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The Costs of Fitting In

I find myself with an unexpected window of free time. This is the perfect opportunity to catch up on some emails and get started on my blog! *She blacks out. As she regains consciousness, she finds herself a few guesses deep in Wordle.* Oops, my Monkey Brain took over. *Activates the Thinking Part of the Brain. Reluctantly, painfully closes Wordle and texts a colleague.* “Free to co-work?” “Yes, actually! I’ll send a link!” Suddenly, the task that was so hard for me to start became much easier.

Working with a tribe of fellow ADHDers is a gift because I don’t have to mask. Masking is when “a person with ADHD acts in a socially acceptable way in order to fit in, therefore hiding their natural impulses so they can act like folks without ADHD.” Many professionals with ADHD find themselves doing the hard work of conforming to norms. They may be able to make it look easy, but on the inside, they feel exhausted, stressed out, and maybe even depressed. 

This has been on my mind because of recent conversations and success stories from participants in my Masterful Living group (a weekly group for adults with ADHD). These brilliant humans come from a wide range of professions. Each of them shares the challenge of navigating ADHD in the workplace. Many have experienced the relief that comes with owning what works best for them and doing it, even if it looks different from what others are doing. 

The Costs of Fitting In

One member of our group has a standing meeting scheduled with a colleague who she suspects is also “neuro-spicy.” “We’re kind of the Dream Team,” she says. She’s realized that talking out loud helps her think and problem-solve more easily. After these meetings, it’s easier for her to move forward with things she was stuck on. Another group member, a retired Wall Street broker, didn’t even know he had ADHD at the time but learned to lean into his natural impulses of blocking out longer periods of uninterrupted work time, followed by taking long walks. Colleagues would playfully joke with him about his unique approach, but he found a style that worked for him and didn’t change it to look like others. 

These examples follow typical guidance on ADHD disclosure in the workplace, which suggests skipping the risky disclosure conversation and instead advocating for approaches that work best for you. I’m heartened, however, by stories of people’s ADHD being openly accepted and taken seriously in the workplace. One of our group members knew she wanted a work environment that was supportive of her work style, so she decided to disclose her ADHD in the job interview process. The disclosure was not made as a request for accommodations but as context for why certain approaches and systems are necessary for her to thrive. She was hired, and she now enjoys working in a supportive environment.

Recently, the Harvard Business Review’s Podcast Women at Work devoted an hour-long episode to the topic of women with ADHD in the workplace. How incredibly cool: a podcast whose audience is largely neurotypical professionals, educating folks about ADHD and providing meaningful ways to be supportive colleagues and managers to ADHD professionals. 

Could these possibly be examples of a larger trend of increased understanding and support of ADHD professionals? Granted, my visions of vibrant, inclusive, mask-free workplaces might be a bit detached from most people’s current reality, but I’m holding on to these examples as promising signs that we’re moving in the right direction. Meanwhile, ADHD professionals may want to ask ourselves, what’s the cost of continuing to do things just like everyone else? What do we have to gain by loosening our masks a bit and experimenting with a different approach?

Abby Riley

Abby Riley

ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach