(This blog is based on some thoughts I shared with our friends at ImpactADHD)
My parents told me that. The school system told me that. And what I could see of the real world from my High School seemed to confirm it.
A university degree brings you wealth, happiness, opportunity, and success. Not having degree doomed you to menial, unpleasant, and servitude. It was obvious.
Naturally, I was desperate to find a good job. In a field that was interesting and exciting. But I had no idea what that might be. Struggling with undiagnosed ADHD, I sensed I was ‘different.’ Weird. I looked at the common careers and they struck me as uniformly appalling.
A vocational guidance test in Grade 10 increased my dread. I hoped it might list my ‘Top 5 Careers Options’ as Magician, Comedian, Stuntman, Model Railroader, or Gigolo.
Or, even better, since I had ADHD, all five! Yay! Multi-tasking!
The Truth Was, I Didn’t Want to Grow Up
Alas, none of my top five were in the list that spewed from the punch card spewing computer. The only career I can recall from the recommendations was… Ahem… ‘Furrier.’
Furrier? I thought Furrier was an adjective. As in, “my dog is furrier than your dog.”
When the Guidance Counselor explained what a Furrier did, I was mortified. Skinning animals, sewing them into clothing, dealing with wealthy customers? Really? How the hell did that machine come to that conclusion? The vocational guidance test that was intended to open my mind to the array of choices for my life, left me dreading adulthood. (A feeling that has never quite gone away.)
With a sinking heart I assumed I’d have to endure 40 years of boredom doing drudge work before being allowed to retire and enjoy live. Unless I got a university degree.
What kind of degree? I had no idea what I wanted. And a clear idea of what I did not. Starting with Furrier.
When well meaning relatives would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I shrugged. Because they assumed I wanted to grow up.
A Million-to-one Long Shot
When I did toddle off to university, I still had no idea what I wanted to do.
I pursued a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics because it was my most interesting course in high school, and I had a great teacher. In fact, I got good marks. True, not as good as my marks in art class, and that TV course I took in Grade 12. But those were just fun, right? The notion that I might make a living in television, or creating art… that seemed like a million-to-one long shot. About as likely as getting paid to build model railroads. (Ironically, a few years ago I worked full-time for 6 months building a huge model railroad. Last week I saw an advertisement: Lego is hiring people build stuff out of, yes Lego. It’s a full-time job! Oh, and several years ago my son’s friend had a full-time job testing video games! But I digress.)
So by my second year of university, I was suffering from Depression. I’d come to dread university as much as I had dreaded High School. Lost, afraid to tell my family, I went to the Registrars Office, got some much needed counseling, and opted for a 3-year General Degree instead of a full 4-Year degree. I’d be free one year sooner! And I accepted this would doom me to a mediocre life with a mediocre salary.
I was wrong, or half wrong. My life has never been mediocre.
‘I’m Just Lucky to Have a Job’
Like so many people with ADHD, my salary never reflected my true worth, because I assumed what I did was easy, and that they could replace me with another comedy writer at any time. ‘I’m lucky to have a job.’ A common belief amongst ADHD folks with unusual talents.
When I graduated from university, I still had no idea what I was going to do with my life. But I had a great job, doing zany public demonstrations with lasers, cryogenics, and combustible chemicals at a Science Centre. It was perfect for me. But it never felt like a career.
In fact, I’ve grown to dislike the term ‘career’. For me, and a lot of my peers, our work history does not look like a ‘career path’. It’s more like a game of Hop Scotch, jumping from one interesting job to another, often with only passing connections or overlap.
“That looks interesting.”
A Burgeoning Revolution
Despite my quirky journey to success, I found myself repeating my parents ‘truth’ to my kids, “You need a good education to get a good job. That means college or university.”
Today? My kids are adults… and I’ve come to see that ‘truth’ is wrong. Or half wrong. Yes, you need a good education to get a good job. But no, that doesn’t mean the only route to your dream job is directly from high-school to college or university.
I see it when I survey my family members, colleagues, and friends.
The idea that going right college may not be the one true path for everyone keeps showing up in newspaper and magazine articles. Last year, the premier business magazine in the world, The Economist, had a cover story titled, ‘The Whole World Is Going To University: Is it worth it?’
When we were making our video, Earning A Degree With ADHD, my own pathway came into clearer focus. In the video https://totallyadd.com/store/product/earning-a-degree-with-adhd-2/a dozen experts cover a score of strategies and accommodations that can make all the difference for students with this mindset. Whatever their age. As you’ll see, most Universities and Colleges are doing everything they can to help students with ADHD, because when we have the right supports and tools, we can soar.
But in the video several experts suggest something… well, revolutionary.
High School & College Work… Right?
Going from High School into college or university works for some, but not for many. Especially kids with ADHD. Remember, this is a neuro-developmental disorder. We are behind our peers in crucial self-management skills. We are often delayed socially. (When I was in Grade 13, my best friends were in Grade 10.)
What’s the rush? As parents, and for students, there’s a sense of urgency. The world is changing. You need to get in there. Now! You’ll miss out!
I wish I’d waited. Considered. And perhaps done what so many kids with ADHD do. It’s something my kids did. One took an extra year of high school. And then took a 16-month paid internship between third and fourth year. Another dropped out of high school, worked, returned and finished the courses needed to graduate, and then went off to university.
Bill Gates and Steven Jobs Never Earned a Degree!
Another option, perhaps, is to go only for as long as you need to get the knowledge you need. Yes, there are some very successful people who dropped out and became billionaires. Steven Jobs story is especially interesting. He ended up dropping in on whatever classes interested him. Even though he wasn’t enrolled in them. Feeding the natural curiosity.
The problem with stories of ‘drop out’ billionaires is that they overlook the millions who dropped out and ended up at low-paying jobs that were really beneath their abilities. The term is ‘under-employed.’ And it’s a big issue for ADDers. No wonder there’s often a strong sense of ‘underachieving.’ And ‘I’ve always known I was capable of more.
Another choice that has worked for some ADHD kids I know is to take a few years after High Schoool and work in a slew of different fields to see what you like doing, and then get the education you need. They work for a Temp Agency. Or Intern. Apprentice. Take online courses. Volunteer. Earn extra High School credits, part-time to give themselves more options.
This is not just an extraordinary idea—it’s happening. More and more. A burgeoning revolution. Both of my kids took unusual paths to get their degrees. At the time I admit I was concerned. But today they both have jobs they love. Best of all, they excel at what they do. Because, well, they have jobs they love.
Is College the right path for people with ADHD? It’s a valid question.
I am very much in favor of education. Good education. And by good I mean the right education, the appropriate education for the job you want. Yes, if you want to be a doctor you will need to spend 6 or 7 years earning a medical degree. And that’s a good thing. I approve of that. My son has a degree in Physics-Engineering. Like a Doctor, an Engineer is a professional certification, and hard earned. (Which is why most buildings and bridges don’t collapse.)
So for many careers, a traditional, linear, accredited, structured education curriculum is terrific. But that doesn’t mean you have to earn that degree in the same linear way.
The Risk Is Big. The Costs Enormous
I’ve watched a lot of young people earn degrees that did not give them the skills they needed to get the job they wanted. Or any job at all.
Like me, many folks with ADHD pick a college major based on the one course that they liked in high school. Which was often because they had a great teacher in that subject.
It seems to me that most people spend more thought and research on a new house than on what kind of degree to earn. We rush kids directly from High School into University without any experience of real work and real workplaces.
It’s all theoretical. What they’ve read about the career, or seen on TV.
Yes, on ‘Law & Order’ they wrap a murder trial up in one hour. In real life, criminal cases drag on for years. And most criminal lawyers have dozens of cases they are working on and tracking… with few ever getting to trial.
Asking a 16 year old students to decide on what they’re going to do for a living, and then commit tens of thousands of dollars and many years of studying it, is… well, it’s like asking young people to purchase a house based solely on reading a dozen real-estate ads. I’m still not sure what I’ll be doing for a living in five years. But I know it will be interesting.
With the change of pace in the world, there’s a real danger that students could end up spending time and money getting a degree for a career that no longer exists.
Or even worse, working as a Furrier. It can happen!
P.S. – An exciting update! I’m proud to announce that we’ve just released our newest video, ADHD Goes To School. If your child has ADHD, or you know of someone who is struggling to help their child, this video may be the best investment you have made for their future.
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