The first time I read Studs Terkel’s book Working, I was in college studying how oral histories were written about American labor history. Working, perhaps Terkel’s best-known book, is based on the three years he spent talking with people in all sorts of occupations. It was published in 1972, and its subtitle explains it all: “People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.”

I have never forgotten a quote from the last page of the book’s introduction. A woman named Nora Watson said, “I think most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us, like the assembly line worker, have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people.” – Page xxiv

In my family, we did not simply have jobs or careers. Each person had a cause. Work was a fight for the good of others based on what we believed were societal inequalities. As I recall both my mother’s and father’s seemingly dissimilar occupations, I realize they were actually working toward the same goals. My parents believed that all people, no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, occupation or religion (LGBT issues weren’t talked about back then), have a right to a voice or representation “at the table.”

Growing up, I assumed that everyone had a job that was about saving the world. People didn’t just have jobs. They had callings. Looking back, I don’t know how I explained everyone around me whose jobs were intricate in making my life and the lives of others function, like driving a bus or umpiring a baseball game. I also thought that people intrinsically knew what type of work they were meant to do. I thought everyone knew his or her special “how,” how they in particular were meant to save the world, like becoming a doctor, social worker or community organizer.

As an adult, of course, I understand we need people in all types of occupations to make society work. I still believe that if it is in any way possible for one to follow a calling, one should. In fact, a calling isn’t necessarily a special occupation. Your calling as a shoe salesperson could be to serve your customers to the best of your ability with honesty and compassion. Your calling could be that as you interact with the public, whatever your job, to do it with heart. Try to bring the best out of everyone you interact with each day.

Have you met people like that? People who incidentally cross your path and leave you feeling better for having met them? I am warmed even thinking about people like that. A calling can be a specific occupation or simply how you approach any occupation. But, here comes my caveat: if at all possible, find your occupational calling. When all is said and done it will make your life easier regardless how challenging the occupation is.

I had a framework that I used to use when I was teaching. I called it “challenging in a situation of success.” It meant that I believed it was important to challenge each student to reach as far as they could but not so far that there was a high likelihood of failure. It is good to be challenged. It is one of the ways we grow. But, constant failure can be discouraging enough to paralyze a person.

I have found some of my clients affected by ADHD to be occupationally challenging themselves in a situation of likely failure. They take on jobs or careers that play to their historic weaknesses, and they do it for many reasons, including:

  • They believe it a safer career choice then the one of their intrinsic interest
  • The particular career choice has more jobs available
  • The particular career pays better
  • There is pressure from family to have a “prestigious” occupation
  • They don’t’ perceive their strengths to be valuable; so they choose something they perceive society values instead

This list could go further, but I believe you get the idea. Bottom line is that if you choose a job or career that you are not inclined towards and you have ADHD, the likelihood of being able to hold that job or be successful in that career is not high. Choosing an occupation that is strength or interest-based will more likely lead you to success. The higher paying job will not result in more money if you lose that job. The lower paying job that is right up your alley may result in more money because you are able to stick with it and move up in the organization. The “right” or “smart” job or career choice entirely depends on the individual, his or her interests, strengths, weaknesses, needs and wants.

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