doing before, so when my brain is trying to chase butterflies I can pick a tedious-but-engrossing individual task and bury myself in it for a while.)

      3. SarcasticFringehead*

        My brother has never been diagnosed, but he had trouble in school in ways that are consistent with ADHD. He’s now the sous chef at a highly respected fancy pizza restaurant, and keeps getting raises/promotions/praise. He’s very intelligent and conscientious, but the way school was set up was Not For Him. Having a job where almost everything is fast-paced and short-term (i.e., “we need more mushrooms for next shift” as opposed to “we need this project in six months”) has been great for him.

      4. INTP*

        Agree with this. Honestly, I don’t think you can medicate yourself into being good at a job that’s a bad fit for your ADHD brain. Medication helps to manage specific symptoms, but it’s not a cure, you don’t take a pill and start thinking like a neurotypical person. (And that’s okay! My hyperfocus is an asset in my current position, allowing me to happily perform work most people would be bored to tears with. Other people have found that they’re better at crisis management and on-their-feet thinking than neurotypical coworkers. You have strengths, just not a job that uses them.)

        Even if OP had unlimited access to healthcare and didn’t have to worry about insurance and cost, I’d say that finding a new job should be a key part of the plan. Find a job that uses your natural strengths and minimizes your weak points and use medication to really thrive in it, not to make you passable at a job you’re not well-suited to.

      5. Lurker*

        I’m super late, but yes, this has been true for more than one friend of mine with ADHD. One friend ended up leaving his art job (which he liked the actual creation, hated creating on demand) and went into welding and metal work. It’s not really creative, per se, but it uses some of the same skills and it was like night and day, how different it made him feel.

        OP, you can find something you are good at, I’m certain, especially if you get started on treatment!

    3. Laura (Needs to Change Her Name)*

      Clinical psychologist jumping in here to say that is the first thing that I noticed. Not an armchair diagnosis, but the specific questions you are asking from your experience are very typical of thought processes characteristic of anxiety. Anxiety impairs performance, in exactly the ways you are describing. “Anxiety” is many things, so you need someone to have a very thorough (ongoing!) conversation with you to understand if this is the most helpful way to think about what you are experiencing, if so – what kind of anxiety seems to best characterize your experience, and what might help you address it. BUT the great news is that anxiety responds incredibly well to lots of interventions and that they are well-established and many people know how to help you with them.

      Someone with experience related to cognitive-behavioral therapy, especially someone with expertise in anxiety and related disorders, would be very valuable here. This might seem redundant, as you’ve already spoken with your doctor and a counselor. But it’s not! Think of it like following up with a specialist.

      1. J.B.*

        My child was being watched for ADHD but when we got the anxiety dosage right and she internalized coping skills the ping pong lessened a lot.

        OP – I know it’s really hard to get in to see a specialist! Please keep trying. Many doctors offices will have a list of people “they’ve heard good things about” and then the calling is up to you. Uggh it is so overwhelming sometimes, but finding the right fit is huge.

        1. Traveling Teacher*

          And, if it’s the calling itself making you anxious in relation to trying new doctors, do you have a dear friend who could either sit with you at an appointed time while you make calls or can you book online? I avoided all kinds of medical appointments for years, not because I dislike doctors/dentists/etc. but because making phone calls sends me into an anxiety tailspin. I finally sat down one day, sent out a bunch of emails to doctor’s offices asking if I could have an appointment and/or using an app to schedule appointments, and lo! The scheduling is done. I just always make my next appointment in person, even if it’s a year out. I will always show up to pre-booked appointments, but having to call for the next one? Never going to happen.

          (PS: You can imagine the panic I felt once I became pregnant/had a newborn…gestating a human gave me the “you’ll be a bad mother, make your appointments” panic attacks, so I did, but it never got easier till I started CBT!)

      2. Koko*

        It can happen the other way around, too…sometimes ADHD is misdiagnosed as depression or anxiety, and the root of the depression and anxiety is the feeling of failure and being unable to live up to what’s expected.

        I was treated for anxiety my whole life and had moderate success controlling it about 75% of the way but couldn’t seem to get past that stubborn last 25%…until my ADHD was diagnosed late in life. Once I got on ADHD medication the rest of my anxiety vanished because I’d treated the root cause, which was that I’d been in a state of constant fear for my job.

      3. zora*

        Yes, for me it’s this. I have always had ADD issues (diagnosed at 9) but a couple of years ago I finally got on the right anxiety meds, and the ADD is wayyy less of an issue! I’m on a very low-level anti-anxiety med, and the difference is night and day. It sucks how long it takes to try different things and to talk to multiple people, but there are so many different solutions, you can find the one that works for you!!

        1. Gadget Hackwrench*

          Same. I’m not on anything for ADHD right now, but I am for Anxiety and WOW the difference it makes. I can handle the ADHD with tools and coping skills and stuff now that the anxiety has been turned down to a low roar.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, OP, you sound like me. The tapes playing in my head were my mother and the nuns. I could not shut those tapes off until I was in my mid 30s. But every. single. day. I would tell myself, “Dang, I f’ed up again.” While the nuns and my mother were out of my life, I did a great job of filling in for them.

        While you are sorting through your actual plan here, you can start correcting yourself. You catch yourself saying something negative then jump in with a positive statement as quickly as possible. “Yes, I made a mistake, but I can fix this and it will be right.”

        Honestly, I think you are in the wrong line of work. I found that I could not do well with slower paced jobs. I was bored out of my mind and did not see a point to me being there. I also found that because of other health concerns moving around was better than sitting or standing in one spot all day. Annnd, I cannot have cohort attached to my hip. I like to work independently with some random interconnections through out the day. I do not like working totally alone but I can do it. I also like variety, if I have to sit and work on the same teapot day after day after day, I am in hell.

      5. Windchime*

        Anxiety can be awful. I am 56 years old, and for 55 of those years I lived in a constant state of anxiety. Sometimes it was low-grade, but other times it was full bore and influenced every aspect of my life. It made me irritable, unable to sleep, and unable to focus at work. I had a crisis a little over a year ago and fortunately had just changed to a new doctor. After several months of tweaking my dose and following up, I finally feel like I am almost totally anxiety-free and it is amazing. I feel so mellow and content and able to get through my day without feeling anxious or upset.

        This isn’t to say that I think you’re also anxious, OP, but just that medication for these types of condition can work. Sometimes it just takes a long time to get the right medication at the right dose.

    4. TootsNYC*

      also–don’t overlook the power of therapist like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for help in dealing with the anxiety. You **can** retrain the brain patterns!

      (there are other therapist that are similar; CBT is probably the most established)

  6. CrystalMama*

    OP, take heart.
    My partner’s sister fits this description to a T. She has always had trouble with the details and couldn’t pull in a paycheck to save her life (or her kids’, literally – sometimes there was not food on the table. Not to mention the issues with bullying/shame they faced from her string of relatively public firings. Small communities and all that.). She is now a very successful ‘mommy blogger’ and sells various crystals and alternative medicine remedies out of her home. Yes, it’s taken years for her to build up the network of recruits below her that makes her crystal business profitable for her, and yes, as a high-profile blogger, she has to deal with a lot of grifters who want to piggy back off her hard work describing her troubles in the home. I guess my point is carve out YOUR niche and what YOU believe in! She is very passionate about all forms of Chinese medicine and spiritual cures. In fact, this could help with BOTH your ADHD and your career issues! Look for a career that merges your health AND your passion AND your family and you will find success after success.

    1. Snark*

      I agree with the broad point that finding a niche that works with one’s strengths and limitations is a great idea, even if it’s not a traditional job or career, but I’m somewhat troubled by the implication there at the end that OP should consider Chinese medicine/crystals/alternative remedies as an approach to dealing with ADHD.

        1. Snark*

          Maybe so, but even on the face of it, I don’t want OP wasting time with crystals and essential oils when there are treatments whose efficacy and performance has been clinically validated.

            1. Snark*

              Yeah, I’m sure I sounded like a Gregorian chant reading that. Layers of hmmmmmmmm. Hm. Hmmmm? Hmmmmmmmmmm…..hm. Hm hm. Hmmmmmm.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Seriously, this went from “sympathetic comment with personal story” to “those are literally scripts right out of every MLM training ever” right there at the end. And especially to push this on someone who’s already obviously in distress…that just feels extra predatory, to me. I’ve got a coworker who does one of the essential oil MLMs, and she’s peddled it to me occasionally, but I’m comfortable saying no because I don’t see much benefit to myself for doing it. But if you’re talking to someone who’s in a bad spot, struggling with self-esteem issues, and you push the line about “success after success” on them…yeah, that’s skeevy as heck.

      1. Grad Student*

        Oh, I took it more as “finding your niche/working on your passions could help with your ADHD and your career issues”, not that anything about Chinese medicine and spiritual cures specifically applies to the OP.

      2. Blossom*

        I really think the “this” in “this could help” refers to blending your health, passion and family to find your ideal career. As her SIL did, her passion being for crystals. I don’t think CrystalMama was saying crystals are the answer (though I paused, typing that, when I checked the commenter’s name…).

    2. Awkward Interviewee*

      Hmm. While it’s true that not everyone excels in a conventional office job, “get involved in a multilevel marketing scheme!” is terrible career advice.

      1. K.*

        This was me reading that: “Ouch, poor thing, couldn’t feed her kids … oh good, she found her niche … aw man, this is a pyramid scheme pitch … and crystals don’t cure ADHD.”

      2. Perse's Mom*

        I’m annoyed by the ones that push clothing, nail wraps, and make-up on everyone in their vicinity, but I can also feel a bit sorry for some of them as they may have gotten into it out of desperation or just fell for the spiel.

        The ones who push “medical” bunk, though… there’s a special circle in hell reserved for the people who undercut proven medical treatment in favor of lining their pockets. There’s real, lasting harm there.

        1. Middle School Teacher*

          There was a recent case herein Canada where two parents were convicted because instead of taking their child to the hospital when he had meningitis, they treated him with “natural” remedies and he died :( The father was supposed to speak at a “health and wellness” expo this week (read: shill his products), but there was a big outcry this weekend and after two big sponsors pulled out, the organiser cancelled his time slot. I know there are some paramedical things that will work for some people, but there are unfortunately too many snake-oil salesmen out there.

          1. LouiseM*

            Let’s remain calm here–yes, CrystalMama comes off like a low-grade con artist, but ADHD is not life-threatening. I’m not comfortable equating someone who proposes a sketchy alternative treatment for a fairly common mental condition with a neglectful parent who doesn’t take their dying child to the hospital. Come on, now.

            1. Perse's Mom*

              The same people who sell magic crystals to fix ADHD sell magic water to cure cancer. The commonality in all their “treatments” is that people who are suffering should be paying THEM instead of an actual licensed medical professional because MAGIC.

              1. Starbuck*

                Yes. These “practitioners” have no ability nor incentive to draw a safe line between “these conditions aren’t life threatening so it’s not that bad if you throw your money away on mysticism” vs “your life and health are actually at risk so now it’s time for you to try actual medicine and not our sham products.” And I don’t agree that there are many, if any, conditions that actually fall into that first category. It always makes me sad and angry when people waste their money on this stuff. There’s already too much disposable junk on the planet.

          2. CrystalMama*

            Wow, MiddleSchoolTeacher. That comment really hurts.
            As you can see from my comment, my partner’s family has had MANY struggles with the mental AND physical health and SAFETY of their children. Many of the bullies who physically abused the children were using the same closed-minded logic you are displaying here. They made ASSUMPTIONS about my partner’s sister based on her firings, on her perceived mental state, on her energy levels, and used that to say hurtful and untrue things about her as a Mother. She is a provider, a carer, a NURTURER. She would never let a life-threatening illness go untreated. The crystals she sells help foster peace and thoughtfullness, often, yes in people with psychiatric conditions like ADHD, bipolar, endometriosis, fibromyalgia. How is this different than going to see a therapist or psychiatrist? The difference is that it is a permanent and natural solution that doesn’t feed an ineffective machine.
            I hoped that posting my story would help INSPIRE OP to chase her GOALS and DREAMS to find fulfillment according to her own path. Please leave your ACCUSATIONS at the door.

            1. Snark*

              Your posts are coming off as an incredibly aggressive hard sell on alternative medicine, and even leaving my strong opinions about crystals and their efficacy at the door, I think you’re far out of line on several levels. Rein it in and cut the all-caps harangue, because this is so very not a good look.

            2. LVeen*

              How is buying a sparkly rock different than seeing a trained medical professional with years of schooling and experience who can prescribe you medicine that’s been proven in study after study to help people with your condition?

            3. I like French braids*

              Crystals are not a permanent and natural solution to mental or physical health problems. Please don’t promote false information to people struggling with serious health conditions. I’m glad your partners sister has found a way to support her family. But claiming that crystals permanently cure health problems is just irresponsible.

            4. Jadelyn*

              “How is this different than going to see a therapist or psychiatrist?” Well, you see, psychs/therapists are required to have extensive training and are taught evidence-based methods to help people. They’re also accountable to licensing boards and if their treatment ends up harming someone, the patient has some recourse for having grievances addressed. Peddlers of alternative medicines do not have to be well-trained (or trained at all), do not necessarily have any (real, provable, experiment/study-based) evidence to support the claims made, can say whatever the heck they want, and if they mess someone up, oh well! There’s no accountability to it. Do you perhaps see the difference now?

              “The difference is that it is a permanent and natural solution that doesn’t feed an ineffective machine.” And, here it is. This is exactly what we’re talking about with people who *deliberately undermine* evidence-based medicine. Nobody is saying your sister would let her children die of untreated illness, but this whole mentality of “ew modern medicine is icky, just use herbs” creates the climate in which such incidents happen.

              Oh, and just for the record? Cyanide is “natural” too. So is snake venom. “Natural” isn’t inherently better.

            5. Agnodike*

              Ignoring all the other stuff going on in this comment – and boy howdy, there’s a lot to ignore! – fibromyalgia and endometriosis are not psychiatric conditions, although their sufferers DO deal with the stigma perpetuated by people who insist that their suffering is “all in their head.” You don’t know what you’re talking about and shouldn’t comment on other people’s medical issues.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          I read a fascinating series of blog posts where someone detailed their horrible experience selling Younique. They were told to constantly post cheerful, excited posts on social media that were full of lies about how successful they were to make people want to buy from them and join under them in the pyramid. In reality like 90% of their “sales” were things that they themselves had to purchase to use as samples. I put a link to the blog in my username if anyone else is interested.

    3. degreed medical professional*

      Someone who peddles snake oil (aka crystals and alternative medicine) is not someone who should be looked up to or used as an inspiration.

      1. MM*

        The funniest fact I learned last year is that GOOP and Alex Jones sell the same supplements under different names.

      2. Elizabeth H.*

        There are a lot of people who value traditional medicine practices such as traditional Chinese medicine, ayurveda etc. I think describing all forms of traditional or alternative medicine as “snake oil” is unfairly dismissive and disrespectful to some. We can’t possibly know the specifics of anything that’s been brought up. Discussing this is SO far outside the scope of the questions at hand anyway. I think the broader take away from this comment thread that’s relevant to the letter writer, is agreeing with Alison’s advice to explore careers that may be a better fit.

        1. Snark*

          I think it’s fair to be dismissive and disrespectful of a hard sell on alternative medicine that seems to target an OP who’s in a distressed and vulnerable place. And, as always, there’s the old saw about what to call alternative medicine that’s clinically validated – it’s called medicine.

    4. LouiseM*

      CrystalMama, I like your general point about finding a career that fits with your passion, even if it’s non-traditional, but I’m troubled by your suggestion that OP needs to find a career that “merges her passion with her family.” It seems like you’re making a lot of assumptions about the OP. Not every woman has or wants kids, and the OP may be childfree by choice and not have a family to write about in her lucrative blog! Love the non-traditional career path, don’t love the traditional gender roles

      1. LouiseM*

        Also, I agree with everyone else that it does sound like you’re trying to sell the OP more than just a lifestyle…even if that wasn’t your intention. Be aware!

      2. SarahTheEntwife*

        And even if it’s just a “merge your home and work life” advice in general…if that works for you, great, but it doesn’t for many people. I really appreciate having an hourly job that doesn’t intersect at all with my outside life — I know when I’m at work and when I’m not, and even if there’s something ongoing that’s stressful it’s really useful for me to be able to go “I am not being paid to worry about that project for another 8 hours, so shutup brain”.

        1. Becky*

          YES, I like being able to separate work and home life and being able to turn off worrying about work things when I leave the office.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I am feeling rather simple minded here because my read on it was, “Take what you know, what is familiar to you and look at where it crosses into employment with pay.”

        I grew up in a strange household. But I learned coping tools and I learned to problem solve on the fly. This lead to over a decade in human service. Basically the skill I tapped was my ability to settle unusual problems quickly. I took what I knew and turned it in to employment. I could come up with creative solutions with speed and with just using materials on hand. I am good at stretching things and getting lots of utility out of them. And seemingly unrelated things just connect for me in odd ways. This can happen when you get used to just using what you have on hand.

        So I hope the larger point is not lost here. OP, think about your interests and think about your needs. Then think about the types of jobs working in those areas.

    5. bluephone*

      Wow, what the heck is wrong with you? It is really not cool to crash into someone’s story about struggling with (probable) undiagnosed ADHD just to sell readers on your scammy, potentially-dangerous MLM scams and pyramid schemes*. Learn to read the room better.

      *No I don’t believe you’re just passing on your SIL’s story–this is way too “I know someone who” to not be about you.

  7. FD*

    LW, I agree with a lot of Alison’s advice! Getting treated for ADHD can make a lot of difference for many people.

    Here’s another thing to remember. We think about high performers and low performers as if everyone in the world has a magical score they’re stuck with. But that’s not really accurate. The truth is that most people are capable of being high performers in some kinds of jobs while being utterly unsuited to other kinds of jobs. For instance, I happen to be extremely good at project-based jobs focused on goals of 6-18 months, but I get bored and burned out if I don’t get new projects after that.

    Generally speaking, effort matters to move you within a particular bracket. To use a gaming metaphor, in a particular job, your fit means you could score 15-20 points. Effort matters in terms of whether you’re going to get 15 or 20. But it’s never going to get you to 30.

    The biggest challenge in the modern world is that there are so many jobs and they’re so complex that it’s really hard to figure out what jobs will fit you. But it’s not useful to think of yourself as doomed to be a low performer everywhere you go.

    So what can you do now?
    1. Listen to Alison’s advice and talk to your doctor about ADHD.
    2. Consider what has worked in your fellowships? Is it the lack of pressure, or was it a lack of a particular type of pressure? (E.G. some people do well under pressure if they have just one task, but not if they have multiple tasks to balance.)
    3. Consider different type of jobs. Plenty of people with ADHD end up doing fine in an office environment and liking it, but I’ve also known several who were miserable until they found their way into a more blue-collar setting. There are many trades that pay extremely well too and are badly strapped for people.

    1. Shirley Keeldar*

      Really want to echo this–OP, you’re talking about “the modern work world” as if it only contains one kind of job, but there are so so so many different kinds of jobs! Maybe office work is not a great fit for you, maybe this particular office is dreadful (it doesn’t sound all that friendly), but even if one or the other of those is true, it doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to unemployment or misery; it really doesn’t.

      Okay, we’re not all cut out to be rock stars–but hey, being a rock star comes with some downsides of its own. (Lack of work/life balance, for one.) But I really do think that pretty much everyone can find a job he/she does well enough to feel satisfied and comfortable. That’s in no way out of your reach.

      It sounds like things are really hard right now. Hang in there; that will change. You’re doing an amazing job of looking for root causes of your problems! Hold onto your patience and wait for the solutions you’re trying to take effect.

    2. Hyper-aware of ADHD*

      Echoing this as well, especially point #3.

      Partner has ADHD, and he finds working as a high school teacher fits really well for him (he also takes medication). Because of the ADHD, he’s not super organized, but since that’s not crucial for his job, he’s still able to excel as a teacher.

      His brother has ADD. He does not take medication, and could NEVER work in an office setting. So he works in sales, where his focus is more on people than computer work. And that works for him.

      Find what works for you, OP. It many not be an office job, and that’s ok.

    3. Nesprin*

      Complete agree. I have adhd and im a moderately successful scientist because i have the ability to work at my pace on many small projects that fit my interest. If i was running an office or doing data entry or required to sit at a desk all day i would be a total disaster.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      OP, this is a great point, some jobs just don’t make sense for some people and this is nothing to be embarrassed over. If I had to repair cars for a living I would never have food on my table. Never. But I can fix someone’s garden or shrubs. And I can help friends with their dogs. There are other things that I can do.

    5. Gadget Hackwrench*

      It can help to try a job that’s less project oriented and more task oriented. One where you are allotted x-task to do “today” or “until 4pm and then come back for another job,” or even “do this, then come to me for the next task.”

      For example I’m in IT. People call me because they need help with their computer NOW. I help them. Then I wait for the phone to ring again and help that person. Then the next. Then the next. I do this for 8 hours a day. I never have to plan a long term project. I never have to budget my time. I never have a deadline. My work is to know how to do things, and do them IMMEDIATELY when called upon. My work is always to be done NOW and NOW is where someone with ADHD lives.

  8. Recently Diagnosed*

    I started ADHD treatment about 6 months ago, and I have some advice that might be helpful. My husband was diagnosed about 4 months before I was, and his diagnosis process was extreme. He had to go through expensive and extensive psychological screening before his psychiatrist would give him an Rx. It took weeks, and it was not cheap. My experience, however, was quite different. I was given a screening by my counselor, who I was already paying anyway, at no extra cost. She faxed this to my general practitioner, who gave me an Rx with a coupon that very day. It was nowhere near as arduous a process as what my husband went through. I understand why so many doctors are hesitant to give out these meds, as they are often abused, but you are NOT going to be abusing them. If the route you are taking to get the meds is too long, arduous, and expensive, try another route. Try going through your family doctor. If she/he wants to put you through a long and expensive process that you can’t afford, consider finding a different doctor. You aren’t trying to fool the system, just find a road that works for you. The meds have turned my work-life around completely. My husband has earned 2 promotions in a year after coasting along with nothing for the two years prior. If you take something and the side effects are too bad, switch meds. There are so many options, and mental health is never black and white.

    I know some of this speaks to my privilege, and the costs could still be too much with these methods, but your letter leads me to think that perhaps you’re hitting similar walls to what my husband hit. Keep pushing, OP. There is an other-side to it.

    1. MM*

      Yes–my former counselor just went down the DSM checklist with me over the phone and then said, well, this fits. I’m sure she would have prescribed me medicine without much hoop-jumping too, if I hadn’t just moved states a few months before (Adderall and so on are controlled substances, so state lines become relevant). OP, it’s worth trying to see if you can go around some of these barriers for sure!

    2. Breda*

      Yeah, I didn’t get diagnosed in college because the school counselor wanted me to go to a half-day screening with another doctor downtown, and I didn’t know what the cost would be, and also I was sleeping 12 hours a day and could barely function enough to get to class, let alone clear the time and make and keep the appointment. I know these counselors are dealing with a lot of drug-seeking behavior from students, but honestly they could not possibly devise a worse system for helping people who are really suffering. Making it so difficult does exactly the opposite of what they’re trying to do.

    3. Airy*

      I went to a psychiatrist to ask about ADHD and he said I had some clear symptoms but there was a hierarchy of treatment and first we needed to treat my anxiety and depression, both of which I’ve been trying to treat for years and which are aggravated by economic circumstances I cannot control. I ended up feeling I had wasted my money and don’t know what to do next.

      1. Chameleon*

        Find a new therapist. I also have both depression and ADHD, and I got put on meds for both of them at the same time. Since all 3 of these conditions are so often co-morbid *and* feed into each other, it makes no sense to need to fix one first before looking at the others!

    4. LilySparrow*

      This was similar to my experience. I told my GP that I thought I might have it & why. She said she often saw kids whose parents were wrong about suspecting ADHD, but she’d never, ever seen an adult be wrong about themselves.
      She sent me to a psychiatrist who talked to me for an hour and then faxed a recommendation to my GP for the prescription.

      I asked the psychiatrist if he needed to do s I’mome assessments, and he said he didn’t use them.
      “You’d get a different score tomorrow than you do today or next week. Because *you have ADHD.* It’s inconsistent.”

      I wish everyone had doctors like that. He gets it.

    5. Gadget Hackwrench*

      I spent a whole day at a psych hospital as a kid getting assessed… the only thing I remember about that day though was the machine with the big red button I was supposed to hit every time the number 7 came on the digital display above it. Weird shit.

  9. Kathlynn*

    Thank you AAM for writing this ppstv(and thank you LW for writing in). This is something I struggle with myself. (I also have ADHD, along with a couple of other diagnosis).
    I do wish that workplaces were more friendly to forgetfulness, and other certain issues, often common symptoms of learning disabilities or mental health issues. For example, having more written instruction, not expecting people to remember everything perfectly after being shown something once, especially complicated things (like cleaning machines). (these are examples from convenience stores I’ve worked for).

    1. earl grey aficionado*

      The written instructions thing is so key! My bipolar makes it difficult for me to learn and remember movements and processes (e.g. cleaning a machine), but reading and writing come very easily. I think it’s smart to have documentation for how to do things, anyway, especially in case of lotterybus accidents. :) I understand that it isn’t practical to do this in all workplaces, but in many, it seems like it would be a great way to make training go smoother for trainers AND new employees, since mental illness and other cognitive issues are really, really common.

      1. Kathlynn*

        It can help with language barriers too. My newest coworkers have a hard time understanding English, and better reading comprehension. Because I can struggle with my phrasing I wrote 2 instruction lists for 2 key jobs. If my coworkers would follow them, rather then ignoring what they are told and had written down for them, things would have gone smoother (I’m still correcting them about the same things on both lists, every shift) . (It’s about when to do step 3 rather skipping to step 5 types of things. Or quality “don’t up products 1-3 there, put products 4-6 there”. I always explain why they have to be done a certain way as well, in simple terms (because I have a large vocabulary, and sometimes mess up my phrasing))

    2. Temperance*

      I wish written instructions were the norm! I’m not a person who could watch something once and then retain it forever, and I have a really good memory otherwise.

    3. Competent Commenter*

      One thing that I think can help coworkers (and friends and family) be more patient with our shortcomings is to OWN them ourselves. I have a lot of memory issues that I think are because of menopause. When I returned to regular employment after owning my own business for many years, I was so afraid of being judged, basically of being “found out” to be incompetent. It’s scary. And then my ADHD makes things harder for me to absorb sometimes, and I struggle to understand certain kinds of numerical data. So I was really worried.

      What has helped has been to develop strategies for doing better, and to be transparent about using them. “I need to highlight the numbers on the spreadsheet because I tend to compare the wrong numbers otherwise,” or “I’m going to take a lot of notes in this meeting as it works best for me.” I say it matter of factly. If I do need to go back to someone for a repeat, I apologize but don’t grovel, while owning that the issue is on my side.

      My supervisor, OTOH, seems to struggle with a lot of the same issues but she makes everyone else own them. If she tries to mitigate her confusion or forgetfulness, I can’t see it. So the rest of us are running around explaining basic program concepts over and over, for example, with no apology from her and no sense that she’s writing things down, checking her facts, etc. We don’t appreciate it. It’s made me more committed to my own strategy of transparency and personal responsibility. I’m respected by my colleagues and supervisor, despite my deficits. I bring a lot to table besides number jumbling.

      1. teclatrans*

        Yes to this. Knowing that I need to [fidget/highlight lined of text/budget recuperation time for things that “shouldn’t” tax me] and then just doing it has been a game changer for me.

      2. INTP*

        Yes, this is what I was trying to say below. Know what you need for the way that you think, and then just do it (assuming no one stops you.) And I’ve learned that you can usually do this without even admitting that you have ADHD, if you don’t want to disclose it at work. Usually people will just admire you for being such an organized person and have no idea that you’re doing all of the highlighting and note-taking because you can’t keep anything straight otherwise. I tend to think, “Oh crap, my ADHD is out of control and I’m a horrible employee” when I make a mistake but then it turns out to other people that it’s just one random mistake that everyone makes sometimes and when I own it they don’t think anything negatively about me.

    4. INTP*

      Obviously this requires your workplace to be somewhat understanding and I don’t want to imply that everyone can do it, but sometimes you *can* make your workplace a bit more friendly to your thinking style with a bit of assertiveness. It doesn’t have to be a big deal or even include the word “disability” – if someone is training you on something quickly and without providing written instructions, for example, take out your mini notebook and just start writing the steps down and ask them to repeat if necessary. If you feel like you need to explain, say “Oh, I just always remember things better if I write them down.” Make your own instructions and checklists to refer to – carry around a little notebook so you’re able to write things down as you learn them. Most people will see such habits and think of you as an organized person, not make the connection and realize that you have a disability.

  10. The RO-Cat*

    In a sort of way, your experience is (somewhat) similar to mine: I’m a freelancer who sucks at business. I don’t have the drive, the hunger, the skills, the… whatever makes entrepreneurs great. I hobble along, while some more skilled people drive fancier cars and live in fancier homes (I don’t know about fancy food, but I’m quite the cook myself, so…). But you know what? This field I’m in is just over-rewarding in so many other ways that I’m at peace with not being the next Elon Musk. What I want to say (I guess) is that, ADHD or not, “career success” isn’t a great metric, in my eyes, to live your (general you) life by; fulfillement comes from many other places.

    1. Indoor Cat*


      Yes! I am in my mid twenties and I make a living as a writer, mainly working from home, about 20 hours a week. I could pitch more and get enough gigs to fill 40 hours, but I’d rather just do enough to fund my modest lifestyle and have a very free, flexible schedule.

      My joy comes from my relationships with friends and family, from volunteer work I do, and from making art that’s unlikely to be commercial any time soon. I think a lot of people’s lives are like that.

      1. Napping Cat*

        +1 here, too! I’m a freelancer who books about 20-30 hours/week, depending on the clients and time of year. I’m making as much as I used to make in a full-time job, but the freedom I have to travel or just take myself to the park when I want to is worth more than money right now to me.

        I’m currently going through a bit of a career crisis as I find my work mostly empty and unfulfilling, but again, it’s much better than empty, unfulfilling, and trapped in an office.

    2. Queen of Cans & Jars-Cat*

      Absolutely agree! I think it’s definitely important to consider Alison’s advice about a job being JUST a job, and not a measure of a person’s self-worth. There are many of us who work to live, not live to work, and that’s OK (as much as the world at large seems to say otherwise)! I’m job hunting, and honestly, I’m pretty turned off by the companies that make their jobs seem like the end-all-be-all of the job universe. Personally, I’d rather find a job with friendly coworkers and a reasonable workload that I can leave at work when it’s time to go home.

    3. INTP*

      I do agree that not everyone needs to pursue “career success” in the traditional sense, and I’m certainly a work-to-live person, and interested in being successful enough to support the life I want and not success for its own sake. But I think career issues like the OP is talking about are something worth trying to solve, because the stress of having a job you can’t actually do well, knowing people are frustrated with you, and not feeling secure in your employment is going to impair your ability to enjoy your life and your work. It’s worth finding a field that you’re well-suited to, even if you aren’t interested in climbing the ladder.

  11. Ferris*

    OP, don’t give up! Even if it’s not the ADHD, you might not be in the right spot, but that doesn’t mean you don’t belong anywhere. I spent 10 years in a job track that I struggled with and was below average at, and was constantly anxious that I wasn’t going to make it long term (and what would happen to my career). In my mid 30s, I transitioned to a different job type in the same area, and have been very successful in it.

    Don’t be afraid to experiment and find work that you are good at!

  12. Risha*

    I find it highly unlikely that you could succeed at multiple fellowships, internships, and contract jobs but still be a bad employee at every other conceivable job, lower pressure or not. Maybe you have ADHD or such, but it’s also entirely possible that maybe you just don’t perform well under high stress. This in not all that uncommon! And it’s fine! It’ll limit you in some areas, but plenty of low key jobs exist in the world. And either way, after only one full time job it’s waaaaay too early to be able to tell if that’s the issue. Get your ducks in a row financially and medically, find a new job – preferably one that uses the parts of your current job that you do do okay and/or enjoy – and see how it shakes out.

    1. CityMouse*

      Honestly, I know few people who made it long at all in super high pressure places. Even the people who were rockstar quit because their health and relationships were taking hits from it. It is okay to take the lower pressure job.

    2. Lurky McLurkerson*

      I absolutely agree with Risha. One job and one fellowship into my career I accepted a position that was terrrrrible for me, it made me question my abilities and if I was even in the right field because I had never ever had my higher ups make me feel like I was an idiot before. It really was just a bad fit for me and I moved on to a less stressful job in public service and in my present job I am considered vital to our labs operation! Looking back I should’ve realized that it isn’t possible to have 3 years of awesome work experience in two different places prior to my no good job and then all of the sudden just super suck at the no good terrible job, it was just a bad fit! Please consider this along with your health as well!

    3. Queen Bee*

      Agree with AAM advice and with above posters. You are obviously not an incompetent/hopeless employee or you wouldn’t be actively seeking help or asking for advice here. And.. to share my experience that I think might help…though no ADHD content…My first job out of university was in a very toxic place. I didn’t realize just how toxic it was at first, but it became obvious within 6 months. Withing the first 3 months working there it caused me to doubt the degree I had just completed, and my ability to get any work done, even though my last year in school I had stellar marks and enjoyed the education. My workload was too large which caused me to think that I was under-performing. I wasn’t, it was my insane boss’s fault and I had to tell the wacko that it was too much to which he begrudgingly conceded. And yes, there were people there my age that seemed to be doing better than me sometimes but some of them were in cahoots with the boss’s family, others had different kind of work while others’ worked faster but then I had to correct their work. But it got so much BETTER in my next (current) job, even though the first place traumatized me to the point of being scared of having a full-time job (I went back to school for a year after leaving the first job to complete a graduate degree). My now not-so-new workplace is great, with good morale, nice colleagues, good bosses, and realistic workloads.

      1. Competent Commenter*

        Seconded! My current job is way too much for one person and makes me doubt myself on a near daily basis. The OP may be in a particular bad work situation.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        OOOh, really good point for the OP.
        Sometimes we can get so caught up in our own (real or perceived) failures that we do not even realize that we are working in a place that is not much more than a latrine.
        Look around, OP. Do others look happy where you are? I am not saying, do you think they are happy. I am saying collect up facts. Are they dragging themselves around? Are they sick a lot? When the boss or a particular employee leave do they all exhale at the same time? Some of the toxic places I worked constantly had problems with broken equipment, this is NO coincidence. Having unhappy employees can lead to a lot of broken equipment. Take a serious look at your environment before you go too far down the road of your own failures.

  13. Akcipitrokulo*

    Oh, that sounds so hard at the moment!

    OK – first – you have proved in the past that there are areas in which you’ve succeeded, and it is very possible that getting a diagnosis and effective treatment will be a big help.

    You know you can be successful because you have been. (And yes, succeeding as an intern definitely counts!)

    On any curve, you will always have some at the top, some in middle and some lower down – regardless of how far into “awesome” the curve is! There will almost certainly always be someone better and someone not so good as you. But one thing I’ve got from AAM several times is that there is more than one way to succeed at a job – and being the expert who can do everything standing on their head twice as fast as everyone else doesn’t mean you’re a good employee or will succeed.

    So whatever your strengths are, there is almost certainly a place where they will be useful!

    …and pleasant co-workers are appreciated! So yes, people who aren’t high-flyers but make all of the cogs run more smoothly together can definitely be successful.

    On a practical note, for this job, you may find that checklists help keep you focussed. Some people find the Pomodoro Technique helps. (You could use a phone on vibrate if you don’t want to disturb people.) I find outlook reminders to be a lifesaver – if I need to do a task, I set a reminder for when I need to work on it. Or there could be a different way that suits you better – chatting with a therapist or counsellor about what approach suits you might help?

    I really hope this works out for you, but whatever happens with this situation, your job is not you, and you sound awesome.

    1. Weyrwoman*

      Given that it’s extremely likely the OP has ADHD, I’m not sure the Pomodoro method will work, as an aside. I’m horribly ADHD, and currently off meds, and if I took a break and got interested in something I might never get back to work or be able to focus properly. (I will disclaim that this is my personal experience, so who knows if it works for other ADHD peoples)

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        From talking to other folks with ADD, it seems to either work really well or really poorly. I also hate pomodoro; 5 minutes is just enough time for me to get really interested in something and then not want to stop.

      2. teclatrans*

        I am ADHD and Pomodoro works really well for me, but I use my own timeframes. For housecleaning or email maintenance I choose something between 15-25 minutes. Without chunking my time and adding a timer, I just don’t get enough frontal lobe activation. But my ADHD husband would be so stressed about the impending buzzer and wouldn’t be able to start because he would already be mentally to the end of the time block. So, different strokes.

        1. teclatrans*

          I should add that I find Pomodoro doesn’t work for deep-dive work, its more for massive tasks that can easily be broken into smaller chunks that the ADHD doesn’t let me perceive when I survey something in its totality.

      3. INTP*

        It works really well for me, but I have to adjust the intervals. 25/5 basically means I’m using all of my breaks to use the bathroom or refill my tea and it feels like a huge work marathon where I’m getting no real breaks. It probably sounds insane to some people, but 10/5 seems to be my happy spot. I can hyperfocus for 10 minutes and then do something interesting for 5 and meet my productivity KPIs fine.

        The key though is using a pomodoro timer app that automatically starts the next interval with no input from you. That way I have to rush to get back to my seat because the timer is running. If I used a literal little kitchen tomato timer like the method was originally based on, or an app where I had to press a button, it would be a disaster because I’d always do just one more thing (aka a million more things) before setting the timer again.

  14. CityMouse*

    I will add that just because you don’t fit at this job does not mean you would be bad in the field generally. My close friend from law school absolutely floundered at her biglaw job, was fired but pivoted and now is killing it as counsel at an amazing non-profit. One job not being a good fit does not mean you are a bad worker, especially given your past performance at.your fellowships. This workplace may simply be a poor fit for you.

    1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      Oh so much this!!! It sounds like there’s a lot going on here for the OP – when there are mulitple possible issues/causes (poor fit + ADHD + Anxiety) it’s hard to pinpoint the exact issue or the steps to take to address it.

      It took awhile to figure out my career path, but I finally got promoted into a role that I thought was the first step on my dream career path. I thought that I had given it a lot of consideration and I had several years in the working world so I thought I knew my strengths/weaknesses. I got into the role and it was awful. I felt like I was doing nothing right. Nothing made sense. I got put on a PIP with several references to my lack of ability to comprehend the subject matter or material/responsibilities of the role. I was so confused and dejected and this was all causing my anxiety to skyrocket, which then made my performance suffer. It seemed like what was going on was indicating that I’m not cut out for a career in this field. It was literally a nightmare, and the OP’s letter is so similar to how I was feeling at that moment.

      Luckily I found a new job – same type of dept, but it was a step down in responsibility (which I thought was a good thing). Turns out that everything I was being told at the old place was exactly the opposite at my new place. Everything that made no sense to me at the old place made perfect sense at new place – because old place was not following best practice at all!!! Everything that seemed off to me, that I wanted to do differently or update, but was told not to do because I obviously don’t understand this stuff and my priorities are in the wrong – is exactly how they do things at my new place. I realized that the level of work that I was expected to do at old place (which was described to me as basic and entry level for this field) was being done by someone two steps up, with 5+ years of experience and with a law degree. One of my bosses here has told me numerous times that I have a real aptitude for this work and incredible instincts. To help this hit home, less than a year earlier I had been told that I lacked the ability to comprehend even basic related material.

      I’m just trying to illustrate that old place was such a profound poor fit – they legitimately thought that I was objectively bad at this type of work, and I believed them! In a different environment I’m excelling in the exact same types of responsibility.

      I also don’t want to sugarcoat it for the OP. The type of work that she is doing might simply be a poor fit. That’s totally ok if that’s the case. Just keep in mind that management style/departmental focus/even culture can have a real effect on your performance (or how your performance is viewed), so while the type of work might be part of the issue, another thing to consider is it might be the environment that the work is happening in (or even a combo of both!)

  15. Erika*

    Not sure if this is possible or even relevant for you but maybe you could work less hours? You have so much going on right now and you sound stressed. I know I was so worried about making mistakes and being a bad worker when I worked full time, I was constantly stressed. Then over the years I have negotiated working less and less hours and it helped me so much. I feel I am a good mediocre worker now but most important I am happy at work, I have more mental energi at work and that makes working easier.
    All the best wishes for you.

  16. Adult ADHD is zero fun*

    Oh OP! I feel for you so badly. I am also struggling in a new job in my mid-20s. As someone who managed their ADHD through HS and college without medication, I would give this advice. Get on some medication! Vyvanse is a godsend for me. It works all day which helps me focus and do my job better. I know it can be expensive (like hella expensive!) but it is worth every penny. There are discount cards on the internet that help make the price more manageable. Also, I will say some of the initial side effects (raising heart, lack of hunger) get better the longer you take it. I hope this helps!

  17. Aleta*

    Another thing, OP: School does NOT set you up well for work life in terms of your expectations of success in failure. In school you’re supposed to get good grades in EVERYTHING, not just the stuff you’re good at. No one at my job cares that I barely passed all my math courses, even though my parents and my teachers were Very Concerned. They care that I’m good at organizing data, and they find someone who is good at math to take care of those parts. While I agree that all your stuff sounds like ADHD as a person with diagnosed ADHD, it’s also okay if you don’t find the sort of work you’re good at right out of the gate. I certainly didn’t! It took me five years after I graduated. And bad at one type of work =/= bad at all types of work forever. Specialization and finding your strengths is good, rather than trying toe good at anything anyone throws at you.

    1. Millennial Lawyer*

      This is true even for people who got good grades in pretty much everything – I got good grades in (almost) everything, and my job is a different kind of struggle. There is no study time and then grade – you have to be high performing throughout, without a tangible “score.” That’s stressful.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        My friend is a lawyer. And she said law school did nothing to prepare her for what the job really is. She got all the theory behind it but none of the hands on paperwork stuff. It was like getting a second degree to learn the paperwork component of the job, she said.

    2. Tedious Cat*

      I couldn’t agree more. I can’t tell if this is part of the issue from the information given, OP, but I really think people in most disciplines should take some time off to work a day job between undergrad and grad school, because work is so different from school and grad is so different from undergrad. Once upon a time I learned this the hard way.

  18. Akcipitrokulo*

    Oh, that sounds so hard at the moment!

    OK – first – you have proved in the past that there are areas in which you’ve succeeded, and it is very possible that getting a diagnosis and effective treatment will be a big help.

    On any curve, you will always have some at the top, some in middle and some lower down – regardless of how far into “awesome” the curve is! There will almost certainly always be someone better and someone not so good as you. But one thing I’ve got from AAM several times is that there is more than one way to succeed at a job – and being the expert who can do everything standing on their head twice as fast as everyone else doesn’t mean you’re a good employee or will succeed.

    So whatever your strengths are, there is almost certainly a place where they will be useful – and pleasant co-workers are appreciated! So yes, people who aren’t high-flyers but make all of the cogs run more smoothly together can definitely be successful.

    On a practical note, for this job, you may find that checklists help keep you focussed. Some people find the Pomodoro Technique helps. (You could use a phone on vibrate if you don’t want to disturb people.) I find outlook reminders to be a lifesaver – if I need to do a task, I set a reminder for when I need to work on it. Or there could be a different way that suits you better – chatting with a therapist or counsellor about what approach suits you might help?

    I really hope this works out for you, but whatever happens with this situation, your job is not you, and you sound awesome.

  19. Rincat*

    Blogs can help sometimes, but I often find myself overwhelmed by the content and it makes me feel bad about myself and what I am doing. For example: Firefox keeps posting these links for me on the homepage to articles about how to parent, how to think, etc. basically just HOW TO HUMAN. Sometimes I read them and they are interesting. But most of the time, they fill me with anxiety because it makes me feel like I’m not doing it right. Are my children doomed because I let them watch videos on my phone sometimes? Am I breathing correctly? Why can’t I ever remember to pack a lunch? It’s just all too much of “You must do this/be this in order to be EXCELLENT.”

    My solution is a media fast. It doesn’t have to be extreme, but every now and then I just have to shut it all off and stop consuming the literature that makes me feel anxious. Also, let me assure you, a hard-working, respectful, mediocre coworker is VASTLY preferred to someone who is brilliant and a jerk. I will bet you 99.9% of the time, everyone would love to have someone who is not a “high performer” but is kind, teachable, ethical, and works hard.

    1. AlwhoisthatAl*

      Oh so definitely agree, the constant pressure to be brilliant is so wearing. And 100% agree “a hard-working, respectful, mediocre coworker is VASTLY preferred to someone who is brilliant and a jerk”.

    2. Kate*

      My 2017 resolution was not to read any How To articles (or related topics). I was not allowed to click on How To articles I came across, even from reputable sources. I was allowed to only if I sought out the info myself. The point was that I could still learn and grow, but I had to make sure the point was actually that I needed and wanted to learn and grow, not that I was self-flagellating with articles about how other people did everything optimally.

      Highly recommend this resolution.

      1. Rincat*

        That’s a good one! I’ve also culled my Instagram for the same reason!

        I think also the OP might benefit from reading that open thread post from the other day about the pros/cons of people’s jobs. I try to keep this in mind with my job, but also just life in general. I have a friend who is the same age as me, and he’s waaay further along in his IT career than I am, so sometimes I feel like a failure compared to him…but his progress came at the cost of sleep, health, and relationships. Not to mention he had some advantages early on in life that I didn’t have.

    3. Lil Fidget*

      “Am I breathing correctly”

      SO TRUE. I usually feel pretty good at things and then I read some article about how I’ve probably been eating/breathing/sitting wrong ALL ALONG and am a failure at life haha.

      1. Rincat*

        I keep seeing an ad for some fancy toothbrush that’s like “60/80/90/10000% of people brush their teeth incorrectly!” Whatever. Are my teeth clean? Yes. Have I succeeded at brushing my teeth? Yes.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yeah it’s not like its an accident, I’m sure most articles like that are directly or indirectly trying to sell me something.

  20. AlwhoisthatAl*

    I think you are being premature about judging yourself, I also think you are guiding yourself into a medical condition you may not have. If you do have ADHD, why wasn’t it diagnosed before ? Doctors especially in the US tend to over-prescribe/diagnose – you need to ask yourself: do I have ADHD or is the job causing the symptoms of ADHD ?
    Academia where you have spent your time before this is very different to that of “Work” – So not surprising you’ve found it hard to cope. Be easier on yourself, less judgemental. Personally I believe it’s just a cr*p job
    Don’t overthink the reasons why ! Move on before it affects your health too much….

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      It could certainly just be the job environment, but people with the inattentive subtype (which it sounds like what the LW would be if it’s ADHD), especially women, are frequently underdiagnosed. It’s *really common* for people to coast through school because they’re not all that challenged and then run into trouble when they hit the work world.

      1. Koko*

        Yes, this. Women are usually underdiagnosed for ADHD because they try harder to cover up their symptoms, which are less socially acceptable in young girls than in young boys. And in particular bright/intelligent women to some extent are able to coast on raw intelligence, e.g., pull an all-nighter to write a major paper the night before its due and still get an A.

        That was exactly why my ADHD wasn’t diagnosed until I was over 30. I finally reached a point in my career where I couldn’t compensate for my symptoms with raw intelligence anymore. I was gradually growing to hate myself as a person because I thought my inability to focus was a character flaw and that I just needed to try harder. Even though on some level I knew I was trying, my lack of results made me think, “Well, you’re not trying hard enough, so why aren’t you???” When I finally got diagnosed I actually broke down crying in my psychiatrist’s office because it was such a relief to know that I wasn’t just a crappy person with no work ethic.

        1. aebhel*

          Yeah, I coasted through school on raw intelligence and no organizational skills; it was only as an adult that it really became a problem for me.

          I don’t know that OP has ADHD, but it certainly sounds possible, and plenty of people are not diagnosed as children, for various reasons.

        2. Anonym*

          +1000 and a big hug.

          Just hit that point a couple months ago (diagnosis + breaking down) at 34, still trying to internalize that maybe I’m okay and not an awful employee and deficient person because of what I could theoretically be achieving if I could focus for 8 hours a day instead of 2-3 max. It feels like I’ve had the wrong operation manual for three decades (“I’m following the directions, but it’s still not working!”), and now I have the right one.

          Much love to everyone here for the comments, and to you, OP! You’ll learn more about yourself, your needs, your strengths and weaknesses over time, and over more jobs. Take care of yourself, and cut yourself some slack. You’re already starting to figure it out.

        3. INTP*

          This. Plus, quite frankly, many kids are only referred for diagnosis because they caused disruptions in school. Inattentive types, especially girls, are less likely to have behavioral issues that cause disruptions that the teacher wants to make stop and thus refers them for testing. We’re more likely to do things like daydream or doodle or secretly read while the teacher is talking.

          Plus there are other disorders that are more common in women, like depression and anxiety, so we’re likely to be misdiagnosed as those things. I got my ADHD diagnosis when I learned to speak in DSM language and ask specifically for ADHD testing. When I just described my symptoms the way that they felt to me, like “I try to focus but then I just think about other things instead,” , I got an inaccurate anxiety diagnosis. (I developed anxiety later in life so I know how it feels for me and I didn’t have it then.)

          1. Aerin*

            I did the secret reading thing, except it wasn’t so secret. But my teachers realized that 1) I always got really high grades so clearly I was paying enough attention, and 2) if they didn’t let me read I could become disruptive and start chatting with other students who did need to pay attention. Luckily all of my teachers in elementary school got it and let me do my thing. No one ever even considered that it might be ADHD because when I was a kid that was considered the thing that made you bad at school, and I wasn’t. But looking back now that I have a diagnosis at 31, it’s astonishing no one caught it before.

      2. aebhel*

        Yep. ADHD is overdiagnosed in some groups and for some types of the disorder, but primarily-inattentive ADHD are rarely diagnosed as kids because they don’t cause trouble the way hyperactive kids do; they just struggle with focus.

    2. CityMouse*

      I will say that my dad is a pediatrician and will have cases if schools insisting kids have ADD/ADHD or learning disabilities when the truth is that they are simply asking kids to do things their brains just aren’t ready for, like certain levels of organization or certain reading skills in kindergarten. I am not saying that is OP’s issue but I can totally see one of those super intense workplaces gaslighting someone in to thinking something is wrong with them because they can’t keep up with insane levels.of work.

    3. teclatrans*

      “If you do have ADHD, why wasn’t it diagnosed before ?”

      No. No, no, no. No. Shari Solden’s “Women and ADHD” does a great job of explaining this. Many people with primarily inattentive-type ADHD make it all the way through school before hitting their wall, if they have enough support and/or structure. It’s when leaving school and beginning to work or run a household that it all comes crashing down. Hence adult-ADHD diagnosis.

      OP, if you are a woman, I think Solden’s book might be a revelation for you.

      My husband is being medicated by a psych who doesn’t really believe in ADHD. He thinks all meds are the same, so instead of experimenting and working through the dozens of meds that all affect individual people differently, he just says “well, if that’s not working, you must not have ADHD.” I worry that your doctor might be similar? ADHD meds are so incredibly dependent on an individual’s biochemistry. For instance, Adderall makes me weepy and depressed, while Ritalin clears my head in a way I didn’t know was possible. And to boost what someone else said, anxiety is a common comorbidity with ADHD and it often requires its own med.

      1. Heather*

        Yes, yes, yes to this. My ADHD is not the stereotypical “forgets to pay the bills and loses the keys” – it’s a problem with expressing the thoughts and ideas that are constantly swirling around my head. I thought that’s how it was for everyone, until I was 33.

        1. teclatrans*

          I pursued a PhD because I was sure there was some trick to expressing yourself clearly and getting all those swirling thoughts to come out in a linear fashion that everybody else had learned in elementary or high school that I had somehow missed? I just needed to get *training*. Now, I value my PhD years, they did teach me a lot, but it was such a relief to learn that I will never naturally engage in categorical thinking, and my brain will always store things in random places which will make retrieval challenging. (Turns out the ‘trick is to be neurotypical.)

          1. Heather*

            Best description I ever saw was that my brain is a computer without a filing system….so I can’t just go to the folder where something’s supposed to be and retrieve it – I have to search the whole damn computer file by file.

            1. teclatrans*

              That sounds exactly right!

              My mom helped me with my master’s thesis. The way I described it at the time (pre-diagnosis) was that I was wandering through the woods picking mushrooms and flowers and whatnot, then bringing them to show her how they relates and why they were significant. Then I would wander some more and then return to her, arms full of more treasures. At which point, I needed her to show me everything I had found before. It wasn’t enough to write these things down, I needed her to reflect them back to me. (The funny thing is, she said my dad had said almost the exact same thing when she played that role for him during his dissertation, the woods and everything, but with the addition that he often got lost on his way back to her.)

              1. Heather*

                That makes total sense to me…I will forget about things, even those that are super-important to me, if there’s no cue to remind me about them!

        2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

          YEEESSS! Same here! I was just recently diagnosed with ADHD. I was the “good kid” in grade school – great grades and NEVER disciplined or sent to the principal’s office. I was an overachiever up until high school with excellent grades.

          I also had extremely authoritarian parents and just naturally came up with a pretty extreme set of coping mechanisms from a young age.

          I thought it was totally normal to have these issues and to have to use these extreme/complicated mechanisms to stay on track.

      2. Observer*

        “Doesn’t believe in ADHD” is bad enough. But “thinks all meds are the same” is verging on malpractice territory. There is a REASON why there are different TYPES of drugs and different drugs withing the classes. I could see “if drug a from class x doesn’t work, it’s not likely that drug b from class x will work.” In some types of situations that’s true. But “if drug a doesn’t work, then NO drug will” is like saying that if an antibiotic isn’t working, there is no point in trying an anti-fungal. That’s sheer insanity.

        1. teclatrans*

          My husband has this sort of psychiatrist, and I am nearly apoplectic with outrage over what terrible medicine he is practising. The ADHD drugs are many and varied (and even the amphetamines differ, as they act on different neurotransmitters). Do you even science, my dude????

      3. Gadget Hackwrench*

        THIS. It’s NOT over-diagnosed in women, and inattentive type is NOT over-diagnosed in general.

    4. MM*

      I feel like so many people I know have finally gotten diagnosed with ADHD as an adult and it has absolutely changed our lives, so…maybe not on this front. Obviously the OP may or may not have this condition. But I spent my entire life wondering desperately why on earth I couldn’t be like other people, beating myself up for mistakes I couldn’t seem to help, and forming a defensive carapace of humor about why I was such an absent-minded professor type. Finally getting diagnosed is a complex thing, emotionally, but it sure helps to know that there is some sort of explanation. I don’t even take medications; I’ve learned to cope better and better over the years, and I’ve moved around so much that it’s tricky to work out care. But just having the diagnosis was a really good thing for me.

    5. Snark*

      If you do have ADHD, why wasn’t it diagnosed before?

      This is really unhelpful, undermining reasoning, even if your intent is to buck OP up a bit. ADHD manifests in multiple ways at different developmental stages and ages, it manifests differently in men and women, it manifests differently when it’s comorbid with depression and anxiety….and sometimes, one gets good enough at coping with it that it’s possible to just white-knuckle your way through, and you can successfully conceal it.

      Doctors especially in the US tend to over-prescribe/diagnose – you need to ask yourself: do I have ADHD or is the job causing the symptoms of ADHD

      Given that OP clearly describes having to use coping strategies in past jobs, I would lean to the former.

    6. Mike C.*

      To add to the comments about women and inattentive-type being under-diagnosed, there is also significant under diagnosis in adults as well.

      This isn’t some conspiracy to sell drugs (which are mostly generic now anyway), this is a very real thing that many of us have to deal with and causes significant problems when left untreated.

    7. LilySparrow*

      There are a lot of misconceptions about ADHD. One is that it always gets diagnosed in childhood.

      Many people (especially women) aren’t even assessed as kids because they aren’t causing trouble for the teacher. And many folks, like me, can perform really well in a highly structured environment but struggle as they become more self-directed. While others have a terrible time fitting into the rigid expectations of school, but flourish as adults where they can do things their own way.

      ADHD is a cluster of normal human traits that everyone has at different times, but dialed up to an intensity or appearing in inappropriate situations, that interferes with your major goals and life functions.

      It’s not a cognitive deficit. It’s not always obvious.
      Whether you have quirks or a disorder really depends on what you’re trying to do.

  21. ADHDlady*

    Also, if it ADHD it often takes a couple tries to get the right meds and dose. Adderall was horrible for me but Ritalin has been life changing.

    1. Irene Adler*

      My sister has a mental illness, and to this day she works with her doc to manage the meds. Overall it has been a success. However, there were many ‘false starts’ with meds that didn’t work, or had intolerable side effects or caused an allergic reaction. She gives constant feedback to the docs regarding how the meds are doing. There are times when the docs do minor adjustments to the meds so that she feels her best. It is an on-going thing. But so worth it.

  22. AnotherAlison*

    OP, I’ve had some colleagues who were not good at their jobs. Some of them fell into the lazy/not caring category. Others were just a bad fit. They had been successful at other jobs, and they moved on to other companies, where I hope they were able to find success again. Regardless of the ADHD diagnosis, it is possible that this type of work isn’t for you. It doesn’t mean you suck, it just means there is a mismatch between you and the job. My spouse is an electrician with ADHD. He would be terrible at my job, but he is good at what he does. I actually often wonder why people don’t do something completely different sooner when they are failing at a job. . .

  23. Courageous cat*

    I relate so deeply to this as this was a big fear of mine after I failed at my first job out of college and was not able to understand it or succeed. It turned out that I needed many more experiences succeeding at a job and leaving on a good, high note before I was able to believe that I am capable of success.

    The first step for me was to go into retail, take a paycut, then work my way up. Retail starts you off pretty easy and then you go up from there. Once I was in management, it was easy to make lateral moves, and I felt as though I had a good grasp on how to manage people, which translates to all other positions. Now sometimes I think back on that first position that I totally sucked at and I can pinpoint everything they did that failed ME in that experience. I wasn’t the problem – they were.

    I am not even sure where I’m going with this other than I felt this way very strongly, and I still feel this way, and I think it’s likely to be just the job.

    If you don’t find success in the traditional office setting, I might suggest looking into going to school for a trade, or healthcare, or something that you learn in school and then can apply on the job. I think that can be a pretty different atmosphere as far as learning the job and working it goes.

    1. Courageous cat*

      I still feel this way *sometimes*, I should clarify. For the most part I feel like I have moved past this, although it is at its worst when I start a new job.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      On the trade thing: there is a class issue around this and I understand it (some of us have been socialized since birth to be successful middle management in white collar offices and everything else is FAILURE) but – a number of my friends have been very successful in things like starting a dog walking business, working as a restaurant manager, being a barista – and they make about as much as I do, and they are far happier than they were in an office setting. Just putting it out there because such things weren’t on my radar when I was younger.

  24. There's Always Money in the Banana Stand*

    It doesn’t sound to me like you are doomed to be stuck in a world of mediocre work performance, OP!

    I worked in banking while I was in college, and I was pretty good in all of the positions that I had. So, when I graduated, I applied for a bank management job and I got it. I wasn’t expecting to be bad at it, but holy moly, I was. I was so bad at being a manager. Like truly terrible. Initially, I was so mad at myself, and I felt like an absolute failure. I have since found a job that is a much better fit for me, and things are going pretty well. It just takes time sometimes to figure out where and how your skills fit in.

    Its okay to not be good at something. Its okay to not succeed in absolutely everything that you try to do. Its okay to not be great at your first couple of jobs. I think that this is actually fairly normal. I highly, highly doubt that you are mediocre at work in general. I wish you the very best, and I am rooting for you!

  25. Kristine*

    I’m going to add that I “sucked” at one job in my forties after being outstanding and stellar before, and since. I “sucked” because I worked under an exacting and unforgiving control freak and our manager was 1) scared of her and wanted her approval, 2) a control freak herself who had unrealistic standards, was defensive and hypersensitive to suggestions (yet dished out the criticism) and both women went on rages that naturally did not help my anxiety. This in an already touchy, narcissistic and rather dysfunctional environment (an art museum) where people regularly went on narcissistic rages.
    OP, self-care is also a component of success. Make an honest assessment of the “high performance” you are required to turn in and ask yourself if you are in fact being managed by people who take out their own anxiety on you, who are actually feeding you mistakes that they blame on you, and whose professionalism is not where it should be.

    1. the gold digger*

      Me, too, Kristine. It was awful – I had never been “bad” at a job before. I had to escape to realize that it wasn’t me but that I was, for the first time, working in a toxic environment with a horrible CEO.

      I didn’t know because I had always had such wonderful bosses before. I didn’t know how lucky I had been with them. (At my current job, when my current boss told our intern how I would flinch every time he called me into his office, the intern said to me, “You were like a rescue dog!” Which I was.)

      Maybe LW has the misfortune to have her toxic environment/bad CEO job as her very first job.

  26. Jenny*

    Finding your fit and finding your groove takes a lot of time. My first job was at a small TV station. I liked the very small atmosphere and I had a clear idea of my goals and my work. I knew what was my job and what was everyone else’s job. I had a clear idea of success and a boss who was great at coaching. The next job after that was a larger TV station. There was no clearly defined role for me. I was an assistant helping people who didn’t want help. The boss was kind of abusive. I felt very alone and I floundered badly. If you ask people from my first job “Is Jenny a good worker?” they would have raved about me. If you asked people from that second station if I was a good worker they would probably be like “Jenny constantly needed her hand held and seemed lazy” – They were just different environments.

    I have now figured out the right environment for me. Small department within a larger non-profit (with a good mission) and a clearly defined role. But it took a lot of trial and error.

  27. LQ*

    I’d suggest that you stop thinking of “work” as one single thing. Like there is only one kind of job in the world (or only one that you want/think you’d be able to do) and give yourself a chance to look around, really honestly look around, at all the jobs that exist. There are so many kinds of work and jobs and ways to make a living that limiting yourself to thinking you’re not good at work after 1 full time job? That’s pretty absurd.

    I knew someone who wasn’t good at work. Really not good. Had hundreds of jobs in their life not good. (Really REALLY good at interviewing though.) That person? Yeah they can say with confidence they aren’t good. But you’ve got a long way to go before you get there.

    I’d also really strongly caution you against thinking about a dream job because that might be limiting you in what kind of work you think of and your ability to be successful. If you say this is the work that is my dream and then you aren’t great at it, the pressure you’re going to bring on yourself is MUCH higher than if this is just a job, and maybe this job isn’t a great fit but you can find another job that will be a better fit.

  28. Mike C.*

    OP, I know exactly what you’re going through (replace work with college) and everything changed when I found a great doctor to deal with my ADHD. There’s a handful of us here, please feel free to respond to these sorts of comments if you have any particular questions or just feel like venting – these sorts of feelings of failure and what not are really, really common. You aren’t a failure, you just need a little help to get things sorted out and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    1. Mike C.*

      Also I want to warn you that it’s going to take some trail and error before you find the combination of meds/therapy/systems/habits that work for you. That too is very normal, this is a process rather than a cure.

  29. Samiratou*

    This sounds, to me, like more of a question of job fit than anything else. You threw it in as kind of a throwaway, but the line about your job not working as a team but you like working in teams stood out to me. There are tons of jobs out there are collaborative and require teamwork and people who thrive in those environments.

    Certainly check out the medical side of things, but really I would encourage you to start looking at other types of jobs now that you have a pretty clear idea of some things that don’t work for you. You should be able to look for different types of roles and ask about corporate culture and such in interviewing and find something that will be a better fit for you.

    Good luck!

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Yeah, I wondered about job fit. I’m in my mid-30’s and I’ve had a few different jobs, plus some internship/fellowship/research experience, and it’s such a mistake to take one environment and extrapolate to all office work from that.

      I’ve been the one covering the phones and scheduling appointments and doing other day-to-day admin work, which required a ton of attention to detail. I’ve also been in a research setting where it was me and my laptop and a single big project that I had to figure out. I’ve been in jobs where I basically never went to meetings, and I’ve had weeks or months at other jobs where I was in several meetings a day. I’ve had projects that were all my own, and some where I was on a team, and a few where I’ve led the team. I’ve done jobs where I was doing lots of routine and recurring tasks, and jobs where there was lots of novelty and I was constantly trying to figure out the solution to a new problem. I’ve worked under regular tight deadlines and worked on a research project where nothing specific was due for months. I’ve sat in shared workspaces and isolated offices. I’ve had jobs where I did events and meetings out of the office, and some where I always worked from the office. I’ve done just enough business travel to know that I’d hate doing lots of it, and attended enough conferences to know that I enjoy them on occasion but definitely don’t want to be on the trade show circuit.

      My current job falls in a pretty good spot on most of those elements for me, but it took a while to learn what works best for me. Figure out the medical stuff, OP, but also look for a new job that is different in some elements (teamwork, amount of detail you’re expected to juggle, etc.) and see if that helps you pull through this.

  30. Snark*

    So, I say this as someone who falls into patterns of rigid thinking around treating obstacles as insurmountable when I’m stressed or in denial. This sounded familiar:

    I have not had an official diagnosis for ADHD, as they are expensive and time-consuming and I was dealing with other health issues that took my time/money

    I’ma be real blunt, OP: you haven’t failed at work, you’re not a failure as a professional, you’re not a failure because you procrastinate and get distracted and lose track of details. No. If you have failed anywhere, it’s in letting yourself fall into rigididly thinking that the obstacles laying between you and getting assessed and, potentially, treated for ADHD are insurmountable, and into hoping for an easy, magical fix that doesn’t exist.

    And I get it. You’re kind of afraid of that diagnosis. It’s sort of a weird paradox that it’s easier to beat the shit out of yourself, because it seems like it should be easier and quicker to “just” stop proctrastinating and pay attention to those details. It’s easier to dream of it all being just a bad fit, or absent that, to fit it into a narrative I bet your teachers and parents drilled into you, where it’s your personal failure and if you could only work harder and better, you’d be fine. And I bet your attempt at attempting to self-treat for ADHD symptoms is also a part of that narrative. And when the stakes were low, you could boostrap your way through, which gave that narrative more depth and breadth.

    Time for the two by four of truth, OP: you have ADHD or something like it, and you need to get treated for it, and that needs to be your priority. Stop trying to treat yourself, stop hoping that one little change will solve the problem magically, stop using competing priorities to kick the can down the road – because there will always be more fun ways to spend money and time than this. But you need to get on it. You can’t do it alone.

    1. teclatrans*

      I was trying to figure out how to address this, and I think you nailed it. The rigid thinking and decades of shaming and the desire for a quick fix. Even the desire to handle this sense of failure by definitively declaring that maybe they just suck and work isn’t for them. OP, this all sounds so part & parcel for ADHD adults (and I imagine would hold true to some extent for other executive function disorders).

      OP, are you sure the ADHD diagnosis route is really so long and arduous? In my experience, lots of docs will do a short survey and decide you fit the criteria. My own struggle was to find someone who would do a more thorough assessment because I found the simple survey too simplistic. My kid went through extensive psychodeducational testing because he was in a school environment (and because he had been previously ruled out as having ADHD — turns out he was compensating with other skills), and that taught me a lot about how they can really pinpoint ADHD, but it’s not *necessary. * If you do want the complex testing to help you be really sure, then it’s time to make that a priority.

      1. aebhel*

        The irony with ADHD is that getting a diagnosis tends to require setting up appointments–sometimes multiple appointments–and keeping them, and generally a level of organizational skills and executive function that very few people with ADHD actually have.

        Finding a NT friend who can help you make and keep appointments can be a livesaver here.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yes! And because many of the medications are controlled substances, they’re not allowed to just give you a three month’s supply with refills; you have to keep going back to the doctor to get it refilled.

        2. teclatrans*

          This was my poor husband’s experience. And it took me neatly three months to get my first dose because of so many executive function fails.

    2. Snark*

      So here’s my story: my issue is not ADHD. I’m significantly hearing impaired. I had a pair of hearing aids when I was in about 3rd grade that I got mercilessly teased for, and I decided I was going to do without. I white-knuckled my way through life until I was 17, fiercely reconstructing into intelligible English sentences the wah wah WAHwah wah WAH wawawawwa that surrounded me unless people were speaking loudly and clearly at me, faking it, laughing along, and saying “what?” dozens of times a day. And my grades and social interactions paid the price. I just couldn’t hear shit. A kindly teacher used a clicker to count the number of times I failed to hear something just in his classes alone, and it was well over two dozen. But I didn’t want to be the kid with hearing aids. I could cope.

      And then in college, I got my first pair of real, modern, digital hearing aids, and it was like I’d been going through life wearing mittens and could suddenly use my bare hands. Then I upgraded some time later, and could finally sit in a noisy bar for three hours, effortlessly conversing. Now they have bluetooth and I stream phone calls to them. And it was so, so much easier than I ever thought it would be.

    3. Tuxedo Cat*

      I’m seconding this. I’m friends with someone who tried to self-treat ADHD and other conditions for years, and it was a disaster. I

      Only until they sought medical treatment did they start doing phenomenally. It hasn’t been an easy road but they’re doing so much better.

    4. Anonym*

      Thanks, Snark. You’ve caught that nasty little script that says, “I suspect I am bad; if I accept help and it works, it is proof of my badness.”

      You’re not bad, OP. You can be better – we all can. So pursue/accept/embrace help and be better. (I have to remind myself of this regularly.)

      We’re cheering you on!

      1. Snark*

        My old therapist summed it up as “You want to take the long, hard road to the easiest fix for your problem.”

    5. Tau*

      It’s easier to dream of it all being just a bad fit, or absent that, to fit it into a narrative I bet your teachers and parents drilled into you, where it’s your personal failure and if you could only work harder and better, you’d be fine.

      Oh man, this. I don’t have ADHD, but I have Asperger’s which can cause some very similar issues. The day I worked out that the way I was failing at university/hobbies/eating/sleeping/doing literally anything at all was actually thanks to disability and not because I was lazy and didn’t care? I bawled like a baby. Because as long as it was because I was lazy, as long as it was something I was doing wrong, then it was fixable. After all, all I had to do was stop being lazy and everything would be fine. But if it wasn’t something I could help, that meant the problems were never going to go away. I was going to be stuck dealing with them for the rest of my life. Realising that felt like the world was ending.

      There are no meds for Asperger’s-style executive dysfunction (or if there are, I’ve been direly misinformed and someone needs to tell me ASAP) and I didn’t have that much luck with therapy, however I have worked out various strategies that mean I cope much, much better than I used to. It’s not the end of the world and there are ways you can work around these problems even if meds aren’t an option. That said, I agree with Snark that you really do need to face it head-on and make looking into this a priority, because this sort of thing can destroy your life if you don’t address it constructively.

      1. Snark*

        Because as long as it was because I was lazy, as long as it was something I was doing wrong, then it was fixable. After all, all I had to do was stop being lazy and everything would be fine. But if it wasn’t something I could help, that meant the problems were never going to go away. I was going to be stuck dealing with them for the rest of my life.

        I feel this real hard. Same feeling when I squared up with the fact that no matter how close to the front of the room I sat and how much I tried to code-break the gibberish, I was never going to overcome my hearing loss, I was never going to move through the world like a fully hearing person unless I admitted I was actually disabled and got the help and accomodations I needed. The clue-by-four always hurts when it first goes upside your head.

  31. Clever Name*

    Alison is right, everything you are describing lines up with ADHD. I have ADHD, and I can tell you that when medication isn’t working, what you are describing is EXACTLY how I feel – including the worry of “but what if my ADHD *is* under control and the problem is just that I suck?”

    That worry – that medication doesn’t matter, the problem is YOU – is ADHD talking. There are a lot of different medication options, and how they work for you will fluctuate over time. A slow-release medication might work, but the immediate-release has side-effects, or vice versa.

    Also, please talk to whoever is prescribing your medication about your anxiety. It is very common for people with ADHD to be on an adderall-type med AND an anti-depressant. My doc described it as the anti-depressant giving the ADHD med a boost. I kept going up and up in the ADHD med without much improvement at all. Adding an anti-depressant (even though I only have very mild signs of depression) made a world of difference.

    A lot of times, when you find the right medication and dose, it is like a wonderful “ah-ha” moment of clarity when all of a sudden your brain feels normal and you can function. A lot of times it just takes more work to find that balance. Please keep working with your doctor. There are lots of different options for treatment.

    And I agree with other commenters, getting diagnosed doesn’t have to be that hard. Whoever is currently prescribing your medication should be able to do it. In my case, I just filled out a questionnaire and talked to a counselor at school (college). Because I had a history of ADHD in my family, I think it might have been easier. But your counselor could probably make the diagnosis. If you are getting medication from a General Practitioner, I understand they hesitate to make that call, because they often don’t have the training to get the medication levels right. A psychiatrist could do that for you. Psychiatry Today has a directory of specialists in the US and Canada. It’s definitely a good start. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/adhd Good luck!

    1. Koko*

      I ended up my diagnosis after first asking my GP about medication to control lingering anxiety symptoms that CBT wasn’t able to resolve. After hearing me describe my symptoms/life, he said that it actually sounded like I might be a candidate for ADHD, but that he didn’t feel comfortable making a psychiatric diagnosis. He recommended a local psychiatric practice that specializes in diagnosing and treating people with ADHD. You might see if there’s a place like that in your area – these folks are trained to spot the more invisible types of ADHD, e.g. primarily inattentive type, ADHD in women, ADHD in adults, etc.

    2. Bertha*

      On this note, sometimes it can be BAD for ADHD to take just an antidepressant. I don’t think the OP would be able to get a script for most ADD meds without an official diagnosis; so if the OP is only taking, say, an SSRI, it could be making things worse.

      1. Gadget Hackwrench*

        Sometimes bad… sometimes not. An SSRI for co-morbid anxiety actually helped me a ton, and it was the only thing I was taking at the time. (Now I’m also on a med for a sleep disorder.)

  32. Cordoba*

    It’s OK to not be great at something, treat that something as a means to an end, and only put as much of yourself into it as you need to accomplish your larger goal.

    For example I didn’t like the academic part of college and I wasn’t particularly good at it. Therefore my goal was just “get engineering degree” rather than “be honor student” or “earn impressive academic credentials” and I was able to only put in the effort required to be a C-student, get the diploma, and get on with my life. If I was striving for excellence and saw every failed test or barely-passed course as a comment on my worth and suitability for the modern world that would have been stressful and demoralizing to the point of interfering with my ability to get anything done. Since I was striving for mediocrity I saw a D as great news, because it meant I didn’t fail the class and would not have to take it again.

    Once I graduated I found out that I’m much better at working than studying, and so started worrying about excellence now that I found my niche.

    It may be worthwhile to think of this job as something you’re just doing for now in order to get paid, get experience, and fill out your resume; and that it is 100% fine to just be mediocre at it while you do that. Still try to do the job and not be a burden to the people around you, but don’t think you have to be the best at it. Just don’t leave people hanging and don’t get fired.

    1. Snark*

      This is another great point. The obsession with exceptional performance in American culture is a great weakness and a great strength – we avoid the Tall Poppy Syndrome of more sclerotic cultures, but we also look at “fine but not exceptional” or “occasionally problematic but basically okay” performance as major personal failings. Unless we’re ROCKING IT at all times, we feel like failures, and success is represented as just a matter of working hard enough to deserve it.

      1. Cordoba*

        I really find choosing to be OK with mediocrity to be a great motivator; it encourages me to do things I never would do if I had to be THE BEST at everything.

        Another example: in the past year I started recreational weight lifting as a fun sort of exercise I can do indoors when it’s cold or raining out. For reasons of free time, available equipment, my physiology, and (frankly) my motivation level I am certain that by the standards of a really good weightlifter I’ll always be pretty bad at it.

        If my mindset was “this is only worth doing if I can be Mr Olympia” then I wouldn’t do it because I’m never going to even remotely be Mr Olympia. The choice here isn’t “excellence or mediocrity” but rather “mediocrity or nothing”.

        1. Snark*

          It’s a paradox, isn’t it? It really frees you from the “perfect is the enemy of good” thing. I’m really only ever going to excel at a few things – ecology, writing, and making tacos. Everything else? “Decent-to-pretty good” is where I’m at. And that’s ok! That’s more attainable.

    2. I agree*

      Like this. My son was an okay student but with the changes the school put into effect about the time he graduated he would have been booted from the program. He has been very successful in his career. So much so that his first employer hired 2 people to replace him when he left.

    3. SarahTheEntwife*

      Yeah, it was so freeing when I got to grad school and realized that nobody would ever ask to see my transcript again, just the degree at the end. So I didn’t need to get all As, I just needed to understand the material.

  33. DCompliance*

    I am curious as to whether the letter writer’s boss is helping coach her and what feedback is provided.

  34. earl grey aficionado*

    OP, I agree with Alison that getting ADHD treatment is step #1. I wanted to add that I have severe bipolar disorder and have struggled *terribly* with holding down jobs, since my moods and energy are so erratic that a regular work schedule isn’t workable. I switched to freelance so that I could control my own schedule (I now work a super-intense 4-hour “shift” per day and then consider myself off the clock), and my productivity, performance, and self-esteem are a million times better.

    My mental health situation is pretty extreme, I’m lucky to have financial help/stability from my partner, and I’m not suggesting this *exact* thing for you (YMMV, etc.), but adjusting your schedule can make a huge difference in performance, especially when mental illness is in play. Best of luck! Your letter really rang true for where I was at a few years ago–just know that it can (and will) get better with experience, treatment, and paying attention to what works for you.

  35. SarahTheEntwife*

    In addition to Alison’s advice to figure out what went well in the past, I’d encourage you to look at what, specifically, you’re having trouble with at work. Are your mistakes usually careless errors, or things where you can’t absorb the information fast enough to remember it? There are so many support systems out there to help people get organized (and as someone else with ADHD, I totally sympathize with there being kind of an overwhelming number of them to consider!) and figuring out where you tend to slip up could help identify what types of reminders or organizational systems would be most helpful, or what type of job environment would be easier for you in the future.

  36. Anon for this*

    I do not have ADHD and I was terrible at two of my first three jobs. Bad. Really bad. I missed details and made mistakes that cost one of the companies thousands of dollars. But I recognized that it was not a good fit and started looking for something else. The next job (in a different industry) was a little better and the one after that (in yet another industry) was even better. Now (in a fourth completely unrelated industry – yikes!), I have found a fit that is very good. I was headhunted for my current position and the founders of this startup frequently say publically how lucky they are to have been able to hire me.

    So even if it isn’t ADHD, there is hope. No one is good at everything and you may have just found the thing you’re really bad at right out of the gate. Take the things you do like and can do well at this job, surely there is something even if it’s small, and figure out how to expand that at your next job. Liking spreadsheets and figuring out how to use them to collect and analyze seemingly insignificant data that turned out to be more important than anyone realized was a big turning point for me.

    Good luck!

    1. Eye of Sauron*

      This was me in my first job post school. Hey… go figure I suck at rigid structure and with lots of rules (So in hindsight working on a heavily regulated trading line was not a great fit…how I didn’t see that coming I have no idea) I sucked at it. It was putzy detail work where my day was micromanaged by my computerized phone nanny. It was horrible. I was mediocre at best in that job.

      My second job out of college… it was a created job that the company hadn’t really thought through… no rules, zero structure (I asked for a job description from my boss once and he wrote on a piece of scrap paper “Anything Bob needs done”) . I can’t tell you what a night and day experience it was. I could blaze my own trail, I could work on things that looked interesting, I spent so much time floating around the first year that I literally worked out of 3 different locations a day. I had almost full autonomy, I was given tasks or projects and then set loose. I backed up random people doing random jobs and got to learn a lot about different operations. It was glorious. I went from a blah employee at the first place to a go-getter fast tracked employee at the second place.

      Hey everyone has their strengths, some people enjoy repetitive predictable work, I’m not one of them. On the flip side I don’t need or want structure so I’m happy as a clam out on my own… that is some people’s definition of hell.

      1. Lora*

        Yes. There are some jobs in my field where I sucked out loud, and they all involved rigidly following rules and ingratiating oneself into a little political clique. Some people are great at getting along with the Heathers/Regina George people, some are great at rigid structures, but I am not. I’m also horrible at keeping my mouth shut if I see something that needs improvement, even if it’s the CEO’s nephew’s pet project. Diplomacy is not my forte.

        If you want someone to make sense of what appears to be a Gordian knot of data, or figure out a solution from scratch, I’m your girl. You have a problem that needs solved? I will create the most elegant, efficient solution you ever saw. Regina George is going to have to deal with it, though.

  37. CA*

    OP, I was in this exact same situation a few years ago – it caused me to leave the field I loved because I had myself convinced I would never succeed. I added medications (I have depression and anxiety) and underwent the process to have a professional identify whether I had ADHD. When it turned out I didn’t, I was actually disappointed because I was at such a loss for why I seemingly couldn’t do anything right. I left that job, and I remember on my last day literally running out the door.

    In the years since, I’ve realized that, in addition to issues of fit with the organization/culture, there were a lot of things going on in my outside-of-work life that had me struggling, and I had been so focused on my performance at work that I hadn’t noticed how unhappy I was, and how exhausted I was, outside of work hours. I don’t really know what I’m trying to say because we obviously aren’t familiar with your life and circumstances but, please, please be kind to yourself. What you’re going through is hard, you’re taking steps to fix it (just getting in front of a psychiatrist is really hard!), and you will come out of this stronger.

    1. Observer*

      Well, I don’t know what you are trying to say either :) But, one thing comes out loud and clear – you were dealing with a lot of things that were inhibiting your ability to deal with work, and dealing with a poor fit in that particular job. And that once you started dealing with all of that your work performance improved.

      That’s a hopeful message. OP, take heart. “I’m bad at this job” doesn’t mean “I’m bad at existing in the modern world.”

  38. LSP*

    I’m at my 5th post-college job, and it’s the second one where I am *not* a rockstar. I’m okay generally, get pretty good reviews, and am quite good at a few things, but I know I am not seen the same way I was at some past jobs. At those past jobs, I had the kind of success that gave me a level of cache among my coworkers. I don’t necessarily have that now, and I’m learning to be okay with that.

    It may be easier for me, because at least I know that there are some jobs I am going to excel at, but I think if this had been my first job out of school, I’d have fallen down that same rabbit-hole of despair as you seem to. It’s okay to not be great at every job you have, but that doesn’t mean you are doomed to a life of mediocrity in everything you do.

    Your perspective is limited, and I suspect, skewed, from a life lived solely in academia. Also, if you do have something working against you (ADHD for example), and you’re not addressing that, your perspective is only going to be more skewed.

    Give yourself a break!

  39. Clever Name*

    Oh! And I also wanted to say that a lot of high-performers have ADHD. The biggest struggle for smart people with ADHD is finding work that you find interesting. If you don’t genuinely find it interesting, the mental energy of making yourself focus and do it is much harder than for neuro-typical people.

    If you were really doing as well as you said in your fellowships, I bet you are a very smart person who isn’t very interested in your current work. And that’s ok! But medication WILL help! And it’s also ok to look for something that interests you more.

    If you are into self-help books, Delivered from Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell will really help you understand what’s going on. It’s one of the few books that talks about adult ADHD, and I believe it has resources for help in it as well. He also wrote Driven to Distraction, but that one addresses childhood ADHD as well as adult, and Delivered is more focuses on adult ADHD.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Wow, this whole post has really got me thinking about my own situation, but particularly this comment has resonated with me.

      The biggest struggle for smart people with ADHD is finding work that you find interesting.

      I think this is something I need to do more reading about.

    2. Weyrwoman*

      Oooh yes to “finding work you find interesting”. As I mentioned upthread in the comments, I too have ADHD like many commenting here. If the work I’m doing isn’t interesting to me, I lose all motivation and desire to do it. And then I turn into a mediocre performer, who’s unhappy at work, and that corruption of unhappiness spreads into the rest of my life until nothing is worth doing anymore.

      BUT. Give me something I find interesting and I’ll run myself into exhaustion doing it. Part of how I cope with uninteresting work is by having interesting, interactive, and intense hobbies that require research and details. Because I’m interested, these are things I can do easily. And it helps me power through the workday, to think of the interesting things I’m going to do when I’m no longer at work.

  40. Caboodle*

    LW, I’m kind of in the same boat. About 6 months ago, I took a job that turned out to be much simpler than the high level work I had been doing prior. I thought I was taking a business operations manager job (as advertised), but it turns out it’s a secretarial job. I am not great at tracking minor details for other people, and my failure to do the simplest tasks has really taken a toll on my personal morale. I have also long suspected I have learning disabilities which makes this type of work even more difficult for me.

    The point I’m trying to make is that I know there are jobs out there where ADHD won’t be as much of a hindrance to you, but you’re currently in a situation where a perfect storm is happening. I like Alison’s advice, but since you’re already connected with counselors, it might be worth it to explore what kind of work you could excel at and work towards that.

  41. Librarian Ish*

    Just one anonymous person on the internet saying, my partner was recently diagnosed with ADHD and the medication has been life-changing. I wish you all the luck if that’s what’s going on, and if medication is the route you take.

    I also want to chime in to say, you are not defined by your work and your productivity. You are a worthy human regardless of your success at a job.

  42. I can relate*

    Ugh this was a punch in the gut because it’s so relateable. People don’t say these things out loud much but it is very much how I feel. I have a feeling i’ll be coming back to this a lot to just not feel so alone.

  43. Falling Diphthong*

    OP, the ADHD leapt out at me too. Two anecdata about that:
    • There’s a theory that it was selected for because humans benefited from having some restless people who always wanted to go see what was in the next valley.
    • I had a physical therapist who realized, after his youngest brother’s diagnosis for ADHD, that he and the second brother had milder versions. They had compensated by ending up in careers where they moved around and did a variety of different tasks (and ran triathlons on the side); the youngest needed more intervention than that. This tendency is something that absolutely fits well or poorly with different jobs, and can need different levels of intervention to be manageable.

  44. Amber Rose*

    It’s OK LW. There are jobs that don’t require the things you are struggling with. They don’t pay terribly well, but enough. You’re not doomed, even if you can’t get the ADHD thing addressed right now.

    There are things you can do to help yourself. I document everything. I spend every spare second I have taking notes, making detailed training manuals, creating checklists, etc. and I do it only for myself and it helps. My label maker has checklists saved in it that I can print and stick to files. My email Tasks are full of reminders and alarms, and my tracking spreadsheets are programmed to change colors when something needs my attention.

    Because honestly, I’m not good at my job either. But that can be fixed. We have the technology. ;)

    1. Ruth Hennell*

      Oh my what type of label maker do you have that can save reusable checklists? This would help me a lot, I need checklists for so many basic tasks.

  45. Also Have ADHD*

    A short story: I was GREAT at my last job. Like, the president told me he saw me as future senior leadership and started mentoring me when I wasn’t even junior leadership.

    Then a big process-heavy corporation bought us and suddenly I was so, so, so bad at my job. I was constantly making stupid mistakes, couldn’t focus, was a ball of anxiety, crying at home at least once a week, etc.

    So I got a new job, that’s not process heavy but relies on my real skills (great with people, big picture projects, etc.) and guess what? I’m great at my job again.

    OP this is one job and you gave it a good shot, but it sounds like it’s a bad fit. Go get a new job, so you can be where you can thrive. And trust me, you will thrive.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Another book that may help the OP reframe her struggles is _Mindset_ by Carol Dweck. The whole concept of “bad at the world of work” is hardcore Fixed Mindset, lying to the OP that her abilities are inborn and permanent instead of skills she can improve (Growth Mindset).

        1. fposte*

          Yes, a strong second for a read of this book. I think a lot of discourse about identity is very fixed-mindset focused right now, and it’s very useful to consider a different approach.

  46. Corgi Lady*

    Hey OP, just wanted to let you know that I get where you are coming from. My first job was an absolute nightmare, and it totally destroyed my confidence in the workplace. My old boss would scream at me for the smallest things (like forgetting to include an attachment on an email to him) and say how terrible of an employee I was. Now I have a small anxiety attack anytime someone points out an error my work, and my anxiety causes me to make even more errors.

    Years of therapy have helped a lot, but work still stresses me out. As a result I have grown to hate working. I would not work another day in my life if I didn’t need the money. But knowing that about myself really helps! I know not to apply for positions that wouldn’t allow me to have a work-life balance. I don’t love my current job, but the pay and hours are good, which keeps me sane and motivates me to do my job well.

    Outside of work, I have a well-rounded life that is incredibly fulfilling. I have a lot of hobbies, ones that I could easily turn into a career, but I would start to detest those activities if I did them for a living. Part of the joy in my hobbies is that they take me away from the stress of working. Some people live for work, I simply work to live.

  47. Wakeen Teaptots, LTD*

    FWIW, at Wakeen’s we move people around departments and jobs in an attempt to find the best job match for them. One guy who is doing very well right now in a highly detailed made us crazy in his two previous jobs with us (one as my direct report) because he was so. turtle. slow. He treated everything like a federal case and could not be coached in how to judge how much time to put into something, when good enough was good enough, no matter how hard we tried.

    SO, we gave him a job of Federal Cases! And an unending flow of time sensitive work. Coulda gone either way but that snapped something into place in him and we ended up with a win/win.

    We talk about mid to lower performing employees like this ALL the time, trying to find the best match. What that means to the OP is that just within one given company, forgetting the whole “modern work world”, there are succeed/fail jobs for individuals. It’s really really that way and we have jobs I would suck at. Job/skill match is a huge factor.

  48. Lord Gouldian Finch*

    It’s worth considering where your strengths are. Sometimes a completely different career can really change your attitude. I started off for law, because I thought that was the “better” job, but I really had a lot of basic problems from how much pressure I felt all the time.

    Then I gave up, went back, and got a library science degree. It turned out I excelled at that.

    So DO work on any health issues – those are really the first priority – but also stop and decide if you’re in the right career. This isn’t a “do what you love!” thing, this is simply determining if you’re in the right place. To continue the law analogy, some people excel in high-pressure high-pay jobs, some people prefer to work in civil-service positions with less pay but more stability.

  49. Oxford Coma*

    In addition to the job-centric suggestions regarding handling your (probably) ADHD, don’t forget to also consider the supporting structures around your work life.

    For example, many people with severe ADHD struggle with insomnia. Is your job taking place during hours that are directly contradictory to your biorhythms, so that you’re always struggling to drag yourself out of bed?

    Do you have a long, complicated commute that uses up all the active attention you have available, so you arrive on-site to work already drained and mentally foggy?

    If you do find treatment success, will your work environment allow you to adjust your medication schedule according to your needs? Extended release medication doesn’t work well for everyone.


  50. Boredatwork*

    OP – don’t beat yourself up! I got fired from my first internship, which was fair because I was awful at that job. I suffer from mild dyslexia, and transpose numbers like it’s my job. Over the years I’ve developed better than industry standard excel skills, I’m actually able to command a higher salary because of a skill I picked up because I got fired from a job for sucking at number typing.

  51. I've Been There*

    Just want to add to the other responses that I’ve been here OP. In my previous jobs I was a rock star. I did great work. Employers wanted to keep me and I felt confident about my work. Then I started working a job that I thought was a reasonable escalation of responsibilities and skill from where I was at previously, and I went through all the things you described. I constantly made small and dumb mistakes, I started to gain a reputation for being unreliable, and I lost a lot of self confidence. It turns out that maybe the type of work I had taken on just wasn’t right for me, and paired with an incredibly toxic work environment where we had a high strung boss/ceo/owner who micromanaged everything and had angry outbursts on a regular occasion, it was just clear that I wasn’t going to succeed in this job. I went on a job hunt and found a much better fit and I’m back in rock star mode. I routinely get rated very high on my performance reviews and I’m known as someone people can go to with questions when they need help.

    Bottom line is: I’ve been there, and it’s most likely not YOU. It’s that you are in the absolute wrong job for yourself. In my experience, I stayed in the same career field, but just took a step in a different set of responsibilities. Try a new environment before you write yourself off.

  52. Paul*

    I recognize myself in you so I’m going to share what I know about myself.

    No-one is inherently good or mediocre. These are labels and people are not labels. People are just the sum of their actions. There are people who tend to perform tasks well, and who tend to perform them poorly, and who sometimes do some of each. The only thing that separates you from the people around you is that you are paralyzed by fear and self-doubt and are sabotaging yourself by obsessing over your failures, whereas they have built systems internally for coping with the world and their workloads and are constantly adapting and adjusting.

    This: “this just isn’t a good fit, you can learn some things and move on!”
    Should be this: “My approach clearly isn’t working, I can learn from the people around me and improve here”

    What I strongly suspect from your question, and forgive me if I’m wrong, is that you are something like me, and probably an abuse survivor of some kind, and maybe with a variant or narcissistic and/or borderline personality disorder. People like me and maybe you have not built the proper skills to tolerate failure or criticism and when we should be learning how to fail and find inner reserves and grow from failure, maybe we were viciously punished when we failed, and so we instead remain in environments that are “safe” as long as possible and then get chewed up by the real world. The fact that you are hitting this now is probably reflective of privilege that others lacked. Everyone eventually has to learn how to swim. If you are privileged you might be insulated for a very long time and then get thrown into the deep water with a shock. Textbook for my pathology is an obsession with labels and trying to be “good” and being terrified of being “bad”, and thinking like “shoulds” and “always”. Notice your question, it’s not “how do I fix this”, but “am I bad and what does that mean”?

    What I think is going on at a deeper level is you inherently believe you are worthless and you are terrified of what that would mean (probably you would have to kill yourself or wind up alone on the streets, at least that’s how my diseased mind tends to work) and you cannot live with that fear so you are trying to resolve it by making it real and bringing it into the world to see what happens. Another way to look at it is that you are afraid of failure because it would mean you are bad… and if you really try and really give it your all and fail that would be intolerable… but if you can sabotage yourself sufficiently so that mediocrity is not something you *did* but something you *are*, then it means you are in a sense off the hook, because success was never really an option for you. This is complicated I know. Is it ringing true?

    There is no shame in being this way. None whatsoever. You have my complete sympathies. Whatever was done to you to screw you up this much it was a great crime. It is a rough road ahead and I feel for you. You are (probably) years or maybe decades behind your peers in terms of life skills and there is I repeat NO SHAME in this because you weren’t set up properly to grow and adapt to failure. In contrast to the others I don’t recommend medicating yourself. You need to build up self-worth and self-acceptance, not obliterate yourself with meds. First accept that you are lost and floundering, second take responsibility for improving, third take steps to do so and ask for help. Find a mentor. Talk to your peers and ask them how the handle their workloads and take on the systems they use. You will have to admit you are lost here, your ego will take some hits, but it has to, this is the only way. Most importantly, go deeper in your mental health work — much much much deeper. Try Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Best wishes.

    1. Mary*

      This is one reading, but I have no significant traumas or mental health problems and I could have written almost exactly the same letter in my first job straight out of university. It wasn’t indicative of anything more serious than that I was in the wrong job, with a superficially supportive but fundamentally dysfunctional boss and colleagues (but without the experience or skills to recognise that), and in a city which is just moved to and where I had no social circle it support network. So it *might* be indicative of significant past trauma or a personality disorder, but it very equally might not!

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      Can we not say that meds are “obliterating yourself”? It’s incredibly damaging to people like me who need medication to function. (Yes, there are medications that have horrible side effects; I’ve taken those. But many DON’T.) Stop equating medication with moral failing. My antidepressants may well have saved my life.

  53. Same*

    This was me 5 years ago. Impostor syndrome plus high anxiety is not a fun mix. Hopefully the meds help some, but also realize that you’re probably way harder on yourself than your colleagues are. Realize that many people feel like they aren’t qualified for the job they’re doing at some point.

    Basically, fake it till you make it. Or, if you don’t make it, just use this as a learning experience as to what you don’t want or shouldn’t do.
    Good luck!

  54. That Spirited Kid*

    My heart SO goes out to you, both as someone who has BEEN the person you are describing, and who has been the manager of the person you’re describing. I have a couple of thoughts:
    1.There has been a lot of focus in Alison’s answer and the comments so far on an ADHD diagnosis, but I want to urge you to return to your psychiatrist for further evaluation to explore all of the possibilities. If you don’t like that psychiatrist, find another who’s better, and, yes, that is easier said than done! The symptoms you describe could be ADHD, or depression, or trauma or various other kinds of psychiatric disorders, OR they could be related to the other health conditions you mention (you didn’t specify, so am unsure of how to direct your inquiries about these.) Treatment can include medication, but can also include specific therapeutic modalities like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or other sorts of skill-building, very focused and brief interventions to address anxiety symptoms or executive functioning deficits, as well as traditional talk therapy to address the things you describe.

    2. As Alison and others have mentioned, you are jumping the gun to assume that you are just a terrible worker. Anyone who has lived for long enough has had these experiences. One point in your favor to disprove your assumption that this is a matter of your intrinsic character and value, is that you HAVE been successful at other points in your life. I urge you to step back from this issue and consider this issue of “fit” in your work. This is clearly the wrong environment, or employer, or team, or area of work, etc. You know that because you aren’t succeeding and it makes you feel crappy. A person can fail utterly in one environment and then kick all kinds of ass in another! Maybe the problem is you, or maybe it isn’t! In a shame spiral, it’s very difficult to consider other possibilities for work, so it’s important to take a birds-eye view and do some discerning about whether this is the right career path for you. Ideally, you should do something you’re good at, something that can support you, and something you enjoy/find interesting. Does this career hit those marks? Then brainstorm other options, preferably with someone who knows/cares about you and your well being.

    You are not alone. You are not a failure. You can do this!

  55. MM*

    OP, I’ve spent most of my twenties worrying about most of the same things. I can’t tell you how many times I contemplated moving to a horse farm in the middle of nowhere and just blogging a lot to occupy my mind, or joining a convent where I might have some hope of being left alone to read and think. (Obviously I was never really serious about these options, but they felt like the only kinds of things that really made sense given the problems I had with office jobs.)

    I concluded by about 26 that I just hate office environments and the 9-5 schedule. I Am Not Built For It. My current job allows me to work remotely basically at all times, meaning I can set my own hours and be wherever I want physically, and I’ve been doing really well for over a year (whereas I was seriously convinced at one point that I was incapable of sticking anything out for longer than a three-month internship, because I’d lose interest and then start self-sabotaging). I’m going back to grad school soon, which has similar benefits in the day-to-day and offers a non-zero chance of future employment that is similarly not so office-oriented.

    What I’ve discovered is that I can do really great work, even on things that I don’t think are interesting, and keep it up for longer than three months; I just need to be able to go about it my way. I feel really lucky to have found my current job, which has given me so much more confidence by demonstrating that the problem isn’t some inherent laziness or selfishness on my part.

    1. bicco*

      Can I ask you what you do for a living? Your comment resonated so much with what I have been having issues with.

  56. TheAssistant*

    One of the best things I did for myself at my first post-education, post-internship job was assess each task/skill I had done, or developed, in terms about how I felt at them. For instance, part of my job was event planning, which I hated. But I realized that the organizational part of events was coming naturally to me, and I was using it in other areas where I thrived and loved the work. So I knew I could find a job where event planning wasn’t a major focus, but being generally super-organized was. I used that to look at not only job functions, but careers overall. It took me about 7 years, but I finally landed in a place where I’m both very comfortable and challenged.

    I think fit is probably pretty important in your current frustrations, and you’ve already started to identify the ways in which this job is not a great fit. So take the time to do the inventory of skills and tasks and learn more about careers that complement your field(s) of study, previous work experience, and your current level of comfort in what you do. It will make you feel so much more confident when applying to new roles.

    1. Mary*

      Event planning is the part of my job that I just can’t bear. It stresses me out so much. Ive now teaches the stage where I am just straight up honest with managers that I *can* donit, but it stresses me out and wrecks my head so much that it’s better to get anyone except me to do it. I am in such awe of people who do it well!

  57. Gem*

    Oh, LW! One thing that stood out:

    Coming in, I knew it would be a bit of a struggle, with a steep learning curve and a not-super-supportive environment, but I was confident I could learn and succeed. But it has been BAD.

    My current job was a steep learning curve in a super supportive, friendly, cohesive environment and 6 months later, my anxiety is just settling down and I don’t feel totally out of my depth. Please don’t be so hard on yourself! Keep your head above water, get your ADHD/health issues under control as much as you can, and think about the bits of the job you like/don’t like, and go from there. The fact that you’re worried about this shows you’re not a mediocre employee, because mediocre employees don’t even consider putting in the effort to be better <3

  58. Mary*

    My brother is very dyslexic. At the age of 22, he was asking my help for spelling “abuse” when he was emailing some people in an online game he played (he thought it had two Bs.) He got his degree massively self-medicating with marijuana (which helped him concentrate) and by being charming enough that one of his friend organised all his notes for him and taught him how to file and colour code. He’s now in his thirties and still REALLY REALLY struggles with anything written, organising paperwork, invoicing, email – all that kind of day-to-day detail-oriented office work.

    However! He earns a very high salary as an asbestos-removal consultant. He’s mostly onsite, in a hard hat. He’s worked on sensitive sites where he’s had to have high-level security clearance. When he went freelance, his former company’s main client demanded they hire him back at whatever rate he asked for or they’d employ him directly. He’s incredibly good at managing people, and he’s incredibly good at persuading people they have to comply with Health and Safety legislation even if it’s a pain without making them all hate him. He also doesn’t mind driving hundreds of miles a week to diffferent sites. Despite being crap at all the compulsory modern office stuff, he’s very good at what he does and it’s easy to pay someone else to do the office work around him.

    (He also thinks that the office stuff is *important*, even if he can’t do it, and genuinely appreciates the people who can do it well! This unfortunately isn’t ~necessary~ to succeed in work, but it does make you a much nicer and more collegiate colleague!)

    Anyway, OP, the point is that much as it feels like it, there isn’t one core set of skills that everyone in the workplace needs and which you don’t have. There are tons of different ways to excel at work, and frankly you don’t have a bigger enough dataset yet to conclude that you’re just ~not very good~.

    But even if you don’t find a job you excel at, that doesn’t mean the best you can hope for us a job that makes you feel rubbish about yourself. You may or may not find a job you *excel* at: some of us do, some of us don’t. You may or may not find a job you are *passionate* about: again, some do, some don’t. But I bet you anything you can find a job that doesn’t actively make you feel like you’re just “no good” at work. There will almost certainly be a niche for you where the work is interesting enough and challenging enough, and where you feel good enough. Jobs should be like relationships: if you’re filled with self-doubt, you’re in the wrong place.

    1. Mary*

      Quick thing I haven’t seen anyone else mention (though I may have missed it!): if you don’t have ADHD, you might have similar symptoms because of the other “health problems” you mention. If you’ve got any physical chronic or acute health problems which cause fatigue, pain or discomfort, that’s cognitive load, and it’s going to affect your concentration, ability to handle details, executive function and so on. You say that you’re getting done other health problems sorted, and it’s not impossible that some of the stuff which is making you think ADHD will get easier when those health problems are better-managed.

      Good luck!

      1. teclatrans*

        Yes. We are responding to ADHD because it was shared as a possibility, and because this scenario is how so many adults finally get diagnosed (running into a new life situation that exceess all support structures and coping skills), but the main takeaway is “consider that your anxiety/ADHD/health issues are underlying many of your errors and your catastrophizing of this sitiation.” (But also consider the other strand of responses, regarding poor fit, because that is really important.)

  59. beanie beans*

    It’s taken me years to figure out what I’m really good at and enjoy, and still sorting out what jobs would be the best fit for me (in my late 30s). I think a lot of us go through this in our career – trying to match our skills and interests and strengths with the right job, work environment, and culture. It’s tough and sometimes takes a lot of tries at different things before it starts to come together!

    I do think there are probably other jobs or companies out there where’d you’d either be a better performer or it would be totally acceptable to be an average performer. Stay hopeful!

  60. Competent Commenter*

    Another thing for the OP to consider is whether she might have seasonal affective disorder, which has a higher incidence in people with ADHD. Just noting that you seem to be in a lot of emotional distress and doing a lot of possibly circular thinking about this problem and we’re just getting through January which is the worst month for most people with seasonal affective disorder. As someone who has both conditions, your despair about your performance and abilities sounds very familiar at this time of year. Just something to think about. It doesn’t mean that you’re not truly struggling at work, but it does mean that the same struggles may not seem quite as dire when we get out of winter. I am so much better now that I’m on medication for both. I have some very, very bad times before hand. January was the month that I would perseverate on my perceived weaknesses and faults in a terrible and persistent way.

    1. Kathlynn*

      Anxiety in general loves circular thinking, especially combined with depression or ADHD. I do not miss the levels I was functioning through before I started meds for it.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah I’m not one to diagnose anything but some SYMPTOMS that OP might look into are “black and white thinking,” (‘I am just bad at work and that’s what I am’) and catastrophic thinking (goes from ‘i messed up at work’ to ‘I will probably never be good at any job ever’). These may be part of ADHD or anxiety or depression or who knows what – I’m not a psychologist – but I definitely noticed them in this letter.

        1. Competent Commenter*

          Yes. I probably should have started with the “not trying to diagnose you” disclaimer. But like you say, the symptoms of black and white thinking and catastrophizing really stood out. I had some breakthrough SAD symptoms last month (very disappointing) so it was fresh in my mind.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            I think there’s a universal agreement to leaving off the disclaimer this time, throughout the comments section :)

  61. Mazzy*

    Someone admitting their shortcomings is a huge relief to me, as is someone admitting they don’t think they are perfect. That means I can manage them and critique their work without the elephant in the room of having to pretend the work is so great but for that one thing, or that the person is fabulous, except that they do everything wrong!

    You’re making yourself malleable to grow in the future. I also agree that not everyone is meant to work in the current work world, but I also think it might be premature to put yourself in that category at this point.

    I would recommend two things:

    1) Pick a popular computer program such as Tableau or SQL or Excel and teach yourself it on your own time. That will boost your confidence, and give you something to fall back on when your soft skills fail you
    2) Create SOPs for everything you can and make a schedule for when you do each SOP. I took a job that was all Ad Hoc and made it into one where the person could follow at least a rough schedule and series of SOPs. We work in an area where it’s more looking for a myriad of things that could go wrong, as well as opportunities. It’s hard to teach. So I wrote SOPs for “how to identify an opportunity.” Yeah, it doesn’t cover even half of the cases we need to look for, but it gave new employees a strong starting point.

  62. ABK*

    There are infinite types of work, each for a unique personality: Massage therapy/other types of therapies, outdoor/physical education, any type of teaching, trades, small business owner, farming, etc etc etc. If an office life isn’t working for you, try something on your feet or outdoors.

  63. Anonymous Educator*

    All I’ll say is that one of my best former bosses (in an office environment) has ADHD, and she was a high performer. What made her great was she knew what her strengths and weaknesses were and was able to hire direct reports who could make up for her weaknesses. Now, you may not be in the position yet to hire other people, but ADHD (if that’s what it is) should absolutely not prevent you from being competent and/or excelling in an office environment.

    That said, there are careers you can do that are not in an office environment. Many celebrities (stand-up comics, CEOs, actors, musicians, etc.) have ADHD diagnoses. Now you may not want that kind of risky career… you may want to have something a bit more 9-5, but really think about what parts of your job you do feel good about and what others you don’t. Not every “regular” office job is the same kind of work, and not every office environment is the same environment. There will definitely be others that play more to your strengths.

  64. MsMaryMary*

    OP, I’d suggest discussing your career options with a professional. Maybe a therapist is a good start, or you could go to a career counselor. Your college likely has someone who works with recent grads. You sound really overwhelmed, so maybe an outside perspective could help you identify where you can thrive and what environments and tasks are a better fit for you.

    I have a friend who is very intelligent but struggles with anxiety and AD&D. About 10 years ago she got laid off, and then landed in a completely dysfunctional work environment in her next job. That shattered her confidence, and she pigeonholed herself into jobs that are a terrible fit for her (she hates talking to people on the phone, and she reacts poorly to jobs with very specific metrics, like X cases resolved per day with (X times 5) + 2 resolved per week) but that she is now experienced in. She hates these jobs and they exacerbate her anxiety, so she’ll stay at a job for 6 months to a year before she physically and mentally can’t take it anymore and quits. Then, in another couple of months she’s in desperate financial need and she jumps at the first position she’s offered, which is a job very similar to the one she just left. She never stays anywhere long enough to get promoted, and at this point I’m sure her work history raises some eyebrows.

    It can be hard to identify our own strengths and weakness, or to see the patterns we fall into. Friends and family can help, but a professional might be best. Good luck!

  65. Stacey*

    Also look into the possibility of anxiety disorder! I was diagnosed with ADHD at university, but it turns out it was anxiety, which can manifest in a lot of the same ways, especially in feeling that you’re horrible at your job. I’ve struggled with work, especially at my first job after graduation.
    Eve now I have a great job that I love, the dream job I didn’t know existed, but my anxiety (and depression) cause me to struggle at it in many of the ways you describe! Just remember that any treatment won’t be an instant fix, but keep it up! It will get better! Maybe this job isn’t a good fit, but you will find one that is!

  66. Anon Anon*

    I’d ask the OP, do you like the job you are doing now?

    Putting aside the tension and anxiety that you may feel because of what you feel your performance is like, do you actually like what you are doing on a day-to-day basis? Do you care about what you doing?

    Putting aside an ADHD diagnosis, etc., I would really examine if you like and care about the job you have. I’m not saying you have to like and care about every detail. But, I have found that when I don’t care about the outcome, then my attention to detail is pretty lousy. That I’m trying to get through things as quickly as possible, and I make mistakes. Sometimes jobs seem like they are great on paper, but when you get into them they simply aren’t.

    And I bet every single poster here has had a least one job where they didn’t really succeed, at least not in the way that they wanted to. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, but caring and even liking the work can help compensate for some weaknesses (although not all).

  67. Technical_Kitty*

    If you are sticking with it, there’s some things I use maybe you could try in the mean time.
    1. Note pad everything. Write all bits and pieces down that are/may be important and review it daily. Check off things that you personally need to address and track timelines. One of the most frighteningly competent people I know does this, it works if you can keep up with it.
    2. Break up your time – sounds like you have trouble focusing, so you can try to assign yourself one thing to focus on for 30, 60 or 90 min intervals. I do this for projects when I’m bouncing around, helps immensely.
    3. Figure out your own tracking system for what needs to be done and when – and review status of your projects/work items daily. This is about understanding what you are doing and if you need to adjust.

  68. MindoverMoneyChick*

    Mild ADHD here. Bad with details, definitely not a strong performer at my first job out of college. It was an easy, low stress job, but details were important. They were about all that was important and I just wasn’t that great. I know my boss was kind of waiting for me to quit, I never felt good about myself there and I too felt I would fail at work. Eventually I left to to go to grad school. Due to ADHD focus issue (still years from being diagnosed) it took me an extra year to get out of grad school. But due to a good economy and luck I landed a job that played very well to my strengths. I was a rock star there. It was a very high pressure job; turns out that actually helped me focus. My details still weren’t great, but that was only on smallish part of what mattered in that role. In other jobs I have been somewhere between a quite solid employee and rock star depending on how well they played to my strengths. Oh and getting treated for ADHD helped. Although for me no treatment works perfectly or long term. It’s something that’s managed, not cured. But it is manageable. So if it gives you hope my 23 year old self would never have predicted my level of success and competence. For me it really was a matter of finding a good fit.

  69. Namast'ay in Bed*

    Oh my god I could have written 95% of this letter last year. I thought I was the worst employee in the world, that everyone hated me, that everyone was doing great and I was the only one struggling, and that if only I could work harder/better/SOMETHING everything could be fine and wonderful and there was no way that the job/environment wasn’t a good fit, that’s an excuse losers and quitters make. I had a lot of lovely people (outside of work) telling me that a bad fit didn’t make me a bad employee/person, it was just that – a bad fit. And I didn’t believe them one bit. I may have thought “yea that’s fine for other people, I personally would say and believe that when it comes to someone else, but me? Nope, I just suck.” It took moving to another company to realize that a bad fit is 100% a real thing, and a MAJOR effect on your ability to function as an employee. I can’t imagine how much worse it would feel having a diagnosed issue on top of all this.

    As for the guilt/shame/feelings about your past successes “only” being at lower pressure/responsibility jobs – there is nothing “only” about it. That was success! And a clear indicator of environments you excel at, one that your current job does not have. And that’s ok! I struggled with moving to a less pressure job, feeling some shame about it being “just” a job and not a place that inspires envy when you share where you work. But want to know what is not shameful? Not feeling like a failure of an adult every day, not wondering if something is wrong with you because everyone else is fine, not vomiting every day because the thought of what fresh hell awaits you is literally making you sick.

    The job is a bad fit and you will excel somewhere else. I urge you to find that place soon and send you all the internet hugs – you deserve to be happy and successful.

    1. Rincat*

      I was feeling that way too with my previous job, about a a year or two before I quit. The environment had gotten really crazy, I was desperately trying to learn new things and keep up, but we absorbed another department with a lot of toxic employees, and the weak management we had just got worse. Top it off, I was burned out and sleep deprived from a new baby, and I floundered. My productivity really took a nose-dive. I also seriously doubted myself – because my manager was the type who was terrible with critical, actionable feedback, and always just gave me generic praise and didn’t really understand my job, so I had no idea if I was actually doing well or not.

      I got another job starting in 2017 and it’s been great. The fit is just better. It’s more of what I want to do, my manager and I fit together much better, and the environment is slower paced – not because it’s “easier,” but because my manager sets appropriate boundaries with upper management and our clients so that we actually get work done, and don’t just put out fires all day. I’ve really regained my confidence. Getting more sleep helped too!

      1. Namast'ay in Bed*

        Congrats on finding a better-fitting job and your new baby(/now toddler)!

        Reading through all these comments almost makes me want to cry with joy. One of the hardest parts of this (for me) was the crushing loneliness of it all, that on top of the problem itself, I alone sucked and was the only one with it. Now I can see that just isn’t the case.

  70. Lumen*

    Hi OP!

    Much sympathy. Please do not take ‘low performer’ on as a badge or an identity. You did great at your fellowships. Presumably you got this job because you had something to show for it. You know your limits and want to learn. All of these things are more important, long term, than your review.

    But I second what Alison is saying about focusing first on the ADHD. When I was teaching, I met so many parents who were reluctant to ‘get their kid tested’. There were as many reasons as there were parents, and they ran the gamut from perfectly reasonable (‘I want to wait until they’re a bit older’) to complicated and emotional (‘what if they get a diagnosis and this changes our lives in a way I wasn’t expecting and what if people think I’m a bad parent and what if they always struggle and I’d rather just keep suffering in the dark than face all that’).

    So: you are not the only person who is hesitant about seeking help, asking for a diagnosis, and treating whatever is going on. There’s a lot of personal and cultural baggage around this stuff, and then there’s the fact that it takes time and money and energy and support and not everyone has access to those resources.

    But if you can, please stop suffering in darkness. “But what if, even with treatment, I am simply a mediocre employee?” – you will literally never know the answer until you get treatment, and torture yourself needlessly until then.

    As for whether or not there is room for mediocre employees to succeed: um, look around. I know if you’re surrounded by high performers it seems like you will be an abject failure forever, but in every work place I’ve been in, there’s definitely a mix. And it’s not just the people, it’s the day. Some days people do great, other days not so great. Some people have not-so-great days more than they have great days. Some people have more out-and-out BAD days than their not-so-great and great days combined. And plenty of people who consistently don’t quite meet the bar but show their bosses that they are doing everything they can continue to do just fine at work. Sometimes they find a job that’s a better fit and excel. Sometimes they get a new manager who clicks with them and they do a lot better.

    Don’t give up hope. The culture of work HAS changed and a lot of people are feeling the ‘excel above all others or be left in the dust’ pressure. But don’t let that fear run your show. Go get what you need to do better at work and life.

    In AaM parlance: Go get your dog.

  71. Eye of Sauron*

    I’m going to add that ADD or any other diagnosis or lack thereof doesn’t doom you to be a failure. If for some reason you can’t or won’t go down the path of working with doctors (No judgement here), you still have options. The biggest thing you need to do is to find ways to mitigate the impact of your weaknesses.

    Suck at details; find a method to track those details so you aren’t relying on memory. Things like detailed (sorry) project/task notes. Look for tools to help you to do this. It may be a white board for quick but important notes until you can get them into a more structured tool. – I have two 8×12 whiteboards that live on my desk. I use them to jot down things that I need to retain until I get them in a more organized note. I use these typically when all my other organization methods fail (which they do from time to time based on what’s going on in my job)

    Can’t remember various work processes; map them out for reference. Then refer to them. The good news about doing this is you can add value to the rest of the team by doing this. Go ahead and document them then you can share them with the team and look like a hero, because nobody (generally speaking… I know there are some out there who likes doing documentation) likes to document.

    Complex multi-step process; before starting map yourself a path to success… keep notes as to where you are and what steps are next. Example, your boss gives you a task to create and get approvals for the new consolidated teapot manuals. Before doing anything sit down for 5 min and map it out.
    1. email fergus, Jane, Wakeen for current versions
    2. email compliance for updated teapot reglulations
    3. Draft consolidation
    4. Send draft to those in 1 and 2 for comment
    5. Revise based on comments
    6. Repeat 4 until all sign off
    7. Send final draft to teapot technical team for final approval
    8. revise if necessary
    9. Send to publishing

    If you keep adding your notes to this you can use it as a tickler so that you don’t lose sight of it and you can use it as a means of providing status updates.

    There are many many more tips like this that you can start to employ regardless of anything else. It sometimes takes some time to key in on the right level and type of aids that are most effective for you, but experimenting can help you to mitigate some of your struggles in the short term (or even long term).

    1. Weyrwoman*

      You mention that you have whiteboards on your desk…it reminded me that whiteboard notebooks are a thing! I don’t have one yet, but I am reasonably certain that once I do it’ll make keeping track of things super easy.

  72. JustMe*

    Oh my goodness. I have been in my current job for a year in a half out of grad school and I can’t say how many times I’ve almost written this EXACT letter.

    I haven’t yet had a “bad” performance review but sometimes I suspect my manager is just being overly nice and I almost daily feel like I could be fired within the month. I also experience the same symptoms. Primarily I miss important details all the time and I have so much trouble not procrastinating that I often end up pulling all-nights. Reading this letter made me want to cry for finding someone who has had some of the same thoughts as me. Luckily, I have had enough experience in my life and performed well enough on tests to know with a certainty that I CAN perform at a high-level. I know it’s a combination of the job being a really bad fit and most likely ADHD. Unfortunately for a variety of reasons I’m stuck in my job for the near future.

    I have tried to talk to doctors about it potentially being ADHD (a psychiatrist once diagnosed me for it about 8 years back but I was still living with parents then and have no clue what happened to that diagnoses). However, everyone brushes off my concerns. This last round I was given depression/anxiety meds that pretty much did nothing for me (except for maybe make me depressed….which is why I stopped taking similar meds the last go around). Doctors are so hesitant to diagnose an adult and I feel like I’m always working so hard to stay above water at work, that I just don’t have the time to seek the medical help I need. So yea I totally feel like I’m in the same boat.

    Going to read through all these comments and see if anything here helps!

    1. Lil Fidget*

      “I haven’t yet had a “bad” performance review but sometimes I suspect my manager is just being overly nice and I almost daily feel like I could be fired within the month.” – We can’t know externally if this is legitimate or not, but I hear it from young people who have terrible impostor syndrome and who are actually fine at their jobs. In case that’s helpful.

  73. Kat*

    Hang in there! I feel like this too, but I’ve found a way to get by in the work world. I don’t make a ton of money or have a job that is considered prestigious, but I’ve never been fired and consistently get above-average performance reviews. Honestly the only thing I’ve ever been really good at is going to school. (I had to restrain myself from apply to grad school or law school because I knew I’d graduate with high honors, crushing debt and no useful skills!) I learn new things very quickly, but have a pretty low limit for amount and difficulty of work. The key for me is seeking jobs that I appear slightly overqualified for on paper and switching jobs every 2-3 years – right before I am expected to start seeking promotions or more responsibility. That way no on ever finds out that I am completely incapable of anything but basic work and I get great references! (I made the mistake ONE TIME of thinking I could do more and accepting a promotion with supervisory duties. It was such an embarrassing disaster that I don’t even include it on my resume!) If my “career” has progressed at all it is because I’ve been able to get jobs with increasingly prestigious organizations. I just started another entry-level with a very good company that pays well and has excellent benefits and best of all no clear path for advancement from my position! The last person was in the job for 14 years before transferring to another department!

    1. J.E.*

      Are you me? Seriously, I could have written this comment word for word. I too like having a lower level job, but where I run into issues is salary. Those low level jobs usually come with a low salary and I’m just “lucky” in that I have a spouse who makes good money. I’d have a hard time on my salary if I were on my own. It’s awesome to see someone else who feels the same way I do!

  74. Starzanne Stripes*

    I’ve had many different jobs over the last 20 years – some I have been good at and some I have been terrible at. The most disheartening thing I’ve learned is that I’m best at things I hate. I absolutely excel in customer service but I hate it so very much. I’ve managed to find a position that is about 50% customer service and 50% other tasks that I like better but maybe am not a rock star in. Being a rock star in half the job helps take some of the pressure of NOT being a rock star in the other half.

  75. hbc*

    “What if some people simply cannot excel in the modern work world?” Define excel, and define modern work world.

    Okay, that’s glib, but I think you’ve got some vision of a movie-style buzzing news room, or NYSE floor, or juggling emails between chat messages and shuffling priorities on the fly, and that’s not how The Modern World is everywhere. People still run the machine press and send out the invoices in Mom and Pop metal shops, they still write manuals for companies where it doesn’t matter if it’s late by a week or so, they’re paid coaches for travel soccer, they answer phones where there’s only 1 hour of heavy call volume, they give massages, they come fix your hot water heater sometime during a 6 hour window, etc etc. Most of these jobs will not impress people or pay the same amount as the High Pressure places where it’s High Performance or Bust, but a lot of people are happier in them than if they forced themselves on that one narrow path to success.

    I’m not saying that’s a foregone conclusion for you yet. Just, know that that you can choose another path (including the places where you thrived as an intern) without having to put every last ounce of effort into making the current one work.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I think OP is doing something I often do, which is make an issue cerebral and theoretical because that’s much more fun and interesting than confronting the very immediate problem I’m actually having in the moment. I wouldn’t know if there’s a word for it in psychology but it’s a coping method for some of us when we’re stressed out or unhappy.

  76. RVA Cat*

    Can we all agree that You Won’t Do As Well As Your Parents, But That’s Okay and Not Your Fault? I wonder how much of the OP’s inner voice comes from family members who expect too much given the structural changes in the 21st century economy.

  77. Bazinga*

    Don’t beat yourself up about this. You’ve gotten lots of good advice here already, so please read.
    Not everyone is a star at everything. If you’re a hard worker, and you’re conscientious and you try, it goes a long way. I have some staff members that really go above and beyond, and others who aren’t as good, but try hard and really care about doing a good job. The ones that I am frustrated with are the ones that don’t do a good job, and don’t care that they aren’t. They’re the ones to unload.
    I had a horrible job after being out of college over 15 years. Lots of experience, masters degree, and I took a job related to my field but doing something different. Hated it. Every second. I know I wasn’t doing a good job. Toxic coworkers, really awful boss (she would talk about my coworkers and their bad performance evaluations to me, so I’m sure she talked about me to them-just bad, the list could go on and on).
    I didn’t get a lot of training. Toxic coworkers were just happy to dump the stuff they didn’t like on me. They pretty much made fun of everyone (think high school-texting each other, passing notes, taking pictures of people).
    I was miserable. If that were my first job I would have probably considered myself useless and gone back to being a cashier at the mall.
    Then I got the job I’m in now. Love it. Great colleagues, the people I manage are terrific. My boss is talking about retiring in a few years and wants me to replace her.
    It does get better. I know how awful it is for you now, but hang in there. You’ll find your niche.

  78. user4233*

    I have a similar background to yours. I have several degrees, got plenty of scholarships/ fellowships.

    Then I encountered some problems in my first positions and was diagnosed with ADHD.

    I think you throw in the towel too early. Take this in an analytical manner. Analyse what your problems are about precisely and search for solutions to deal with them.

    Also check whether your problems are not because you’re simply not a person to deal with a lot of small details on a daily basis. I’m like that. I can deal with details if I need to but my strengths are definitely in the data analysis and strategy development. I always have the big picture, most people I work with lack. Focusing too much on nitty-gritty details bores me awfully and I’m not the best person to deal with such tasks anyways – I will never be as accurate as some people I’ve worked with.

    On the other hand, I also met people who were simply incredible in dealing with nitty-gritty details but had horrible problems with seeing the big picture and thinking outside the box. Honestly, I prefer to stay the way I am with my INTJ self.

    Btw, psychiatric medication frequently has side effects and sometimes it’s difficult to notice them. ADD medication can e.g. cause nervousness, sleepiness, favour hyperfocus. Make sure that your problems aren’t actually aggravated by your medication.

    1. user4233*

      I would add one think. Modern technology offers solutions to many problems.

      In school I had problems with maths. I understood the rules but used to make plenty of silly mistakes. Actually that is one of the reasons why I think I do have ADHD. My maths teachers always told me I’m incredibly smart but unfocused.

      Now I love analytics and taught myself some programming. Software does the nitty-gritty maths for me and I love the rest of maths – the exciting part.

      There are apps for organisation, for documentation, for everything really. Use that.

  79. NewJobWendy*

    OP, I have so much empathy for you because I struggled with much the same things throughout my 20s and most of my 30s. In my 15 years of work history I’ve been fired from FIVE jobs, and it never gets less devastating. I’ve spent most of my working adult life scraping by on lower salaries and up until just a couple years ago I needed monthly assistance from my parents to make ends meet. I got an expensive and worthless masters degree (as in, I y chose a field of study that I did not want to work in after graduating, and I didn’t do the sorts of things in grad school that would have set me up to work in that field even if I had wanted to). I don’t have ADHD but at my most recent job I did suffer workplace induced anxiety (and therapy was so helpful in helping me work through my anxiety and rebuild my self-esteem.) But there’s a happy ending. I did finally find something I’m good at. I did finally find a workplace that is a better fit culturally. The pay isn’t great, but I no longer feel terrible about myself or my work performance and that’s nearly priceless.

    Don’t give up. Do get help, from therapy, doctors, families, friends, co-workers. Realize there is always another choice, even when they are hard. Find something meaningful and rewarding you can do outside of work: a hobby, volunteering, whatever. It will help remind you of the talents your DO have and remind you that you have value someplace other than work. Work does not define what kind of person you are. You can do this. You have a future and in a year or 5 year or 10 years you will look back and be amazed at how far you’ve come.

  80. Serin*

    I had a temp job three years ago, and I swear my co-workers thought I was too dumb for the workplace. The job just hit hard on my weak spots (memory, attention to detail, carrying out the same routine task over and over and doing it the same way every time) and had no use for my strong points (writing, research, organizing complex information, juggling multiple priorities).

    I’ve been in the workplace for 35 years, so I knew the problem wasn’t that I was stupid, but it’s incredibly undermining to fail over and over and over.

    As soon as it became known that I had a job offer from my current company, my reputation at the temp place went from “she’s a little slow” to “you know how smart people can be so absent-minded.”

    Protect your self-image as best you can. There’s a big difference between “incompetent” and “incompetent at this.”

    1. Eye of Sauron*

      Ha… I was having a conversation with my boss and a co manager (Jane) in my group. For background I had covered for her in her previous position. Let’s say that she was a teapot processor. For background we both now managed separate groups with a third manager that included the teapot processing group.

      As we were talking to our mutual boss, somehow the conversation steered toward teapot processing, and my coworker/fellow manager said something like “Oh EOS, she was a terrible teapot processor.”

      Our manager gaped and said “What? Why would you say that?!?”

      I just laughed and said, “Because it’s true. I was horrible at it. When I covered for Jane’s leave, I was miserable, and my goal was to keep things running. But at the end of the day I was an awful teapot processor. I knew it, Jane knew it, her old manager knew it. But we made it work for the leave and I ran as soon as possible”

      Seriously, had I remained a teapot processor I would have been fired for incompetence, I was that bad at it.

    2. RVA Cat*

      “There’s a big difference between “incompetent” and “incompetent at this.””

      100% this. It reminds me of the cartoon where a monkey, a penguin, an elephant, a fish, a seal, and a dog are all given a “fair” final exam to climb a tree.

  81. Laura*

    If push comes to shove, you can always come work with me! My job has two basic groups of workers: The millenials on their first jobs (no comment) and the older people who have enough previous experience to appreciate the lack of stress. Many of us have college degrees, some advanced degrees (one guy has three bachelor’s degrees and two master’s–one is in trauma nursing), and we have all had stressful jobs in prior lives (I still tense up at the thought of going back to a “normal” office job). We now do mindless data entry for the Post Office, listening to either books or music all day (I listen to books). It pays well, and there is no stress–except in December, but December always ends, and you just tell your family they won’t see you in December and you just deal with it (unless you’re a…never mind). Anyway, all you have to do is show up, turn on your listening device of choice, and type. It’s great! You do, however, have to move to Salt Lake City, Utah.

  82. LAP*

    I have heard many self-employed/entrepreneurial types say they didn’t do well in typical jobs. I’m sure they don’t all have ADHD, but there is probably some overlap. My mom has it and has done well as a self-employed pianist and piano teacher.

  83. CynicallySweet7*

    As someone with ADHD who works in an office I can give you some tips! 1. Figure out meds or a coping mechanism. This is a HUGE pain. I never successfully found a coping mechanism that worked for me, but maybe you will. And I must have tried 9 different medications/doses until I found the one that is right for me. That being said, be prepared for side effects, I’ve never been on one without them it’s just about which ones you can manage/life with and which ones you can’t. 2. Get organized ASAP. Again a huge pain, but come in early, stay late, or bring stuff home. Having a system already in place is mint. When things get too out of hand, you know where stuff at least should be and when you have a few minutes after putting everything back is way easier (which is another thing you need to do, lists are your friend!!). 3. Stop beating yourself up. It’s ok that people are moving faster than you are, and if it’s not paralyzing yourself with negativity is not going to help this (I know way easier said than done, but you’ve got to start somewhere). ANNNDD DRUMROLL PLEASE 4. Acknowledged that working in an office may not be for you. If it is that’s great, but most of the people I know who have ADHD don’t. Just keep looking and remember when times get too tough that there are always other options! I know a girl who makes a full time living taking care of other peoples birds. If she could find that and make it work there is something out there that you’ll be good at!!!!!!!!!!

  84. Guacamole Bob*

    I definitely don’t have ADHD, but it seems like this letter struck a nerve for a whole lot of people. Alison, is it time for a “what are your strategies for coping with ADHD in the workplace?” ask-the-readers post?

  85. Newt*

    LW, there are many things that could be contributing to the issues you’re facing right now. I agree with Alison that your first and most immediate step needs to be getting your treatment for ADHD right, and then seeing where you stand. But I can also speak from experience that struggling in one job, even if it’s “no harder than other people do” or whatever, doesn’t mean you are somehow failing or incapable of succeeding.

    I thought it was all my fault when I started failing at a job I had. Sure, my anxiety was worse and the meds were having awful side effects and that was making it harder to do well, but my work environment was “normal” and the work was “not even that hard” and I “should be able to handle it”.

    You know what? Several years on, after having experiences in other working environments and other jobs I can conclusively say:
    1. My working environment was almost tailored to be really catastrophically bad for my mental and emotional health.
    2. My employer was not equipped to handle different working and learning styles or to allow for different needs in their staff. And my learning style really did not mesh well with how they facilitated training.
    3. My department had set up a really negative culture that stigmatised anyone who struggled and made it that much harder to be open about needing help.
    4. My managers and HR were utterly unprepared for, and failed to appropriately handle, accommodating the most basic of mental-health-related requests I had in a timely manner or to an acceptable degree.

    I wasn’t experienced enough at the time, and hadn’t worked at enough other places, to know or understand any of that at the time. Now, though? I’m thriving in my new work environment, in ways I never thought I could.

    My Spouse was the same. He did not cope at all well with work, to the point he had depressive crashes while getting dressed for work and had panic attacks about going in, and really struggled to keep up with the expectations they had. He’s a stellar employee in his new place, has gotten raises and has become so confident that he feels the current job is no longer enough of a challenge and he wants to look for something more. He’s also become much more aware of his own needs in terms of company culture, learning style, working hours and the types of work that suit him.

    The ADHD issue is very likely to be making things harder for you. But it could also be that you’re struggling more with the ADHD because where you’re working right now isn’t accommodating the needs you have related to this.

    I also want to remind you that “other people my age/younger can handle this” is not necessarily a helpful thing to think when you have a mental health issue. “Normal” people my age don’t have messy homes, but Spouse and I had a literal hoarding situation for several years. “Normal” people could just handle the housework load without issue. Knowing that never, ever made it easier. What helped was deciding that normal could go fuck itself. If there was a particular thing we struggled with, then we did what needed to be done to make it work. We took inspiration from this post:


    We had to figure out our equivalent of taking-the-hairdryer-to-the-car. Now the office has a specific and large bin just for bottles, because we spend a lot of time in there and drink bottled drinks and just investing in a bottle bin we could fill up was better than dealing with the occasional death-trap tide of loose bottles rolling about the floor. Now the dishes and laundry get done in stages and sometimes we take turns at each stage to make it easier. Now recyclable trash goes in a bag hung on a hook by the back door because the recycling bin is kept outside that door. Now all our wardrobe and clothes storage is open-front and there’s a drop-leaf table by it specifically for folding clothes on, and we have a laundry basket in the bedroom, another in the office and another in the bathroom. It works for us.

    Could be that you need specific small things in your working life to make it work for you. Figure out what your equivalent of taking-the-hairdryer-to-the-car is.

    1. teclatrans*

      “What helped was deciding that normal could go fuck itself. If there was a particular thing we struggled with, then we did what needed to be done to make it work.”

      Amen. +1111

      Meds have been eye-opening for me, but the most profound changes in my life have come from exactly this sort of approach. (Actually, I only went to meds when I reached the limits of this approach.)

  86. MessyButKind*

    OP, I suffer from procrastination as well. I think that maybe reading so many work blogs could be contributing to your anxiety. When I get into this rut, I have to force myself to stop reading blogs and just do my work. You may be overthinking the process instead of just doing a project to completion. I know this is easier said than done, but try going on a “blog diet”, i.e. not reading work blogs for little while, and see how it goes.

  87. HS Teacher*

    The good news, OP, is you’re still young enough to try a few different things before you have to have it figured out. I am 45 and started my fourth career three years ago. I think I finally found something I love to do, which is teaching, despite it not paying anything close to what I used to make in corporate America.

    If you struggle with attention to detail, which I do as well, I’d suggest you try a field that isn’t as detail-oriented. I like teaching where I teach because we are a small school with a principal who promotes autonomy. I’m the only one here who teaches what I teach, so I don’t have to worry as much about pacing guides and what other classes are doing. There are still some things that require me to pay attention to detail, but it’s not nearly as bad if I miss something as it was in my past careers.

    I agree with Alison; your current job sounds like a bad fit. There’s no shame in that. I wish more people would leave jobs at which they’re bad!

  88. Why Oh Why Does this keep happening?*

    I don’t understand what is meant by “job bloggers.” Is LW a blogger worried about making mistakes in writing? Or is LW worried about what people writing blogs about jobs have to say?

    1. SN*

      I believe LW is referring to the latter: Ask A Manager is one example of I’m sure many blogs about work life. I definitely know what she means; one time I wrote in a letter to AAM saying mentioning that my work was good, but not great by any means, and a few of the comments pounced on that saying that I should be working much harder!

      1. Lil Fidget*

        It’s definitely true that when you spend a lot of time in any online space that has a lot of people who are gathered around a common topic, especially if there’s a lot of cross-posting and linking going on, that you can get kind of get caught up in one specific kind of mindset, and end up feeling like crap about yourself if you’re not really 100% that enthused about whatever they’re excited about. Whether that’s mommy blogging, social justice stuff, fashion blogs, fandom … whatever it is! Too much time there starts to make you go crazy.

    2. Eye of Sauron*

      I read it as this one “Or is LW worried about what people writing blogs about jobs have to say?”

      But you do bring up a point… who cares what they say. rating your job success off of what a blogger says is like feeling bad because you don’t rate next to a highly edited facebook persona of your old HS friends or those ‘I retired at 23 and have millions of dollars to live on’ types.

      Fact is, the people posting their fabulous lives on facebook are schlepping around the house in holey sweatpants eating stale cheetos just as often as you are. And that guy that retired early and is a millionaire, seems to spend an awful lot of time convincing you of his success so you keep coming back to his blog where he talks about grocery shopping out dumpsters so that you generate ad revenue that he actually lives on.

      Work bloggers are just a different flavor of the same thing. Nobody’s going to write an article that starts out “Hey, how to make a success out of your ordinary career” or “So you’re average, here’s how to maintain your middle status” It just doesn’t happen, because people want to read about success. Not many people aspire to average. Yet, if you think about it, that is where most of us are.

      (I may be a little over sensitive to this because it’s performance appraisal time and I get to spend a lot of time and effort explaining how “Meets Expectations” isn’t a bad review. It’s a perfectly good rating. You should be happy about that rating, most people get that rating.)

    3. SallytooShort*

      I also took it as the latter. AAM tends to be more empathetic and cut off people who try to make broad generalizations. It’s also the blog that has someone who was actually a manager writing it.

      But a lot of them tend to take very hard line stances on younger people who aren’t performing up to snuff.

  89. SN*

    This is my favorite post on Ask A Manager so far. I feel this question so deeply, and Alison’s response was great. OP – you are not alone!

  90. lb*

    I’ve also been recently diagnosed with ADHD, at 32. I really empathize with your letter! I had the same experience at my first job out of college and it took me a long time to get a second one. Now, ten years out, I have a diagnosis and some increased coping skills, as well as a job and coworkers I love that mostly works for me.

    I would love for you to pursue ADHD treatment more aggressively (it’s worth it! Whether you end up with medication or just read a lot of books and find better strategies for dealing with it, it will help immeasurably). Also, think hard about which parts (if any) you enjoy about your current job, and which parts of other jobs look attractive to you. Ask your friends about which parts of their jobs they like. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this, but I quit a position without anything else lined up and spent a year doing odd jobs, figuring out what kind of stuff I liked to do. I started doing a lot of event and bartending jobs through Taskrabbit and discovered that they were really good fits for me and my ADHD. Now, I have a great full-time job that’s a combination of event planning and admin in a team environment, and I’m really enjoying it.

    Please try to rein in the catastrophizing! ADHD does make some types of office jobs difficult, but those aren’t the only kinds of jobs in the world. You *will* be able to find something that works for you, that you excel at – it just might take a little longer for you to find it than some people.

    1. teclatrans*

      You make a good point that others have demonstrated, and I want to emphasize. OP, there is great value in getting a diagnosis, completely apart from medication. There are books and blogs and podcasts galore to help you better understand the nature of your challenges and tools & strategies to help you navigate the world. Learning that so many things I had failed at and which plagued me (communication, social skills, perseverance, super-sensitivity to stimulus, seeing everything as connected and not being able to simplify my thoughts for others, etc.) were the result of my wiring, and that “easy” things really are harder for me…it was so freeing. I began to rethink my career path, giving special thought to how to transform painful things into good. If I my sense of touch is so acute, what about a career that turns that into a super skill, like massage or crafting? If I see the way things connect but find writing excruciating, and consider being a therapist (thus using verbal skills)? Without understanding my wiring, I was imprisoned by so many Shoulds. Now I ‘bring the hair dryer’ (in reference to the article above), and am so much happier for it.

  91. Observer*

    I want to second what Allison has said. But also, please get screen for depression and anxiety. Your response to your situation and your pushback on the ADD bit don’t seem reality based, but do seem to indicate a level of giving up that is a bit worrisome.

    I’m not trying to diagnose here, but I do think that giving a good hard look at your mental health with a professional is worth your while. There is a good chance that you will discover important and useful information.

  92. VictoriaQ*

    Honestly op, even if you go to a doctor and they won’t give you a dosage right then, go just to get the diagnosis. When I went the test took all of 15 minutes and the doc had the results almost instantly and spent the rest of the hour asking me some questions (probably to rule out anything else), explained my results and let me go. Now, I went through my school and also wasn’t too concerned about medication, but even if one doc doesn’t want to give you a dosage, you’ll have the results to take to a different one or at the very least (if you’re comfortable) to explain to your manager.
    And if you like reading, then “ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life: Strategies that Work from an Acclaimed Professional Organizer and a Renowned ADD Clinician” is like $16 on amazon and also amazing. It has tons of simple tips and ways to either harness or navigate add symptoms to be more productive and organized.

  93. NW Mossy*

    When it comes to thriving at work, people can be a lot like houseplants – some plants can grow almost anywhere, others need the right environment and careful tending to flourish, and some just don’t work indoors very well at all. No type is inherently good or bad; what’s more important is to understand what type of plant you have and what type(s) of environments are on offer.

    I stumbled on this frame of thinking as I was looking into ways to be encouraging and compassionate towards an employee who was really struggling in her role, and I’ve found it so helpful. Having one job be an uphill battle isn’t a referendum on the person or the job. The goal is to be able to look at both person and job clearly enough to be able to see what would be more of a fit than the current situation.

  94. Alton*

    There’s is a lot of great insight here, especially in Alison’s answer.

    I would definitely encourage you to keep addressing the possible ADHD and anxiety, because it would be a shame to limit yourself too much unnecessarily.

    At the same time, I think your early post-college years can be a time for getting a sense of what type of work you like or are good at, and there’s no shame in focusing on fields and types of positions that are a decent fit for you. You have to work to find the right balance. Your instinct that you may need to work on these issues is probably a good one, because most jobs regular some degree of time management and organization. But it’s not an all or nothing thing, and the most important thing is feeling like you can take care of yourself and be happy.

    Also, I think US culture puts a lot of emphasis on work, and I kind of had a…capitalist freakout after being in the workforce for a couple years because I realized that I might not have a “dream job” or even a specific dream field, and that I might rather be a work to live person that a live to work person. So I had to confront the fact that I really am working mainly because I need to, and my goals don’t extend that far.

    But your self-worth doesn’t have to be tied up in work. Your work performance isn’t a complete picture of who you are as a person.

    People get show a lack of empathy for mediocre performers for a couple reasons, I think: 1) it’s easier online to be harsh or absolutist and 2) some people have bad experiences with co-workers who show a lack of consideration. There’s a difference between goofing off all day because you’re lazy and don’t care if it makes more work for your co-workers and procrastinating because you’re really struggling. Unfortunately, from the outside, sometimes it can be hard to see the difference. But I think that if you do our best to act with consideration and integrity and demonstrate self-awareness, most kind, sensible people respect that.

  95. Landshark*

    OP, story time. I’m in my mid to late twenties. I did pretty well in school and… decent in my career placements. Could have been better, but I acknowledge that I had some misplaced priorities and made mistakes that I learned from.

    I got out of school, did some part time work for a year, and got a full time job teaching at a middle school. Probably analogous to that 60% dream job description. Long story short, I was TERRIBLE. Truly a disaster. I got canned. It sucked. I deserved it! There were a lot of things going wrong at that school, and they didn’t help at all, but I take responsibility for my own failings.

    Okay, so I just wasted an education degree and need to get out of education, right? That was my plan, but career switching after THAT debacle? Not easy.

    I got a job as an adjunct professor at my community college and took it because I needed money. I did NOT want it. I am clearly not cut out for education, right? I was gonna ruin even more students’ experiences! And I didn’t even want to teach college!

    Three years later and I am on a path to getting more classes and potentially going full time (higher education is a VERY finicky, pay-your-dues field), my department loves me, and my student and administrative performance reviews are high. I LOVE my job, I love my students, and I appreciate my college.

    The moral: no, it may not just be a bad fit of a job. You may need to look into treating the ADHD symptoms! And that is fine and healthy and maybe necessary. However, there may also be value in a change of scenery. Consider what you really want out of a job, job hunt, and be selective unless you have to take something right away or risk unemployment. You may be bad at this job, but you’re probably not bad at all jobs in your field.

  96. Torrance*

    While I can’t really add much to the general discussion, I do want to add that Alison is quite right in her penultimate paragraph. There is definitely something to be said for finding fulfillment and happiness outside work. I know that some people are wired to measure their self-worth and value by how much money they make or how good of a job they have and that’s great if it works for them but not everybody is wired that way.

    Because of my health, I am severely limited in what I could do professionally and, after about a decade of beating my head against a ceiling I was never going to break, I gave up and now I live a moderately fulfilled life, spending my days doing things that make me happy. Money is tight and I’ll never live the life I dreamed of having, but I’m content.

    OP, you’re educated and self-aware and it sounds like your biggest obstacle to success is just accessing the right resources. You’ll be fine. ❤

  97. Nacho*

    A lot of people here are mentioning taking ADHD meds like that’s the solution to all OP’s problems.

    Am I the only one here who was diagnosed with ADHD who chooses not to take the meds? Whenever I’m on them, I lose the ability to just daydream and let my mind wander a million places, and I hate how that makes me feel. I know it’s harder to focus without them, but there are techniques to help with that, like keeping a detailed to-do list and sticking to it, making sure to always get enough sleep, and keeping a few desk toys around to figit with while you work.

    1. user4233*

      I choose not to take meds. You mentioned one reason, another is my anxiety about consequences of long-term taking of strong drugs for health.

    2. teclatrans*

      I wrote a long lost about why my ADHD diagnosis was super helpful completely separate from medications, but it looks like it was eaten. I made so many lifestyle changes and developed supports and I was happy without meds, ans then life got more chaotic due to external factors, and my adaptations and systems weren’t enough, so I added in meds. Also, the thing about meds is that, when they work, you get insight into a world you couldn’t really imagine existed. Just like the first time you put on glasses and discover that the rest of the world wasn’t making up theoretical distinctions, they really could distinguish individual leaves on that tree. That is a powerful feeling. It is the closest you get to feeling curedm But, I do think it’s important to emphasize that there are many benefits to diagnosis, and that medication is one option for managing one’s ADHD.

    3. Tuesday Next*

      I think it depends on a lot of things like the severity of your ADHD, the type of work you do, how stressful the rest of your life is, and probably many, many other things.

      Some people need meds AND to do lists AND calendar reminders AND all the other stuff. If you don’t, that’s really awesome :) but not everyone is functional without meds.

    4. LilySparrow*

      I actually functioned pretty well without meds for 44 years, until my life situation & goals changed. There are a lot of things I want & need to do now that weren’t getting done with the non-med techniques. The demands of childrearing, dealing with their school, dealing with my health, working freelance…I have to get sh*t done, done, done, and there is not enough time in the day to take the scenic route for all of it.

      But you are absolutely right about the freewheeling thought. When I’m composing new fiction, I get up and work on it before I take the meds. It’s a different headspace entirely, and it’s better for some things.

    5. Gadget Hackwrench*

      I don’t take them anymore myself… but I also don’t think it’s a good idea to encourage OP not to at least give them a shot. They WORK for some people.

  98. Greg*

    Wow, OP, your email brought back memories. I was in almost the exact same place 12 years ago. I was in this job that I thought was what I wanted to do, but I could just never seem to do a good job, and it made me feel like a total failure. I too saw a psychiatrist and took ADHD meds, which I found didn’t really have much of an effect. Like you, I was constantly beating myself up, doubting my abilities and wondering why I couldn’t seem to reach even a basic level of competence.

    The turning point for me came when an internal job was posted that was much more in line with what I wanted to do. I sent a long email to my boss’ boss (who was the hiring manager for the role), explaining my qualifications and why I was so excited about the role. I said, “You always say you want to see more passion out of me. Well, *this* is what I’m passionate about.” He sat on it for a few weeks and then told me I wouldn’t be allowed to interview for the job, but that I should be just as passionate about the job I was doing. Meanwhile, another job opened up that was very much in line with what I was doing in the position I was in, but which I found even more boring. I applied to it, mostly because I thought it would look bad if I didn’t, and it came down to me and one other person. When they told me I didn’t get it, I was surprised at how relieved I felt.

    Long story short, those experiences made me realize I was in the wrong organization, and they weren’t going to give me the opportunity to move into a role that suited my strengths. I started looking around, and found a job with a startup that was much more in line with what I wanted to do. I ended up staying in that job for six years.

    So while I can’t comment on the ADHD stuff, and while I certainly recommend trying to make the best of your current job as long as you’re there, I would also recommend not continuing to bang your head against the wall if it’s not working. Go find a new job that you’re excited about, and I promise it will go a long way toward quelling those doubts that are clouding up your head right now.

    1. Serin*

      He sat on it for a few weeks and then told me I wouldn’t be allowed to interview for the job, but that I should be just as passionate about the job I was doing.

      Right, so another lesson here is that maybe the OP is working for a jerk too …

      1. Greg*

        Honestly, I don’t think he was a jerk. It was more a reflection of the mindset throughout the company. “We’re going to stick you in whatever role we have an opening at, and you’re expected to excel in that, and once you do, you will have the opportunity to move to another role.” The notion that sometimes you have to work with employees to find a role that suits their strengths was just kind of foreign to the place. Or maybe it was just that they were used to being an in-demand company (they’ve since had multiple rounds of layoffs), so if an employee wasn’t working out, they would weed that person out and focus on the ones who were excelling.

        Regardless, the experience was an eye-opener for me. I realized that no matter how hard I worked, no matter what I changed about my routine to increase productivity, I simply wasn’t a fit in the organization. I don’t know if that’s the case with OP’s situation, but she should at least consider that possibility.

  99. Heather*

    This whole discussion is an example of what keeps me coming back to AAM & I just wanted to thank Alison for it. I’ve been having a rough time lately, although not as bad as the OP, and seeing how many people are going through something similar has made me feel SO much less alone just when I really needed it :)

  100. Jaybeetee*

    OP, I am not unlike you – likely ADHD, never officially diagnosed (doc says the diagnostic process is long and expensive, he generally discourages it in adulthood unless the person is seriously struggling). I’m now in my early 30s, in a job I enjoy and am reasonably good at, but it was not always so.

    I had a few jobs in my 20s that were a terrible fit for me, and like you, I really internalized that for awhile as I was stupid/bad worker/something wrong with me. But few people out there would excel in EVERY job. Anyone can land in a bad fit, especially when younger and less experienced. In my case, thanks to the Great Recession and my relying on temp/contract work for a time, I was more or less taking any work I could get, in a variety of different fields. For most part I did alright, but a couple jobs just were not right for me.

    One OldJob needed insanely detail-oriented people, under tight deadlines, able to work fast, with essentially a zero error rate for data entry *while* talking on the phone. I had colleagues that did just fine with it, but frankly, I stunk at it. And every mistake I made was treated like a damn crisis by the management. I left after three months, and may well have been fired had I stuck with it. Unfortunately, the job I left for was even worse: a massively long commute (it was a permanent, salaried gig, which I stupidly thought would make up for driving 3 hours/day and hating the work), call centre environment, and while I had worked in other call centres and done well, for this one I just didn’t have the knack. I was screwing up all the time, giving incorrect info, data entry errors, constantly stressed and exhausted due to the giant commute, flunked one monitored call after another no matter what I did, even after they provided extra training, and they finally canned me after three months. Thankfully, I quickly picked up another contract after that that played to my strengths a lot more (I actually can be detail-oriented, in a quiet environment where I have the time and space to focus), and after that got the job I’m in now, which is also a quiet, detail-oriented job (as opposed to a frantic-paced detail-oriented job).

    All this to say that what you’re dealing with right now is pretty normal, even for someone who doesn’t have ADHD. Likely this job just isn’t a good fit for you. One thing you can do is try to analyze what doesn’t work for you, and take care to avoid that as much as you can in future roles. Is you workload too high? Are they expecting turnaround too fast? Are you buried in finicky details when you’re more of a big-picture person? Trying to figure out where your problems are now will also help you take steps to mitigate them while you’re still stuck there, until you can find something else.

  101. Asperger Hare*

    Lots of things were a massive, confusing challenge before I realised I had Aspergers and found a work environment that suited me. I still haven’t found it, but admin seems to be far better for me than retail ever was.

  102. MeMeMe*

    Please let me know if this is better suited to the Friday Open Post, but I have a tangential question —

    How do you handle working with and/or managing people who are consistently low-performers due to what seems to be a low IQ?

    I’m (genuinely!) asking for a friend — she and Bob are the only two people in her department, she’s suddenly been promoted to the manager of the department due to the first manager being fired, and she struggling with constantly having to train and retrain Bob on extremely simple tasks (like populating a mailing address PDF form) because he….just…doesn’t get it. She’s written a department manual that walks through these tasks with screenshots, she’s shown him in person dozens of times while he takes notes, she’s re-written the steps in the department manual with much simpler language just for him, and he still can take literally 45 minutes to fill out that mailing address form and even then it’s full of errors. He’s actively working that whole time, too — looking back and forth and the screen and his notes, her manual, etc.

    I’ve met him and he is a friendly, kind person and a very conscientious worker, but he is visibly a little mentally slow. He’s probably doing his very best to figure out how to fill out those forms (and everything else), but he’s also probably never going to be able to do his work quickly and mistake-free. Their department is the equivalent of Teapot Order Fulfillment, so they are constantly busy with orders and it’s really important not to make mistakes.

    But the thing is, he’s been at that job for 30+ years and their workplace has a very strong union, so my friend’s not interested in firing him for both personal and professional reasons, but from what she tells me, she’s basically running that entire department by herself now because he can only be relied upon to do very low-level, repetitive tasks (and those tasks he can do just fine).

    I kinda feel like saying, “Girl, Bob’s never going to change, so if constantly holding his hand is driving you crazy, you’re just going to have to drop his hand and start looking for another job.” (But I don’t! I just make sympathetic comments, because I know she really likes her job for other reasons and doesn’t want to leave.)

    Any advice for working with people like Bob, who are low performers who will never get better but you know can’t or won’t get fired?

    1. Nacho*

      Can she talk to her boss and maybe get him transferred to an equivalent post somewhere else? Somewhere where being slow won’t be an issue, like the warehouse?

  103. Katie J*

    OP, I echo 100% all the comments about trying to get treatment. I’m also a realist and I know from experience how hard it can be to get a diagnosis. It’s expensive and takes a long time and sometimes just isn’t practical (although if it is possible, from my experience, I’d definitely recommend it – if only for your own sanity!).

    Another side of this is support, from the work side. I am autistic and it took me far too long to get a diagnosis – without which of course I could not get any support at work (I am in the UK). But there are other types of support that helped me in the meantime, and the main one was blogs. Blogs written by autistic women (mostly), who described the problems I was having from their own experience, and quite often had helpful advice or workarounds that I could try in my everyday and working life. And it helped! I mean, SO much more than all the generic advice on depression and anxiety I’d been following for years and wondering why nothing ever seemed to really work for me.

    So I wonder if you can find anything similar, from the ADHD perspective, that might help you develop workarounds for yourself to cope better at work. (Bonus: if you’re finding those workarounds help in a way nothing else ever has, it might be extra evidence to take, or at least added confidence in pursuing a diagnosis.)

  104. nonymous*

    I have no idea if you have ADHD/ADD. But if that truly is an issue for OP, my experience is that non-medicated management tools do work. They actually work really well for people who are generally disorganized or even if someone is looking for a new system. Timers are your friend. Routines are your friend. Lists are your friend. Checklists to manage your checklists. Even if OP doesn’t have an official diagnosis, investing in a session with a counselor (save the $$ from going to a prescribing authority, just go to a counselor that has plenty of experience) that can explain how the ADD/ADHD brain is different and how to select tools that play to those strengths.

    Also, if OP has time, I’d recommend joining a community group that has organized projects (e.g. choir, habitat restoration, local politics, food bank, animal rescue, craft guild, etc) with an eye towards finding one that makes you happy. I am staying in a less-than-optimal job for now because of some perks, and my community orgs really help me shrug off the crazy of work. I get to practice and develop professional skills in an environment that doesn’t make me question my sanity.

    1. teclatrans*

      There are also online ADHD coaching groups, support groups, etc. For organization and planning, I really like Dana Rayburn. As she points out, you want to look at organization and planning solutions by people who underatand ADHD, otherwise you will just feel more frustrated and ashamed that you can’t follow a simple solution.

  105. Daria Grace*

    My first job out of college went terribly. I made mistakes and dropped the ball a lot. Part of that was my own shortcomings , part of that was a bad manager who gave bad instructions and incredibly rare feedback. Eventually in different jobs things improve and I now do well at a very demanding job

  106. Tuesday Next*

    I haven’t had time to read the comments but I had to respond.

    Having ADHD is *hard* but it gets better as you learn to work with it.

    There are jobs out there that are will be a great fit for you. Look for things that work with your strengths (e.g. creativity, curiosity, empathy, hyperfocus) and don’t have a huge component of stuff you’re bad at (e.g. admin). I’m a UX designer and I love it. The right job for you is out there.

    Look for systems that help you with things like time management and, yes, admin. For example, if I have a deadline in 2 weeks and I need 3 rounds of reviews beforehand, I schedule time to do the work, as well as the the review meetings, into my diary up front so I don’t forget. Find a to-do list system that works the way you think. I love Trello. Be disciplined about this stuff because it can be the difference between success and failure.

    Don’t overcommit yourself. If you can, say “let me get back to you”. Think it through and double the amount of time you think you’ll need. Rather under promise and over deliver (I learned this the hard way).

    Doctors will often start you off on a low dosage which doesn’t have much effect. Stick with it until you find the right meds / dosage. After that, you can decide if you would rather manage without meds, but to make an educated decision you need to know how you function with the right meds.

    It may not seem this way now, but you are fortunate to have figured this out at your age :) I got my diagnosis in my early 40s. It was life changing.

  107. LilySparrow*

    LW, I wanted to give you some encouragement, both as an adult with a late diagnosis of ADHD and as a person who’s had some very mismatched jobs.

    You may like the work, or love 60 percent of the work, and still have some job duties that are your biggest weak spots.

    I’ll use a personal example: editing. If I say so myself, I’m very good at organizing ideas in a logical and persuasive structure. I can wordsmith a sentence six ways from Sunday. I get a kick out of diagramming.
    But copyediting? Proofreading? God help me. I *know* correct spelling and grammar. But sometimes I can look right at something and not see it.
    One of my old dayjob bosses thought I was a moron, because I frequently missed chunks of his notes when I was word-processing. Like, I’d mark the notes as I did them, check them over line by line *three times*, and discover later that I’d missed an entire page. I had applied my hands and eyeballs to that page three times, and my brain did not register the clearly visible information.
    How do you compensate for that? I just had to accept that this was not my strength, and look for work where those skills weren’t important or could be delegated.
    Look at the type of mistakes you’re making (you mention processes, for example). Try to identify the common patterns. If you can’t find workable adaptations for them, or delegate those tasks, then you’ll have a guideline for where your strengths and weakness are as you look for future work.

    I’m going to repeat a book recommendation from yesterday: The Smart But Scattered Guide to Success.

    You don’t need to definitely have ADHD to benefit from it. It’s got an incredibly useful way of unpacking and identifying various executive skills. Everybody — everybody on the planet — is stronger on some and weaker on others. The book gives really good advice on how to use your strengths to counterbalance your weaknesses.

    Everybody doesn’t have to be a rock star at work, but you sound really frustrated and discouraged. That’s not good for you. Everybody needs to feel like they are making a valuable contribution in the world.
    I hope you find your value, very quickly.
    Good luck!

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      Uggggggh, I haaaaated data entry. And sucked at it. That’s something I also use to self-select out of jobs.

    2. On PIP (but not really?)*

      Ooh I’m taking that book recommendation. I have a parallel problem where I’m very good at research and analysis, but lack organizational skills.

  108. Lissa*

    I understand why the main focus in the comments is ADHD because that may be the LW’s situation, but I have to say that I am really grateful for Alison’s last few paragraphs. I think there’s often a line running through society that “everything will work out and you’ll find the thing you are *great* at, and a perfect fit job” but sometimes that never happens, and the things someone’s good at don’t line up with a job that makes decent money. I was lucky enough to find a job that works well with my two skills (typing fast and a good memory) but it’s not a “regular” job, it’s pretty niche, and I spent a decade working crap jobs because a lot of my non-skills meant holding something more regular was intensely difficult for me.. Hearing “you’ll find something if you keep trying” was …sorta true for me, but sort of not, and I know some people for whom their best skillsets don’t align in a way to ever make them a “top performer” in a job they can find.

    so I liked hearing even briefly that sometimes it doesn’t work out in the best possible way and that can be OK too. Sometimes there are reasons things aren’t working out that aren’t diagnosable, and it can feel like a massive failure if there’s no “reason” for a lack of success.

  109. Kindred Spirit*

    This letter resonated so much for me, it articulated pretty much exactly how I feel except I’m in my 30’s. Perhaps I should look into counseling, I’ve always wondered if I had ADHD.

  110. katydid*

    LW, you mentioned in your letter that you are not a particularly detail-oriented person. Unfortunately, admin assistance is very detail-oriented work, and the nature of it (providing admin support for other employees) makes those times we do mess up very public. I know from experience that this work is composed of a lot of small and detailed tasks, and that every.single.little.thing that you screw up has the potential to impact or at least be noticed (and commented on) by the team or beyond. That is very stressful and demoralizing. This is reality.

    As AAM said, this is one job and not a pattern. Maybe this job / line of work isn’t the best fit for you, and you have yet to discover what that perfect job is. But you did talk about past successes in school, contracts, and interning, so that’s evidence that you are a capable person. Keep those successes in mind as you move forward, and perhaps as you explore what a better fit might look like!

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I so agree! I thought I was terrible when I started out, because a lot of the jobs were about tracking spreadsheets and keeping calendars up to date. It turned out I just wasn’t good at those particular types of tasks (and as an entry level person, nobody is interested in your soft skills or big ideas yet). As I went up the ladder I was given less of this type of work and started to feel better about my performance – but I still stumble when given these administrative types of tasks! (Which is just to prove that admin is a real skillset with a wide range of abilities).

  111. Jules*

    I hang to this phrase tightly, ‘If a fish is to be judge for its ability to climb a tree, they must seem incredibly stupid indeed.” when wearing all the hats of parent, mentor and senior co-worker. We all have strength and weakness. The difference I think between successful and unsuccessful people are based on how they are guided. If your ability is in analysis and you eat breath and sleep data, I would not hire you for a data presentation job without significant amount of training to get you there. I am almost certain that I have ADD, but I am fairly good with analytics through a lot of training and patient mentors. The hyper focus when my interest is engaged helps. But I do crash and burn when it’s some boring analytics (OMG you want me to count a sheep’s hair?!) and I want to push through it fast. Simple beginner error can crop up in those instances.

    It’s ok to be average. Average is where people should deliver at. But there is a difference between meeting performance and not meeting the job expectations. There is a difference between hitting it out of the park and meeting the job expectations. Chances are if you are putting all your efforts into this job already and you are still struggling, it could be job/boss/team/company culture fit.

  112. Clever Name*

    I agree with Alison and the others, the catastrophic thoughts you’re having are very premature. It would be like going on one date with one person and having the date be not that great and then concluding that because of one not-great date, you are therefore un-dateable forever. It sounds pretty silly, right?

  113. Indie*

    Alison has written about the myth of the dream job before and I think it’s interesting that you use the same phrasing here. You’re at just the right age to decide that a job is just a job is just a job; it may be rewarding, or challenging ; it may even be extremely important as a contribution to the world, but it’s not a ‘dream’, or a grand competition amongst all twenty something peers and it’s most certainly not a referendum on your worth as a person.

  114. Gazebo Slayer*

    Thank you so much for posting this. I’m someone else who knows she’s mediocre at best – and in my case I know it’s not just one job, since I’m 36 and have had a long string of failures in many different and highly varied positions. It’s given me a deep conviction that our society needs to be overhauled to work for everyone, not just people who are talented at things that are highly marketable.

    I’ve long felt that the job-related internet, including AAM, lacks understanding of and empathy for people who are just never ever going to be stars. I’m deathly tired of the attitude that everyone needs to be a super-achiever or they’re worthless and deserve nothing. It’s so, so important to finally see a post like this.

    1. Lissa*

      I agree completely. I think the comments here bear this out, with most of them focusing exclusively on the ADHD and kind of an underlying assumption that if that is successfully treated of course LW will be a superstar. But…maybe not! Some people are going to be the average ones in the world of work, and have no underlying condition to explain it.

      Even if there is a job for everyone’s skills, some are still going to make for a much much better quality of life than others, which is rather a painful reality for those whose best skill is something that’s looked down on and won’t make much money.

      1. Anon for this comment*

        Yeah, that actually kind of frustrated me about this letter and the response. I see the LW response below where focusing on the ADHD and giving support really helped, so of course I support that and I’m very glad that LW is feeling better.

        But I kind of wish this had been separated into two letters entirely. First one, talking about how the LW should look into getting treatment and to not prematurely assume that there’s no way LW can be successful. Second one, actually talking about how maybe there actually are average people out there. Alison did a good job in the answer, but most of the comments I saw, like you said, just went right to “once your ADHD is treated, you’re going to be amazing!” Which…was not the point? Even the LW said that, “what if I am simply mediocre?”

        Again, kudos to Alison for recognizing that this LW also needed reassurances that they might not be mediocre and getting treated for ADHD will very likely help. But when I saw the headline, I thought there would be more than, “Don’t worry, you will succeed once you’re treated!”

        1. Arcadia*

          I’m the LW and I agree with all this. It was very useful to me to hear so much about ADHD and tools to tackle it and get that encouragement- but that might not end up being my issue, and I was a little sad that it became the entire focus of the comments (after initially being an aside in my first letter). I should have sent 2 letters – one on possible ADHD and one on mediocre workers and that larger discussion. I too am tired of the job-related internet judgment!

    2. Nacho*

      Have you tried setting the bar lower? Serious question, I used to be like you, until I applied for a job at a call center. I’m a fucking super star here, because I’m one of the only people who constantly shows up on time and does his work properly. I used to help the woman next to me (old enough to have a kid, though I didn’t ask her exact age) figure out basic multiplication and division using a calculator until I got promoted. It feels great, even if my pay’s kind of crappy.

  115. buttercup*

    I read somewhere that girls/women tend to be underdiagnosed with ADHD at a young age, whereas boys are overdiagnosed. I don’t know if this has been scientifically proven, but I imagine when common people (e.g. schoolteachers) think of ADHD, they think of someone literally acting hyper. However, a common manifestation of ADHD is daydreaming, even if the person is quiet.

  116. Airy*

    On a slight tangent from this discussion, I think someone needs to invent an online careers guidance tool where you tell it what you’re bad at and what you hate doing and it tells you what there is left to choose from. I’d find that particularly helpful to bring my options into clearer focus than “everything ELSE.” If such a tool exists already, please for pity’s sake let me know.

  117. Sally*

    Sorry to hear about your struggle. Maybe you just haven’t figured out what you love to do, usually if you love what you are doing, you’ll do it well, and the money will follow!

  118. The Letter Writer/OP*

    Thank you. Thank you all.

    It’s very late and I have read every single one of these comments, and it’s like I’ve been clenching all the edges of myself together for fear of breaking for so long and now I’ve loosened that grip, just a little.

    I’ll try to respond more to some, but for now – just thank you. So much.

    1. Archival Girl*

      I’m Archival Girl (see my comment below.) You’re probably smart, talented and you underestimate yourself because you’re full of the anxiety a lifetime of ADHD gives you. You got this. And one day, you’re ADHD will be your greatest driver and best friend and you’re going to leave all those people in the dust. :)

    2. Anonym*

      Very, very late, but thinking of you, OP. Wishing you ease and learning and self compassion and success (in whatever form is best for you). *big hugs*

      I think many of us learned a lot and felt less alone through this thread. So glad you wrote to AAM! Thank you for doing it.

  119. Tad03102*

    This sounds so much like me, I used to (half) jokingly say I should be able to collect unemployment because I was just a useless employee.

    I’ve had four post-College jobs. At two, I made a lot of mistakes, at the other two, I was described as detail-oriented, I was often the go-to person for questions, and I am even working to train new hires in my current position.

    I realized the big difference in these jobs was how challenging they were! I found I need to be constantly challenged in order to remain engaged in my work. When work gets boring, I zone out and that’s when mistakes happen. I was diagnosed with ADD as an adult and treatment certainly helped, but I still made a lot of mistakes at my last job.

    I will share with you the one thing my managers commented on in the past. That no matter how many mistakes I made I worked hard to keep them from happening again. In one role I created a checklist for my own use to help reduce my error rate, management liked it so much they implemented it for all employees in my role.

    If you find you’re leaving work incomplete, make checklists to use to ensure your work is complete. If you’re missing deadlines/meetings, make your outlook calendar your new best friend. Whatever it is you need to work on, identify it and commit to finding a way to change it.

  120. Jonno*

    Thank you for just being head-on and honest with your attack of these very difficult questions. I really admire your blog in that you don’t shy away from questions I’m sure most of us have asked in one form or another in our professional lives. You do a great service to give great advice and your ability to just be straight-forward in saying how things are, and seeing things as objectively as possible, as well as being empathetic and kind…well, I’m glad you exist and give us all a piece of your mind. It’s invaluable. Thank you again.

  121. Goya de la Mancha*

    Our society can’t function without its garbage men just as much as it can’t function without its neurosurgeons.

    Both important jobs, with VASTLY different education and profession levels. Give your best at whatever it is you do and take pride in the fact that you are a contributing member of society.

  122. Waggermama*

    I just wanted to add, as a neurodivergent person, do be aware of burnout, those of us with atypical neurology can find trying to operate in a “typical” world extremely wearing. It sounds like you’ve been doing a great deal up to now, in education and internships and suddenly you are sinking. Please take some time to review how much you have on your plate and possibly cut back.

  123. Dust Bunny*

    I’m on both sides of this, LW: On one side, I think you need help, because I’ve been in the work world for 25 years and it’s not that bad. On the other, virtually all of us need to find something we can do because we have to eat–we don’t get to just bail on the entire adult world of employment because our first job didn’t work out.

    So . . . get some help. Pursue that ADHD diagnosis. I’m on the autism spectrum–I wasn’t diagnosed until college, after years of struggling socially and academically–so you don’t need to be neurotypical to succeed, but you may have a harder time figuring out what doesn’t overtax you, and what you finally find may be a lot different (and possibly a lot less glamorous) than you envisioned. And that’s OK.

    Rethink the whole idea of a “dream job”. There are a lot of things at which I think it sounds cool to make a living, but, realistically, a lot of them would stress me out, or their networking requirements would be well beyond my natural capabilities. So I have a steady but much less exciting job. But it’s a job. A real job–they sent me to a tech workshop yesterday for a skill that I really need to learn and that I actually think I can manage.

  124. Betsys*

    My daughter had major executive function skill deficits (not ADHD but something along these lines)

    Many of these skills can be TAUGHT. The people who address this are occupational therapists and, interestingly, speech-Language Pathologists. Here are some links:


    There are quite a few books out there on developing specific, concrete skills that help with ADHD in the workplace. Executive function skills CAN be learned!

  125. NotPiffany*

    This has probably been written multiple times in the comments, but if you are on medications for any sort of mental or emotional condition (ADHD, depression, anxiety, whatever) and the medications aren’t working or have negative side effects, please TELL YOUR DOCTOR. Brains are weird and individual, and it can sometimes take a few tries to find the setup that will work with yours.

    Anyway, good luck to the OP and anyone else who’s having problems like this.

  126. Archival Girl*

    Please don’t feel you will never find a job fit. I have ADHD and it was a big struggle for me finding my professional niche. I settled on working as a archivist where I can work with a variety of materials on many different topics. The library/information profession is often full of collegiality. Please don’t give up on yourself–you DO have talents and you will find them. Your confidence will grow over time.

    I was a terrible low-level young employee because SO MUCH of it relies on being very detailed–and generally about boring and not big picture stuff–which people with ADHD can be really talented at! If you persist and maybe get some life coaching you can become better at details. Other people might not appreciate it, but slow down and write everything down. Keep applying for more creative endeavors or consider graduate school. You WILL find a professional niche that works better, I promise. Find and follow your passions–the more engaged you are the better you will be with the details. Hilariously, I am now often accused of being a details person! (It’s only because I enjoy and care about what I do.)

    Now if that wasn’t a scatter brained ADHD response I don’t know what is. :p

  127. Megan*

    I experienced a similar situation in grad school during my student teaching experience. I got all A’s in school and excelled in extra curriculars and summer jobs that were similar to teaching PE. Despite doing everything I could to do well at student-teaching, my teachers thought I was terrible at it due to symptoms related to ADHD and eventually pulled me from student-teaching and suggested I consider another career path. I hated to just quit something, but student-teaching was making my seriously stressed and made me not like it anymore due to symptoms similar to what you described (forgetting things, stressing about making mistakes causing me to make more mistakes, other teachers didn’t like me, etc.) I later got diagnosed with ADHD and was told it was not severe enough to need to do anything about it, but it was helpful to my confidence to understand that ADHD was largely the cause of my failure at teaching PE and that that was just not the right career fit for me. After exploring some different careers through part time jobs for part of a year, I ended up trying out college coaching through a grad assistantship and earned an MBA from that school (different than the one I was in the PE teaching program at.) I now work full-time as a college sports coach and am excelling and happy. While this job is still similar in some ways to teaching PE, the different environment is a much better fit for me. I now work at my own pace and set my own schedule during the day outside of set practice hours and weekend competitions and enjoy the variety in tasks and job skills throughout the day. This less structured environment has been a much better fit for me that is less stressful and allows me to use my talents more to my full potential.

    Your current job does not sound like it is a good fit for you by any means. I highly recommend either getting an official diagnosis and treatment for ADHD and/or start looking for jobs with a less structured environment that plays to your strengths more. I don’t think you are doomed to failure, but I do think you need to make some changes to your current situation.

  128. Persephoneunderground*

    Another ADHD (inattentive type, used to be called just ADD) adult here. The OP mentioned that they did fine in previous internships and school, but are now struggling. OP- this is classic of ADHD people. We’re often very high-functioning (a higher than usual number of ADHD children also qualify as “gifted”), and we find our own ways to cope that often work ok- right up until we get into a job or life stage where they just don’t work well enough. ADHD is a problem with executive skills like staying organized, not just with focus. It doesn’t make you lazy or stupid or unable to handle the world of work. Please, please don’t give up until you get treatment that works for you. From there you can figure out everything else like if this job is still a bad fit or not, etc. Check out CHADD online for resources if you haven’t found them already, and hang in there!

  129. Pudgy Patty*

    I appreciate this advice, but think it’s actually much harder in practice to find lower stress jobs, as many people are advising. I think there’s no way to screen for this because it is in the interest of employers to lie and downplay the stresses of their workplace. And, with the robots coming, layoffs everywhere, and everyone being asked to do more, I really question that such jobs even exist.

  130. Aerin*

    Late to the party as usual, since I usually have a backlog in my RSS feed. I’m 31 and was diagnosed with ADHD last year, and it’s been a huge help. I’m on a low dose of Wellbutrin, which has helped more with the anxiety and depression than with the focus, honestly. But that’s okay, because with those out of the way I can examine my thought processes more critically, paying attention to what works for me and what doesn’t. That’s the part that’s been a game changer.

    The biggest one is probably that if it’s something I can’t finish in one sitting/burst of productivity, my brain bounces off it. So, I’ve had to change the way I approach tasks and goals. Quantification is a big thing–“work out for half an hour toward a nebulous goal of having better endurance” is probably going to get bumped off my list, but “burn 300 calories because that burger put you over where you should be” is a thing I can do. Likewise, I found that I was judging a good writing session to be 500-1000 words, which meant that if I didn’t think I could get there I just wouldn’t bother. So now, my daily writing quota is three sentences. If it’s an absolute chore I can stop there and not feel guilty, or if the words are flowing I can keep going and feel really accomplished. I’ve written more in a month of doing it this way than I’d written in the previous six.

    Rewards are really good for me, because if I’m not gonna see a direct result from the thing I’m doing, it’s really hard to convince my brain that it’s worthwhile. So sometimes I have to impose those rewards for myself, like if I finish this chapter of reading for class I can go have a snack. Finding the right rewards for the situation can be a bit tricky, but ultimately worthwhile. I’ve seen good results from bullet journaling, just listing out all the stuff I’ve gotten done. Before I was feeling like I hadn’t done anything when I’d actually been pretty productive, so this lets me give myself credit for all the little useful stuff.

    When trying to plan out a long-term project, I usually try to work backwards. To get this done by this time I need to have this, which means I need to get this thing, which means I need to take care of that. Then each of those steps becomes its own task with its own deadline that I can cross off my list. Anything I can do that allows me to cross stuff off my list is ideal, especially because I use Habitica so I get XP and goodies for crossing things off. Even just walking through a list of errands or chores in advance helps me work out a plan of attack, which makes it less likely that I’ll deviate from that plan because something else caught my attention.

    I know a lot of people have mentioned looking for less stressful jobs, but honestly, when I was younger I found stress to be kind of essential. It meant there were consequences for not doing a thing, which was frequently enough to get my brain to stop faffing about and pay attention. Like, I worked attractions at Disneyland for a while. When I was working steam trains and would pull into a station, I would have to hop off and open my exit gates and answer a question for this guest and count how many seats I have open and listen for important information on the radios and open the station gate and count how many people are coming in and help this guy with his stroller and talk to my rear conductor and talk to my engineers and get everything closed up and seated and ready to go, all within two minutes. I was *awesome* at this. It was the right level of stimulation for me (especially because those intervals were broken up by the five minutes you’d just be standing on the side of the train, chatting with guests and waving at people as you go by), and I knew that everything on that list was critical to keeping things running smoothly and keeping people from getting injured. “Miss the wrong detail and someone dies” engages your brain on a completely different wavelength than “miss the wrong detail and your report is a day late.” All that to say there are definitely jobs where what you perceive as weakness would be considered strengths.

    tl;dr: Your brain probably works differently than a neurotypical brain, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I kind of think of mine like a toddler, in that it’s usually just a matter of finding the right strategy and preparation do get the desired outcome (no matter how weird that process might look to someone else) and of being patient and encouraging when it struggles.

  131. Candi*

    I sympathize. If you looked at my work history, you’d think I was really bad at some things as well.

    I had several things against me: Depression, undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome (now rolled into ASD), undiagnosed thryoid issues where, looking back, I may have had for at least a decade prior to diagnosis, a family history where blue collar and military predominated (the total number of white collar workers on both sides was about six when I was growing up), a father who understood military office norms but not civilain, and a mother who was a white collar worker but not good at it. (There’s a couple stories…)

    Getting the thyroid issues treated mostly stomped the depression. Knowing about the AS, even though adult treatment wasn’t available, helped me immensely -it’s amazing how much knowing helps, that you’re not weird, that there’s an explanation.

    And I realized how much my former dysfunctional workplaces did NOT help.

    You’ll get there. You’re farther along then I was, at an earlier age. You have more resources. You’ve recognized the situation as something as much outside yourself as you, if not more so. You’ll get better, do better, find your path.

    You CAN do it. We’re cheering you on. :)

  132. Alexis*

    Some people just aren’t cut out for the 9-5.

    Maybe you are just in the wrong job.

    Maybe you just need to look at one of your hobbies and try to find a job in a field that you actually enjoy.

    Maybe just find yourself a man with a good income and stay home and raise a wonderful family.

    Don’t stress yourself out, don’t be so hard on yourself.


  133. Tracy Taylor*

    I was diagnosed with ADHD well into my 40s, but when I started my work life I also struggled with details. One of my bosses made me get a Day -Timer (it was before smartphones or the internet) and that helped me get through that hump, but more came later.

    Getting diagnosed is really important, and now is the time because it is affecting the OP’s functioning. And those of us with ADHD are more sensitive to overwhelm and often have other issues like anxiety. However, this system can be helpful in managing the overwhelm: https://www.amazon.com/Total-Workday-Control-Microsoft-Outlook/dp/0983364761/ref=la_B001K8UAHY_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1520030185&sr=1-1

Comments are closed.