ADHD and Cultivating Meaningful Work

meaningful work kwork






I’m still working my way through Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection and the Oprah Winfrey art journaling  e-course offered in conjunction with the book.

Guidepost #10 is Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To”. This is a chapter that a lot of people can relate to. Work or employment is a major part of our identity and status. As mentioned in this chapter, one of the first things people ask you when they meet you is, “What do you do?” The response can either lift you up and lower you in the eyes of the inquirer. People aren’t often excited by responses such as cashier, janitor, receptionist, or any other job that society doesn’t consider oooh or aww worthy. Tell a person you are an astronaut, teacher, nurse, engineer, or doctor and their eyes light up with further questions, not about you, but about your job. No wonder some people feel so much pressure to have a conversation worthy occupation.


Brene Brown doesn’t define what “meaningful work” is; instead, she leaves it us as individuals to make that determination. Brown believes, “No one can define what’s meaningful for us. Culture doesn’t get to dictate if it’s working outside the home, raising children, lawyering, teaching, or painting. Like our gifts and talents, meaning is unique to each one of us (p.112).”

Having ADD can be difficult in the workforce if we are matched with a job that doesn’t work well with our weakest symptoms. Everyone has different intensities of symptoms which they struggle with. It can be difficult to say which jobs are best or worst for those with this disorder. Working at jobs and in certain environments that are not a right fit can be destructive for one’s career and self-esteem.

dostoevsky on Meaningful Work

There are people who have had to switch jobs and careers due to their ADD symptoms interfering with their ability to succeed at their duties. Some people have their dream job and find their life both in and outside of the workplace to be meaningful. They don’t count hours and they make more than enough money to support their needs and wants. We’re not all so fortunate. I can sit here and write about how to achieve your dream job, but I’m too realistic for that. Instead, I want to encourage you to take time to review what you consider to be meaningful work and ask yourself if you are doing meaningful work in your life. If your work life is not meaningful, can you change that? Do you want to change that and do you really have to?

If you’re not going to be changing your line of work, what other areas of your life can you cultivate meaning? Your employment might only exist for the purpose of paying for your survival; there is nothing wrong with that. But it is important to have some sort of meaning in your life. That meaning might come from hobbies, family, volunteering, or your spiritual practices.

After reading the chapter on Cultivating Meaningful Work, I thought about the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10: 38-42), a story which has always annoyed me. I’m a Martha, I find meaning in the busyness of work and I enjoy looking back at my day and determining its value by how many items have been checked off the to-do list. This is a habit I am still working to change. Why Jesus, why did you embarrass Martha like that? This has always been my selfish question in defense of sister Martha.

Mary and Martha by Velazquez

It can be difficult to interact with people who have different criteria for “meaningful work” than we do, but it’s important to remember we each bring a different piece to the completion of these puzzles called work and life. I spend most of my day with people who have diverse goals and methods. Because of this, I make sure to schedule time to be with others who share with me a common definition, practice, and understanding of “meaningful work”. You can do the same by hanging out with people who you have an affinity with. For example, if you are training for a marathon, it is important to spend time with others who value discipline, healthy eating, and of course running. If you spend too much time hanging out with people who value daily Netflix binges, think it’s a waste of money to sign up for races, and don’t like to exercise, you won’t be happy when you invest too much of your free time hanging out with them instead of focusing on your race preparation. The same can be said of other things that are meaningful to you.

Stop Comparing Yourself

Brene Brown has this to say, “It can take some time to figure out how to get deliberate about doing meaningful work. I finally got very specific and wrote down my own criteria for ‘meaningful’. Right now, just for me, I want my work to be inspiring, contemplative, and creative. I’m using these as a filter to make decisions about what I do/what I commit to/how I spend my time. …In his book Outliers, Gladwell proposes that there are three criteria for meaningful work—complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward… (p.115).”

Here’s a challenge for you: Take some time during the remainder of this month to clarify and define what “meaningful” and “meaningful work” means to you and only to you. How is this evident in your life or how can you make this a part of your life?