update: I’m unprofessional and not detail-oriented — but I still need to earn a living

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter called “I’m unprofessional and not detail-oriented — but I still need to earn a living”? Here’s the update.

Jeez louise, what a weird trip down memory lane it was to re-read my letter after you asked for a follow-up.

The basics first: Some commenters guessed correctly that my “religious tradition that emphasizes equality of all people” was the Quakers. I now work part-time as an office coordinator for my meeting. I also teach classes on how to grow psychedelic mushrooms and organize outdoor experiences. I can pay my bills, save a little for the future, and pay for some wants.

It has been so, so, so good. Nine months in, I got a mostly positive review minus my bookkeeping skills. The personnel committee decided to hire an external bookkeeper to take over the bookkeeping parts of the job, and I get to keep the same amount of hours. Settling in was bumpy (keeping regular hours for the first time in years was a challenge), but it has been a joy. I love teaching, and make steady money teaching intro to mycology 101 and how to inoculate substrate. The foraging side of the business makes less money, but it’s fun as hell to get out in the woods and share what I love with people.

The more philosophical second: Coming to terms with a non-traditional career path was hard. Even though it is legal in my city and I make a point to strictly follow the law, it’s definitely been weird stepping out of the corporate world into psychedelics! There’s definitely some shame around working in mushrooms that has come up as I talk about what I do work with people. The palpable disappointment of my parents for not living up to what they imagined would be my future (I have a master’s degree) and my potential has been a definite presence.

There’s also the challenge of how much time and energy to put into mushrooms. They’re federally illegal, and while there is a tremendous boom going on in the therapeutic psychedelics world, I worry about losing future opportunities because of associations on my resume with it, or whether there’s enough of a future in the work to invest in training.

At the same time, there’s a lot of dumb, harmful ways to make money. The FTX trial going on right now is a good reminder of that. I do good work for my Quaker meeting, I connect people to the outdoors, and I teach people a skill I believe is genuinely helpful for their mental health. There’s worse ways to make a living. It’s an especially stupid time in the history of capitalism, and a lot of work that is actively harmful to the world and to people. I’m proud of myself for figuring out a way to support myself without acting outside my values.

I put a lot of energy over the years into trying to jam myself into a round hole as a very square peg. Whether it’s ADHD or ???, who knows. I’m an unusual person, and if I can figure out ways to play to my working strengths without hurting anyone as I build a career, why not.

I think the remaining challenge of my working life is figuring out how to pull together my disparate interests and skills into a meaningful and long lasting project. It’s an especially stupid time in the history of capitalism. I hope that I’ll be able to bring my work in health, community building and the environment together into something wonderful that lasts. Hopefully involving goats and wildfires prevention. Wish me luck!

I’d like to add one more thing. Working out how to work has been a long process, and so, so many people have helped me along the way. I’m grateful for everyone at Ask a Manager who offered advice, coworkers who helped or pointed out when I could have done better, patient and not so patient supervisors.

Many commentators expressed sympathy for the supervisors and coworkers who had to work with me through the years. I have a great deal of sympathy as well! I’m sure I have made many peoples days more complicated. I hope that my growth and change over the last few years means that the balance tips over into making more people’ days easier rather than harder.

At the end of the day, work is to keep a roof over our heads, get along, and maybe make it easier for others to do so as well. I hope you have good work, and people to help you along the way.

{ 163 comments… read them below }

  1. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

    This is such a good update! I’m so glad you’re in a role that plays to your strengths.
    Oh I wish you all the best in the world. And I’m so jealous that people get to benefit from your mycology classes!

    1. ferrina*

      Yes!! This is a wonderful update! I’m so glad that OP is happy and making a reasonable living. I’ll second that I’m so glad they are playing to their strengths! They sound epic. Let that inner light shine, OP!

    2. Hlao-roo*

      Seconding this! Good for you, OP, for finding work that you’re good at and that fits with your values. It also sounds to me like the work you’re doing know is a solid step in the direction of someday doing wildlife prevention with goats :)

    3. Van Wilder*

      Agreed. I really admire the LW for finding their own path. And you sound like a delightful person to be around.

    4. LW*

      Thank you for your kind words! And I hope
      I get to bring my classes to many people over the years?

  2. Presea*

    Congratulations on finding something that works for you OP! It is indeed a stupid time in the history of capitalism and I wish you ongoing success in carving out your own little corner of happiness despite all of that.

  3. Shenandoah*

    What a great update! I love that you’ve made a path for yourself, OP. And as a corporate desk job girlie who is (mostly) happy with that, one of the reasons I wish that the US did socialized medicine, etc. is that I truly believe in the value folks like yourself bring to the community as a whole – I know there are lots of folks in your position who are trapped in jobs that don’t work for them because they need healthcare etc.

  4. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    Oh this is wonderful. Not everyone belongs in the corporate world. How boring that would be.

    We need more mycologists inoculatingthe substrate (yeah not even sure what is) and fewer middle managers getting the TSP out on the blue paper.

    Let me just say I also love your meeting chapter — oh OP doesn’t do well at bookkeeping, let’s get a bookkeeper. That’s a good employer too.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      It’s the shroom equivalent to planting seeds in soil. Fungal spores or tissue are added to compost/ logs/ whatever in order to start a web of fungal threads, called the mycelium, growing throughout the substrate. Then you do things to induce reproduction, the end result being mushroom formation.

      1. Magc*

        It’s fascinating to me that what we think of mushrooms is only the reproductive portion; I have to remind myself every time mushrooms sprout (often in the PNW) that those are just
        the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fungi.

        1. College Career Counselor*

          Cap of the mush-berg? ;-)

          I agree with others–good job, OP, for how you landed. FWIW, you sound really smart and fun unconventional in a good way, depending on the environment. You seem to have found a good fit. Congratulations!

        2. Hannah Lee*

          The tip of a really big iceberg in some places.

          There are things going on underground that absolutely amaze me, like massive mushrooms, or entire forest communities of trees and other plants, organisms that “talk” to each other in ways humans are only now starting to even notice and don’t fully understand. It’s like when researchers realized that elephants can communicate to each other over great distances using low frequency vibrations … what a big complex wild interconnected awesome world we get to live in.

        3. linger*

          The active organism is mostly a mass of invisibly thin threads, or hyphae.
          Hence harvesting fungal fruitbodies is, by definition … hypha-looting.

      2. BethDH*

        I forgot the middle part of the comment you were replying to and read this as a metaphor for how OP’s meeting supported OP and nurtured their growth.
        I have realized my error but still think we should have fewer flower metaphors and more fungus ones.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Randomly, I think I DO know this because i got served an Instagram ad yesterday for a local company which sells grow-your-own-mushrooms kits. It means taking a growing medium (soil, compost, waste paper, coffee grounds etc) and introducing fungus spores into it so that it will MUSHROOM when given the right conditions.

  5. Dawn*

    For what it’s worth, my current long-term goal for a long-term project is to get a house well out in the middle of nowhere and convert it to a “sustainable home” with a geothermal heat pump, solar/wind power, gardening and indoor growing (including mushrooms!,) so on and so forth, and I’ve been teaching others what I learn as I learn it about these things (especially stuff like “how to grow some vegetables in a small indoor space” which I think is getting important as fresh produce gets priced straight out of affordability for a lot of people.)

    This sounds like the kind of thing that might be right up your alley as well; remember that with Capitalism being stupid and you able to grow things there’s an awful lot you can contribute to ease everyone’s suffering, both in actuality (you can grow food and give it to people who need it) and more ephemerally (you can teach them how to do it too).

  6. Juicebox Hero*

    It’s a crazy stupid time in the history of capitalism for sure! I’m so happy for you being able to find work work that’s fulfilling for you and helpful to people, as well as putting money in the bank.

    As for not building a career upon your degree, I’m not working in the field I went to school for and neither are either of my sisters, my boss, and several of my friends.

    I just joined a mushroom club a few months ago and I’m already looking forward to getting out into nature to poke around for some goodies, so happy shrooming!

    1. ferrina*

      Seconding the “not building a career on your degree.” Both my sister and I have Masters degrees in fields we left after a few years. We still randomly find the information useful, but it’s definitely not the clear career path that we envisioned. Careers aren’t ladders anymore- often they are meandering paths.

      1. dot*

        True enough! I work in an entirely different field than what my degree is in, though I am still working a fairly “traditional” office job/career path. My husband on the other hand has a bio degree and now runs a small Etsy business and does part-time manual labor and he’s way happier than he was in any office job he had! I love updates like this, where someone is making something non-traditional work for them.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          I’m a firm believer in education not just being literal vocational training or a narrow ladder path. Like sure, things like computer science or law or medicine require some specialized training. And knowing how to do XYZ to pay the bills is great (I temporarily regret my squiggly path anytime I want to change jobs because sometimes it’s harder to make the case why I’m a great fit vs say being A Clinical Pharmacist applying to Clinical Pharmacy jobs) But learning how to learn and how to apply what you know to novel situations is so important, as well as being able to cultivate curiosity about the world.

          I’ve also got a bio degree and realized pretty early on that a career in science or medicine wasn’t going to work for me (couldn’t afford the advanced degrees I needed) but the math, logic, analysis, problem solving, data collection and planning skills that I built while earning that degree have been enormously important to my high tech/business management / high tech career. And splitting my 4 years undergrad between a public state university and a liberal arts college gave me a good foundation to arts, humanities, history along side the science and math… things that contribute to the person I am, not just what tasks I can perform in service to an employer for pay.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            This, this, and this – I have a squiggly career path (my work history, when told casually, is full of phrases like, “And then I took a sharp left and ended up in X field”), and it’s really hard to connect the individual dots. But when I pull back and figure out the larger pattern and name it, it makes sense to a lot of people and helps make the case for why I would fit a role where I don’t have the expected background. (Theater kid with a background in operations with a masters in creative writing, now working in consulting/finance – which doesn’t make sense to anybody but me until I learned to explain that I love making things better, and the first step in that is convincing people they should follow my recommendations – which is where storytelling and theater go from being fun diversions to necessary skillsets.)

            OP, I’m thrilled that you found a way to combine the things you care about, and that you’re being supported in your weaker areas so that you can shine in your stronger ones.

  7. BellyButton*

    Great update!
    ” if I can figure out ways to play to my working strengths ”
    I am in people/leadership development. There are two trains of thought and approaches to development and career– do you work on what you are “missing” or do you figure out what you are really good at and focus more energy on that and the be the best at that. Neither approach is wrong. If someone was struggling and no matter how much they wanted to be better at something and actively work at gaining the skill, if they aren’t good at it, and it frustrates them and holds them back, then they are likely not in the right role.
    It can be so discouraging and soul-sucking to get into that sort of pattern.

    I am glad OP shared this so that others who are struggling to fit into — whatever– maybe this will inspire them to look at the situation differently.

    1. Smithy*

      This is 100% what I took from this letter, love the update and hope that it can serve as that inspiration for others as well.

      I think that even in more traditional jobs or job settings – it’s not uncommon to hear people ask why someone never went into management or “is so good but has no desire to be promoted further”. And while sometimes those reasons are about barriers those people face, I’ve also met people who are looking to retire with the best set of benefits possible, and whether that retirement date is in 5 years or 15 – they genuinely don’t want those pathways.

      They know they won’t be good at the job tasks, or even if they might be good – have no desire to do them. And I’ve also seen people who refuse the most obvious or immediate pathways for advancement that they know would be a bad fit, ultimately get positions that genuinely allow them to focus on what they want to do most.

      So while the OP may represent a slightly more outside the traditional box, I think that even for those of us who work inside “the box” – there are usually ways this kind of thinking can really help us.

  8. QA Mini*

    This letter made me happy. I love this update. Please keep being you, OP! It seems like you have found your jam and I love that we have a world where no two people are the same. I also love your varied interests. All the best on your path ahead.

  9. LisaD*

    I relate to you so much! I was able to be a “high achiever” for 10 years in the corporate world because SOME of my strengths are what is valued there, but the cracks showed eventually and I blew up my corporate career to go into the creative world. It hasn’t exactly “worked out,” at least not in terms of financial success or public acclaim, but I support myself with a combination of work I love and work I can tolerate, and I’m at least TRYING to make the thing I’m confident I both love and do incredibly well my main gig. (In my case, that’s writing.)

    It can be very tough to admit that some of your “goals” were actually goals around making other people happy and comfortable, not around what YOU want. But it’s impossible to make other people happy and comfortable forever by making yourself miserable. It shows eventually no matter how well you hide it. Good on you for trying something that’s more sustainable and fulfilling.

    1. BellyButton*

      The point where you stop living up to other people’s expectations of you is so liberating!

      1. Ashley*

        Please embrace “the palpable disappointment” of your parents might be the best thing for you. At this stage I have learned to accept it and we just have a more distant relationship with many topics not up for discussion, but I am a much happier person as a result. Living up to parental expectations as an adult is something more people should freely give up.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I’ve long said that if I have just one accomplishment in this life, it’s lowering the bar for my children through being disappointing.

        1. Stephanie*

          Make Yourself Proud, is my eternal creed to my children, two of whom are adults now. Please don’t try to make other people proud, you’re doomed to fail.

        2. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

          I am 47 and still haven’t outgrown it either. I am a stellar petsitter and only mediocre at anything that requires me to work with/supervise others. There just aren’t a lot of opportunities in traditional careers for people who are creative or work best alone.

  10. Usually Lurking*

    With an interest in both mycology and animal-based fire prevention, look into regenerative agriculture and forestry. Kiss the Ground on Netflix is a great intro to regenerative topics, and the organization has some excellent training programs depending on your interests.

    1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      It’s not fire-prevention specifically, but I read an article recently that goats are really useful for maintaining solar arrays — less expensive, faster, and fewer energy inputs that half a dozen folks with weedwhackers.

      1. Rage*

        In my city, we have an army of goats that is rented out to places to clear massive amounts of brush without massive amounts of manpower, fuel, and refuse. The only by-products are poop and goat milk – plus photos of adorably cute goats chowing down on unsightly vegetation and seeking out attention from onlookers. They’ve been clearing out some areas on my University’s campus lately and one of the program chairs posts photos of them on Facebook.

        Of course, building your own goat army would probably require some attention to detail on your part, but perhaps you could partner with a detail-person while you supply the goats.

        1. FricketyFrack*

          Ooh pick me, pick me! I’m very detail-oriented, and I love goats. I would totally be the person who schedules the herd and does the billing and logistics side of things, and then just occasionally pets some goats as part of my day. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one who would see that as a cool job, so I bet OP could find someone if they were interested in going that direction.

        2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          Yes, my area heavily utilizes goat mowing services! They can be seen all over our regional parks and in the hills — places where humans can’t functionally get to. They are especially great for poison oak.

        3. Cyndi*

          I used to work in a building in River North with windows overlooking the river, and one day I was sitting by the window, eating my lunch and enjoying the view, and saw a barge go by with the deck full of hay and goats and a big banner that said HOT GOAT SUMMER.

          I was worried I’d lost my marbles until I saw in the news the next day that ComEd had treated their goat workforce to a summer boat cruise.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Or terraforming, according to a specific fantasy series which I’m not going to mention the name of because it would be a spoiler.

          1. Minimal Pear*

            I really hope she is indeed making progress on books five and six and that we’ll get to read them someday!

        1. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

          What’s also cool is that the goat’s milk is still safe to drink even if you are horribly allergic to poison oak/poison ivy/poison sumac. Researchers did studies that showed that urushiol (the compound that causes the rash) doesn’t get transmitted to the milk.

          1. Sorcyress*

            That is super cool to learn! Thank you for passing it along (and now I wanna see if I can get some goats to hang out at the dance camp I go every summer, which often has Too Much Poison Ivy off the paths…)


      3. Hannah Lee*

        The other interesting thing with solar arrays, particularly in places like the American Southwest where the sun and heat are brutal is they actually can be good places to cultivate crops … If you plant under them. Enough light is reflected for crop growth, the panels reduce moisture loss due to heat, sun, wind, so it requires less water than open fields.

        With some creativity, engineering, someone could probably figure out a way to do it on a modular way that could be scaled up and managed using technology, machinery and even goats for weed, overgrowth management (if some good fencing is in place to keep them from eating all the crops). And even it never works on an industrial scale, it could be done at the community level, as part of an effort to decentralize food production, to be more resilient in the face of natural disasters or pandemic that disrupt supply chains.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Apparently, growing crops under solar panels has a name: Agrivoltaics

          A quick search shows that it’s beneficial not just to the crops, but can increase energy production because evaporation from the plants helps cool the panels, making them more efficient.

    2. pope suburban*

      Also gotta plug conservation districts. I work for a resource conservation district, and one of our big projects is home hardening for people in wildfire areas. We don’t have goats, but we do educate people about how to stay safer, and how to manage the land around their home to minimize fire risk. We also do a lot of surveys and other field work, which can include getting paid to snorkel in our case. There are hundreds of conservation districts across the US and they tend to have a looooot of opportunities for field work. People interested in sustainability, disaster prevention/mitigation, preserving parks and natural areas, and promoting animal welfare would do well in this field.

      1. TheCakeIsALie*

        Ok that is actually fascinating. Do you have any tips on where someone who’s never heard about this before can find out more information?

        1. pope suburban*

          The best place to start is NACD’s page here: https://www.nacdnet.org/about-nacd/about-districts/

          They have pages under “What We do” that go into greater detail. My organization does a little bit of everything. We have an education program that goes to schools and sponsors adult events to educate people about things like urban wildlife or climate change. We do home evaluations for wildfire protection, like I mentioned. We consult on restoring tourist areas like lagoons and beaches. We’re working on a wildlife overpass right now, doing the studies and design. We have a lot of habitat restoration projects and monitor animal/plant populations at a number of sites. We do this work in concert with private homeowners, HOAs, builders, NPS, local parks, city governments, other RCDs, private grantors…basically, anyone who needs the kind of stuff we do. We have a ton of people doing field work, and doing educational work, so it can either be how you pay your bills, or something you do to champion a favorite cause/educate people about a topic dear to you, and get paid to do it. We have a pretty small full-time staff, but a huge number of part-time educators and field people. It’s a very diverse industry and a great place to find a fit if traditional office or commercial jobs aren’t your thing.

        2. Hlao-roo*

          I found this page on Conservation Districts in Washington State:


          Seems like a pretty good place to learn a bit more, and maybe even get involved if you happen to live in Washington. If you don’t, you’ll probably be able to find info specific to your state by searching “conservation districts [name of your state]”

  11. Lydia*

    Congratulations, OP! Keep in mind, if you’re concerned that working with psychedelics will be frowned on should you move into something else in the future, you can apply the skill to other mushrooms as well. Portobello mushrooms are popular and less controversial, so why not both?

    1. Releeh*

      Yeah, Marita Smith of Milton Mushrooms in Australia in an example of a one-person gourmet mushroom grower for culinary purposes – it is a business people go into!

  12. Funfetti*

    Wow OP! Sounds like you found a great match for a job!

    And honestly you’re not going to get slammed for that job if you stay in your industry – I mean there’s a whole dispensery/budtenders/cannabis world now in certain states. That has blown up! I mean related – look at legalized sports betting? A lot of non traditional things have become people’s careers.

    I hope all continues to go well for you!

  13. Observer*

    This is a good update.

    I’m an unusual person, and if I can figure out ways to play to my working strengths without hurting anyone as I build a career, why not.

    This is a really important insight. Sure, some people are not going to like it, but that’s not the important thing. It sounds like you are not only not hurting anyone, but also doing something yo enjoy and something productive. To me that seems to be a really good place to be.

  14. Lily Rowan*

    I feel like mushrooms in general are hot right now, not just psychedelics, so you could probably grow your work in that area if you wanted to.

    Anyway, great update, and best of luck to you!

    1. bamcheeks*

      Legit— I was seriously considering getting some oyster-mushroom-growing kits yesterday because we have this brilliant recipe for vegan crispy fried duck but oyster mushrooms are approximately the same price as steak. D-:

      1. Minimal Pear*

        Oh that sounds delicious, would you be able to share the recipe/tell me where to look? I really miss duck.

        1. bamcheeks*

          We’ve tried a couple of different versions but this recipe is my favourite. Although I highly recommend buying the hoisin sauce and pancakes rather than making them yourself!

        2. bamcheeks*

          Link will probably get trapped in spam, so Google “riverford oyster mushroom Chinese pancakes” for my favourite recipe. Although I highly recommend buying rather than making the pancakes and hoisin sauce, unless you’re REALLY good at rolling out ot very very thin. Personally I think homemade pancakes aren’t worth the hassle!

  15. pope suburban*

    I love this! And I am reminded of a Quaker coworker who is also very forthright and not super-polished, who has been a field biologist since before I was born. I feel like the outdoor space, like conservation (My field, though I am a bookkeeper) or agriculture (Magic mushroom count) is often a good fit for people who prefer to come as they are. I hope that this update can inspire other people who are struggling to find a place, because the world is so much more than office jobs and spreadsheets. Seeing that represented in the wild cheers me.

  16. Throwaway Account*

    OP wrote: “I’m proud of myself for figuring out a way to support myself without acting outside my values.”

    I’m proud of you, too! And inspired!

    Also, I would love to grow my own mushrooms (regular ones). I’m really confused by what I see online and the commercial kits just don’t work for me. If you have a website and it is allowed to share it here, I’d love the link!

    1. Mushies!*

      Also not OP, but I’ve gotten a lot of knowledge (and supplies) from https://northspore.com/. I actually started with a kit meant from kids from Back to Roots (bought on Amazon).

      A good book is The Essential Guide to Cultivating Mushrooms: Simple and Advanced Techniques for Growing Shiitake, Oyster, Lion’s Mane, and Maitake Mushrooms at Home by
      Stephen Russell.

  17. CommanderBanana*

    Thank you for writing in with an update! Also, “especially stupid time in the history of capitalism” is my favorite thing I’ve read today. It surely is.

  18. Emily*

    This is such a wonderful update! One of the things I love about this site is hearing about all the different kinds of jobs people have that I never would have thought of/knew existed. Something that really stands out to me is that you seem to have a really firm grasp on what your strengths and weaknesses are, and what interests you and what doesn’t. I think that is something that a lot of people struggle with, especially when they try to do jobs that don’t play to their strengths. I hope you are able to continue to do work that is meaningful and fulfilling for you.

  19. spiriferida*

    Glad that your path has ended up working out for you, LW. I might have an additional path suggestion for you, if you’re particularly enjoying the education parts of your outdoorsy stuff (and if you’re interested in working with kids). Children’s environmental education as afterschool and summer programs are a particular niche that might suit you well, as an extension of your current work. It sounds like you’re already doing similar things for adult groups. I have a family member who’s been doing that kind of thing for years – a lot of her work is basically educational nature walks and ponding trips.

  20. You Rock!*

    This is one of the best updates ever!!! You have found your place in the world! Very few of us manage that in terms of work. I admire your persistence and your recognition of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as taking in suggestions that could be helpful. You sound really grounded, humble, and open-minded. I’m really happy for you. And don’t worry if this gig doesn’t last forever — lots of us have to retool as we go through lufe, and you’ll be able to do it again if necessary, with even more skills and experience under your belt.

    1. Goldenrod*

      Agreed, you do rock, OP!

      “Working out how to work has been a long process”

      It has been for me too. And I think for a lot of people. Cutting through the confusion of other people’s expectations can be really challenging. I think you are inspiring.

      Also: I think capitalism is stupid! Period, end of sentence. We’re all just trying to figure out how to get by in this very flawed system. If you can figure out how to get by, feel a sense of purpose, make ends meet, and not be part of something you hate – good for you!!

      You have inspired me and I wish you the best!!

  21. Snax*

    OP, hats off. As another very ADHD human who has just left tech (thanks, lay-offs!) for dog training and retail, I really relate to the disappointment from family. I’ve found that my friends, however, are STOKED for me – I get to work with puppies! I’m known as the dog-friend already, so this makes perfect sense! I’m getting hounded (dog pun totally intended) for advice and training lessons from my buddies, and if my parents don’t get it? They can cope.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      As a parent:
      1. You do You! If you are happy and self-supporting, you are winning.
      2. I am watching my teenager try out different things, and it is *so hard* not to push. SO HARD. My head knows all I can do is support him, because it’s his life and everything’s changing too fast to predict anyway, but my heart wants him safe and settled. If your parents are coming from the same place of hoping to see you safe and settled, please give them some grace.
      3. PUPPIES. If my son could have a job training dogs, he’d be happy. I’d worry about his long-term financial security, but mmmmm… puppies.

  22. Mushies!*

    Mycology is awesome! Have some shiitakes in my martha tent that should be ready to harvest in the next day or two :)

    Good for you on finding what works best for you!

  23. User name lost in the mists of time*

    I love this update so much! I remember the original letter and still think an opportunity was missed to bring in an expert (occupational therapist? ADHD/ career coach?) the way Alison does for questions around race or legal issues, but so glad the letter writer has found a niche that works for them. And that they have found a way to make a living and live their values, truly not an easy thing in this “especially stupid time in the history of capitalism”! Yay letter writer, thank you so much for the update!

    1. LW*

      I would love to hear from a portfolio/squiggly/offbeat career development perspective on what next steps I could take!

  24. Festively Dressed Earl*

    I remember reading this post and wishing I had some good advice for OP, since they’re obviously very self aware and doing whatever they can to work with their brain, not against it. Very happy to read that they’ve found their niche!

  25. Too Many Birds*

    Thank you so much for this update!! I’m another person with ADHD who struggles with organization/detail. I have a PhD and I’m a fantastic people person/people manager (based on consistent feedback I’ve gotten over the years), but I have found it really hard to excel in some of my post-academia roles because the detail stuff kills me every time. (And for some reason, when you aren’t great at administrative detail, you don’t get moved into higher-up roles where there is less of it.) It’s a source of tremendous frustration and self-loathing. So thank you for an update that gives me some hope, even if my own path is not going to be in the goat-and-mushroom space.

  26. Jane Bingley*

    This is such a wonderful update!

    I also deal with a lot of parental disappointment – I have a major post-grad professional degree that means most of my classmates are making $$$$$, while I decided the field was not for me and now work for a non-profit for much lower wages. My life is not what I imagined it would be, and some of my old financial goals are out of reach, but I remain incredibly happy with the big and little ways I get to escape from the capitalist grind and do work that is both fulfilling and making the world a better place. Congrats on finding your corner of joy!

  27. Little Tom Thumb*

    It IS a crazy stupid time in the history of capitalism. I wish we could get the USA off this path to oligarchy we’re on. I don’t want to live in an oligarchy, I want to live in a place with an expansive, vibrant middle class, where most of the GDP growth goes to the middle, not just the top like it has been since the 80s. It’s the most stable and fair form of society.

  28. Annabelle*

    I’m not gonna lie, this part makes me a little nervous:
    “Nine months in, I got a mostly positive review minus my bookkeeping skills. The personnel committee decided to hire an external bookkeeper to take over the bookkeeping parts of the job, and I get to keep the same amount of hours. Settling in was bumpy (keeping regular hours for the first time in years was a challenge), but it has been a joy. I love teaching, and make steady money teaching intro to mycology 101 and how to inoculate substrate. The foraging side of the business makes less money, but it’s fun as hell to get out in the woods and share what I love with people.”

    Mushroom foraging is just one of those things you CANNOT mess up, not for yourself, and not for yourself. Maybe you’ll have a bad stomach ache if you pick the wrong mushroom. Maybe you’ll lose feeling in your hand for a day or two. Or worse. And if you’re still having enough of a problem with attention to detail that things like timeliness and bookkeeping are a problem, how is that impacting your likelihood of picking safe mushrooms—or instructing others on how to pick safe mushrooms?

    1. Sally*

      Please don’t. This reminds me of the truly toxic notion, “how you do one thing is how you do everything.” No, absolutely not, as a neurodivergent person, if I’m interested in something and not burned out, I’m incredibly competent and skillful. If it is an area that isn’t of interest and I’m burnt out, I’m incompetent. People are not factories with either buggy outputs or perfect outputs. Different circumstances bring out different strengths and weaknesses. Stop comparing apples to oranges.

      1. Richie Z*

        The LW himself was the one who mentioned attention to detail not being a strength and it seemed like he’s trying to avoid those types of jobs, so I don’t think Annabelle’s comment is out of bounds.

        1. pope suburban*

          It absolutely is, and edges dangerously close to the “no armchair diagnosis” rule too. This idea that people with ADHD, or people who are neurodivergent, are incapable of taking things seriously, or incapable of being careful, is infantilizing and gross. And wrong, to the point of absurdity- a common feature of ADHD and neurodivergence is something called “special interests,” which are things that trigger hyperfocus. Someone whose special interest is mycology will be able to tell you a mind-boggling amount about mushrooms, and they will know for damn sure which ones will kill you and which ones will taste nice in a salad. Someone avoiding professions that they know they’re not suited to is someone who is showing thoughtfulness and care, and it in no way reflects on their ability to do other kinds of jobs, or commit to hobbies, or be an excellent volunteer/parent/caregiver/friend. This prejudice is not rooted in fact and it is deeply hurtful. We did not need it displayed here, and it was unkind of that commenter to do so.

          1. Margo*

            It’s just a misunderstanding of ADHD, which is common enough. This would be a reasonable concern if LW was not actually interested in mushrooms and was doing the foraging as a gig to make money. When we’re not interested in something is when we tend to zone out and miss details.

          2. Richie Z*

            I think we were just saying what you did above: “Someone avoiding professions that they know they’re not suited to is someone who is showing thoughtfulness and care”

            Not sure where you got all the other stuff but nobody said ND people can’t take things seriously – that doesn’t make any sense

            1. BimboBlobo*


              But what you’re saying is that OP perhaps shouldn’t be doing this job because they struggled with detail in other jobs.

              What others are saying is that if OP is ADHD (which OP suggested could be the case) attention works differently – it’s situational and often interesat based. So someone can struggle with the details and minutia in a corporate environment where they don’t find the work engaging while notice every detail and remember every fact when engaging in something they are passionate about.

    2. Double A*

      The thing is, a lot of people don’t have problems with attention to details they care about or timeliness when the task matters to them.

      I have great attention to detail when it comes to some things that are valued in offices, but you would not want me telling you which is the safe mushroom. I’m assuming it’s just the inverse for the LW.

    3. Rainbow*

      You think this person is going to forage a toxic mushroom or tell others to forage toxic mushrooms because of their ADHD? Nah this ain’t it.

      1. Victoria*

        No. But I do worry that someone who says that “If a work product needs to be exactly right on the first try, I’m not the one to do it,” is doing a job in which getting the “work product” wrong is dangerous to the health of their customers.

    4. Morgan Proctor*

      You’re being rightfully taken to task by others, but I just wanted to let you know that your equating bookkeeping — aka hard math — with mushroom foraging made me chuckle.

    5. LW*

      Do you think that number, time management skills, and visual perception, or design recognition, are the same skills? I’ve found them to be quite different.

      1. LW*

        Also, I don’t really teach mushroom foraging. As I said in the update, the foraging/outdoor experiences parts of my work are pretty separate. I teach a lot in those classes about indigenous foodways, PNW biocycles, food history, and a lil bit about urban edible plants.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        There’s research / theory that supports that they are different skills.

        Howard Gardener, a developmental psychologist, proposed the idea of “Multiple Intelligences”, (most people would call them ‘abilities’ or ‘skills’). ‘Math’ is a separate one from ‘Naturalistic’. They may interact and impact each other, but they can also be very independent.

        Google “multiple intelligences gardner wikipedia” for the full list and explanation.

      3. Lurky McLurkerson*

        While number, time management, visual perception, and design recognition are not the same skills, you’ve said yourself that you struggle with attention to detail and getting things right on the first try. Wild mushrooms can kill people, and if you or one of your students accidentally ingests the wrong one, you don’t get a do-over. I wish you well, LW, and I’m glad that you clarified that you don’t actually teach mushroom foraging. But I hope you can understand why people are somewhat wary of a person with little to no attention to detail teaching classes on a subject with absolutely zero room for error.

    6. allathian*

      Please don’t.

      Bookkeeping is a specific skill that some people excel at and others don’t. I have a master’s degree in business, but bookkeeping 101 was the only course at college that I had to take twice because I failed the exam the first three times I tried, and it was the only course where I failed the exam even once (although I did retake the exams of a few courses in my major subject voluntarily to improve my grade) and I had a decent GPA. At my college the system was that you could retake an exam three times, after that you had to retake the course. If you wanted a better grade, you could retake the exam once, and the better grade counted.

      In spite of my degree, I work as a translator for the goverment in a country with two official languages, so I’m not exactly following the career path my education gave me, either. Thank goodness for the European welfare state, though, thanks to that I didn’t get into student debt because tuition is free (for EU citizens) up to a master’s. Granted, student accommodation isn’t free, but most people here don’t risk personal bankruptcy if they pick a less financially lucrative career than the one they went to college for.

  29. Kate C*

    I have a Masters Degree in a specific, niche area. I had a decent job in that specific, niche area that I was doing well with but that definitely did not coincide with the traditional career path or corporate culture. My boss at the time started pushing me to advance, offering me increasingly higher level roles within the company until I was, essentially, part of the triad that ran the entire company. It was the epitome of climbing the career ladder and I loathed it for the entire time I forced myself into that role. I couldn’t stand the pointless office requirements, got tired and worn out dealing with people constantly, had not capacity, no matter how much I tried, to buy into the whole “I’m so important because I have these fantastic skill sets and that’s enough” mindset that seems to permeate that upper echelon of management in many places and utterly despised being responsible for other people’s work. I took a (surprisingly moderate) pay cut, went back to my initial job before anything to do with management and have never looked back. That type of career will simply never work for me. Furthermore, the skills that got me to that place, are the very skills that work against me once I’m in those positions. I’m known for being frank (but not unkind), supportive, patient and also very independent. I am extremely good with people although they exhaust me disproportionately to the amount of time I spent actively engaged with them. Literally none of the skills that people praised and that I was known for, played a very expansive role in higher level management. I did fine. My boss didn’t complain or think I was doing poorly. I simply could not force myself through another moment of that career path. It’s very, very naive to tell everyone to “just do what you love” because people need to pay bills and survive. However, I would seriously encourage people to refrain from doing things they despise and try to find something that works for them, much like this LW.

  30. Sally*

    Thank you for this update as a neurodivergent person that has to work very hard at finding the right fit and not overdoing it.

  31. JaneDough(not)*

    LW, this is a great update, and you sound like a fascinating person and an excellent citizen.

    I hope you won’t mind my suggesting that you consider undergoing counseling (with a licensed, experienced psychotherapist) to rid yourself of the weight of parental expectations.

    I hope that the rest of your working life proceeds as well as this portion is proceeding.

  32. Abogado Avocado.*

    LW, congratulations on making a way for yourself in the world that allows you to be who you are. It’s evident your struggle was not without pain, but it is wonderful to hear you’ve made it to the other side! As for your family, I hope that someday, and soon, they can celebrate how you’ve managed to know yourself and to play to your strengths in the working world. That’s such an accomplishment.

    As for your mycology classes, while I’m not into the psychedelics, I am into foraging for edible wild mushrooms — but always with a knowledgeable forager — and suspect I’d learn a lot from your classes. May the fungi always be with you!

  33. FriendlyManager*

    Lemme guess are you Sierra-Cascades yearly meeting? fellow friends/quaker here although we’re unaffiliated after breaking with our YM over different values (we believe equality for all truly means equality for ALL)

  34. Hrodvitnir*

    Thank you for this update! It makes me very happy. You sound fantastic.

    As someone with lifelong depression and a biomed degree*, I’m just happy we’re returning to research into psychedelics after the anti-drug hysteria nixed it.

    Additionally, the fact that people of all stripes need to work to live is so often elided, I really appreciate you and Alison for this.

    *Currently doing my PhD in cancer molecular biology, but we did some drug development education and the modulatory effects of NMDA agonists AND antagonists was so exciting to me! I am thankful for SSRI/SNRIs, but they leave a lot to be desired.

  35. marghost*

    The comment section here is honestly really touching. The original letter is so relatable to me, someone who is also adhd and struggles with impulse control and professionalism. The corporate world was a total nightmare that burned me out, and part of the reason leaving was so hard was because of the pushback I got from my parents (two high-achieving academic neurodivergents who never had to work in corporate a day in their lives). It’s really so nice to see people being so kind, and so genuinely happy for OP, because acceptance and care is really not the experience you receive from the world generally when you struggle with impulse control and professionalism.

  36. HemHollow*

    I’ve been reading this site for years and this is my first ever Internet Comment. I am a mid 30s woman just recently diagnosed with ADHD, not using my masters degree, unable to do office work and longing for more outdoor jobs, …and also a Quaker! Your story has been a huge nudge of inspiration to stop trying to jam myself into square holes. Thank you so much for voicing the frustration I’ve been facing for decades.

  37. Nat*

    As a fellow ADHD/???-er who is just getting over a 2 day panic attack because my work didn’t think to specify that I wasn’t being fired because of my flakiness or weird demeanour, they just couldn’t afford to keep me on more than one day a week at the moment, & sent me an email saying they were cutting 99% of my shifts with no explanation, this post has cheered me up immensely, I’m so glad you’ve found somewhere that is so perfect for you & god, may all the neurodivergent weirdos who need to exist in capitalism have this at some point!

  38. pippin*

    This update makes me so happy. I remember feeling disheartened after seeing the comments on your first post OP, and I have a looooooooooot of empathy for the stuff that you were/are going through. We can make our lives our own despite capitalism !!!! :)

  39. Jules the 3rd*


    If you can figure out how to grow morels or truffles, they sell for a lot and could be a good side income for people who do not work outside the home, so teaching people how to grow them still has a significant social benefit without the potential legal concerns.

    Tuber melanosporum is the French truffle, and USA Today has a nice story about US farms.
    Tuber canaliculatum is the Appalachian truffle, and I love the Outside Online article about it. It’s not currently farmed in the US.
    Morels, I just love – my parents time their spring vacation for morel hunting season, and sometimes share their catch with us. There are very few morel farmers, but there is a ‘Danish Morel Project’ that has developed a method.

    I respect the psilocybin work too! Hope the national legal situation for those gets more friendly.

  40. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    OP, I’ve done everything from retail, to daycare, to warehouse work, to govenrment office work. I was setting thru a Mother Earth Faire seminar one year and had an epiphany moment where I realised if I had been encouraged as a kid into 4-H that I would have probably chose something along the lines of teaching those seminars as a career path. I’m in my 50’s, who knows maybe one day I still will. Might just see what volunteer opportunities are at the local extension office and wade in to the waters. Or I might just decide I want to shelf books at the local library or book store. I might purchase costumes and decide to rent myself out for kids birthday parties. We don’t have to decide what we want to be when we grow up if the immaturity keeps us young. Keep looking for things that make you feel alive and pay the bills at the same time.

  41. AMT*

    Such a good update! I’m a therapist with ADHD and can confirm how much of a relief self-employment can be (I know LW isn’t fully self-employed right now, but it sounds like that’s where they’re heading). There is so much pressure in traditional work environments to adapt yourself to others’ work styles, figure out the office social dynamics, and generally spend a lot of energy just fitting into your work environment that could be spent on the work itself. And it makes you feel defective when you see that these factors don’t stress other people out to the same degree and they don’t spend the same amount of time and energy on it.

    It was incredibly validating to get into private practice and finally be able to say, “I wasn’t bad at the work itself. I’m not inherently a bad employee. It’s just that the accommodations I needed were not possible at previous jobs, and I didn’t even know I needed them. But now that I’m aware of my limitations and have more control over my work, I can [work self-designed hours/hire an assistant for the pesky admin work/use software that meshes well with my brain/take on only the amount of work I can handle/vary my work so I don’t get bored/get really into special projects sometimes/cultivate an informal work environment for my staff where direct communication is rewarded/do a thousand other things that are possible for a small business owner but aren’t when you’re a small cog in a large hospital system].”

  42. KnittyKnerd*

    Man do I relate to this letter writer. the only real difference is that certain childhood trauma left me with some masking skills that have helped me stumble my way through a corporate 9-5. I am so glad to see fellow ND folks find their way outside of the standard expectations, it gives me hope.

  43. glouby*

    Thank you so much for writing and sharing your insights, OP – I have zero interest in mushrooms, have a brain that loves bookkeepy details, and I feel like I connect 100 percent with your unfolding story.

    1. glouby*

      Also, I could imagine if/as psychodelics become more corporatized, being a voice of ethics in this space will only become more important.

  44. K*

    The title of the original thread wins the gold medal for best AAM post title ever, and I love this update very much. I am self-employed and hope to never go back to having to work for someone else and as such am sometimes amused at myself for reading this blog (even though it’s just objectively good and interesting human content!) — seeing these sentiments/experiences represented here was a pleasant surprise. So glad you’re thriving, OP.

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