How my ADHD affects the running of my business

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A decade ago I achieved a great goal in life: I opened an independent, community-oriented bookstore when I was 31. Before starting my own business, I never had what most people in the US would call a typical full-time job: clocking 40 hours a week at a company that hired me after I filled out an application and had a good interview would have. I’ve had a wide variety of jobs since my early 20s, but I’d never stumbled upon a career path that felt good over the long term.

Avid Bookshop’s planning process felt different. The challenges I faced were invigorating and I loved how much I learned. When I tell the story of how my company came about, I emphasize the fact that I’ve always had a variety of interests, and that Avid was the perfect way for me to explore them all without having to commit to just one.

Now that I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, in hindsight it seems obvious that my brain chemistry has played a role in my career decisions since day one. My therapist told me early on that a significant percentage of entrepreneurs have ADHD. I have read this in many books and articles about the disorder since then.

My brain longs for new challenges and quickly gets tired of everyday, unexciting tasks. Like many of you reading this, my most satisfied and accomplished work at work is when I use my creativity and quick thinking to solve problems. When my neurodivergent brain finds an answer to a long-standing problem, I feel confident and able, grateful to be in a career where my ability to think outside the box is not only welcome, but necessary to success . In these cases, I am sure that I am exactly the right person to be the founder and owner of my company.

However, I spend a lot of time feeling bad about myself. I worry that people are only two steps away from finding out that I am a lazy scammer playing the role of a respected business owner. For many years I have wanted to roll my eyes self-deprecatingly when someone tells me: “You did your best”.

I just know that I wasn’t really doing my best. I worry that if people were aware of my untapped potential, they would be less likely to compliment me on my awards. Nobody can see all the ideas I have that I don’t have the resources or the discipline to implement. On particularly tough days, I am plagued by the fear that accompanies the hours I spend each day knowing what I am should do, but completely unable to do it.

While there are several ADHD-related factors that add stress to my work life, my biggest hurdle is my lifelong habit of procrastinating.

I’m usually reluctant to admit how much I’m putting off. Sure, I mention it self-deprecatingly every now and then, but that mostly happens after I’ve finished a task under the wire and can speak with relief. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with ADHD in the spring of 2021 that I learned that my procrastination was related to problems with executive function in my neurodivergent brain.

The work is immensely fulfilling for me and also constantly stressful. Over the years preparing to start my own business, I felt confident that if I worked 100% for myself, I would be more organized, happier, and less prone to procrastination. My assumption was that my procrastination – and the associated stress peaks and dips – was related to the fact that my tasks and duties came from others (bosses, teachers, supervisors, etc.).

I would certainly stop delaying and postponing important tasks once I was my own boss. To the right?

Not correct.

Together with many outstanding colleagues, past and present, I was able to create systems, controls and balances to ensure that important things don’t fall through the cracks. Before I was diagnosed with ADHD, I had spent a lot of time creating and implementing reminders and safeguards that would minimize the effects of my procrastination.

Overall, I’m proud of the way I’ve taught myself to be more focused and organized at work. During quiet periods, my work stress is fairly low and my bad ADHD patterns – including procrastination – appear to be fairly calm. But during tougher times (including this season) my ADHD symptoms get out of hand. This leads to more anxiety, which encourages my desire to avoid and postpone work, which in turn makes me more anxious overall.

At times like this, I try to remind myself that no feeling is forever. 2021-me has more insight and knowledge than any previous version of myself and that shows me how much a person can grow. I can close my laptop at the end of the work day, even if I haven’t even finished half of my tasks. I can treat myself with compassion and pledge to carry today’s lessons into the future. I can thank you for this busy, always challenging career that is full of meaning and joy even on the toughest days of ADHD.


Photo credit: Luis Alvarez / DigitalVision via Getty Images

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