Have you ever wondered why people with ADHD are 300% more likely to set up their own businesses?
It’s because we’re neurodivergent: we think outside the box set by our society. This is often reflected in the traditional ‘9-5’ workplace, where we’re subject to certain social norms and expectations, such as working from an office, Monday to Friday. (In this way, we think outside the ‘cubicle’!)
So, if you have ADHD, it’s natural to feel tempted to ditch the container of convention in pursuit of unfettered innovation by becoming self-employed, but this isn’t necessarily always the best idea - at least not straight away.
ADHD has been scientifically linked with strengths such as creativity, innovation and bravery, which can be brilliant qualities for entrepreneurs and employees alike, depending on our environments.
We can absolutely thrive in self-employment, where we can harness these strengths and turn our endless ideas into reality, but it’s vitally important to ensure we have the scaffolding set up to sustain this success, before quitting our jobs!
Speaking as someone who left the security of their stable law job during a global pandemic to become an ADHD coach and set up ADHD Works, here’s some factors to consider:
1) Security & Stability
Quitting your job is not a decision to make on impulse - despite your brain’s best efforts! Becoming self-employed involves a lot of ‘boring’ aspects, such as being responsible for our own administration, bookkeeping, tax returns, sales, and marketing - all in addition to the actual work!
It’s important to remember that the ADHD brain is like a Ferrari with bicycle brakes, meaning that we may forget to think potential challenges through in advance. People with ADHD can also struggle with managing finances, so it’s very important to get clear on exactly how much money we need to survive, and how we’re going to make it. Dopamine doesn’t pay the bills!
It’s a good idea to create a business plan and test this out alongside having the security of your job, saving a financial buffer to help with the transitional period, such as 3 months’ worth of salary. Set this as a goal to reach before ditching the 9 to 5!
2) Structure & Routine
People with ADHD may not enjoy sticking to a routine, but it’s absolutely crucial for our overall wellbeing. The boundaries of employment can be extremely important ‘containers’ for us to grow within, such as by setting out clear expectations. These can help structure our lives, such as by signalling when to switch off our laptops instead of continuing working throughout the night!
However, for those of us who struggle with being confined to certain ways of working, such as from an office or during the daytime, it can be great to adapt these to suit us through being self-employed. Having someone to help us stay accountable to this is key, as ADHD impacts our self-awareness.
It’s important to think very carefully about this structure before quitting your job, such as by setting out your working hours and locations in advance - an ADHD coach can help with this.
3) Support & Community
One of the most valuable parts of employment is having a consistent community of people to socialise with. Not only is this important to foster human connection and peer-to-peer support, but also to help us develop within our careers, receiving and providing feedback for others.
Having ADHD may mean we experience ‘object permanence’, simply forgetting that other people exist if we’re not talking to them every day! This can result in relationship challenges, which could be worsened in a self-employment context.
It’s vital to factor this into any plans to become self-employed, to ensure that you don’t suddenly become isolated and lonely, especially if you live alone! This is also a great opportunity to choose your own team and working culture, such as by joining a co-working space, online community of like-minded entrepreneurs, or creating your own team.
If you’re in the UK, you may also wish to apply for Access to Work, who can help fund support such as a virtual assistant or ADHD coach. Try to identify your support network before quitting your job!
4) Success & Self-care
Traditional workplaces reward us when we meet clearly defined targets, but when we’re self-employed, we need to set these for ourselves (and stick to them!). Having ADHD can make this difficult, as our brains seek dopamine and the ‘next’ goal - there’s a strong correlation between workaholism and ADHD.
By defining what success means to you before quitting your job, you can set out what ‘enough’ is in advance. Incorporating breaks and moments to celebrate your success will help you to avoid burnout. Remember, you can do anything - just not everything (at the same time!).