Play Your Hits: How to Build a Career with Strengths and Weaknesses

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UX/UI Designer
Jul 3, 2023

Recently, I stumbled upon a tweet from management coach David Kline, who suggested that those who prefer strategic work are simply lazy or overconfident in their ability. 

This theory is a gross oversimplification of the diverse ways in which people think and work. David's observation implies you have to grind to get ahead. Well, I didn't grind. I still don't. In fact, I (mostly) can't.

When I was ten years old, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD is a mental health disorder that comes with a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. ADHD can lead to unstable relationships, poor work or school performance, low self-esteem, and other problems.

Though I was diagnosed at a young age, I didn’t have access to proper treatment growing up, and only started to understand my ADHD recently through counseling and therapy. I didn’t realize how much it affects my personality, my hobbies, my interests, and my career. My ADHD has been the biggest challenge of my life, but it’s just as important to recognize the benefits that come with neurodivergent thinking.

Pattern Recognition: People with ADHD often excel at pattern recognition. This trait can be particularly useful in fields like UX design, where we often need to examine data, user journeys, and information architecture for valuable insights. This ability to spot trends in user behavior is a key part of Integrity’s approach to user-centered design.

Sensitivity to External Stimuli: People with ADHD can be extremely sensitive to external stimuli. This sensitivity can manifest in various ways. I walked on my toes as a child, which is common in people with ADHD because we can literally feel the dust on the ground as we walk. While it can be uncomfortable, this sensitivity to anomalies and distractions helps us create engaging content that captures and holds our audiences’ attention.

Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: While these are often seen as challenges, they can also be strengths in certain contexts. Hyperactivity can translate into high energy levels and the ability to work at a fast pace, and impulsivity can help us make quick decisions under pressure. Impulsivity can also be seen in the form of robust interests. People with ADHD will often start new projects with great enthusiasm before moving on to another one. Having a lot of unfinished projects laying around can be frustrating, but having a working knowledge base in many areas also makes me a better coworker and team member.

Reduced Working Memory Capacity: This trait, which is common in adults with ADHD, indicates attentional control deficits. However, it can also lead to the development of unique problem-solving techniques and the ability to think outside the box, valuable skills for strategic thinking. 

Empathy and Intuition: Some people with ADHD have heightened emotional sensitivity, which can enhance their ability to understand and connect with others' feelings. This can be particularly valuable in roles that require empathy and interpersonal skills. I am able to examine products with nuance, consider many perspectives and user types, and contribute to our team's ability to create user-friendly and functional products.

Of course, ADHD comes with its challenges. I can be impulsive, easily frustrated, and struggle with routines. I constantly fidget, pull on my beard hair, and forget what I was doing ten seconds ago. The worst part of ADHD, however, is the shame. The shame that comes from living in a messy house, from missed deadlines and subpar performances, from feeling out of place and not being able to fit in. This shame came from years of trying (and failing) to do things like everyone else, instead of looking for tools and techniques that work for me.

Managing ADHD in the workplace isn't always easy, but over the years, I've developed some strategies that have helped. I've found that setting strict deadlines, starting with the most enjoyable parts of a project first, and planning out my work in advance can make a big difference. And perhaps most importantly, I've learned the value of a conducive work environment, one with minimal distractions, empathetic coworkers, and bosses that lift me up, celebrate my differences, and encourage me to lean into my strengths.

Whether or not you have ADHD, you do have strengths and weaknesses. Some people are organized and punctual, some are artistic and creative, some are incredible orators and conversationalists, and some people, yes, are better at strategic work. No matter what your strengths and weaknesses are, you can bring something unique to the table. 

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