Tonight, for the first time in almost a decade, I’ll be stepping into a college classroom as a student. Before anyone questions my sanity, not to worry. I’m enrolled in an eight-week, non-credit writing course, not a degree program.

Of course, this temporary shift in my availability presents a new challenge for our family. Working hard is my hyperfocus jam. My household has come to rely on the fact that I self-medicate my ADHD by doing stuff around the house. Most of the time, I’m cool with that, but sometimes I miss the good old days when I could climb every mountain and take every class.

For so many reasons, I can no longer climb every mountain. That’s why I’m looking forward to this bite-size academic adventure.

College: the last place an ADHD girl can do it all

Perhaps you’re familiar with the stereotypical face of ADHD: male, visual thinker, academic underachiever.

Perhaps you can also see why so many women and linguistic thinkers go undiagnosed until adulthood. My school years treated me well because they provided a lot of structure and allowed me to taste-test whatever interested me in the moment. I knew how to get an A in just about anything, and taking a breadth of classes is normal — maybe even encouraged. Taking a breadth of jobs in the real world makes you look like a flake who can’t stay employed.

As an undergraduate, I switched between four different majors and two universities. I took classes in philosophy, geology, early childhood development, calculus, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I learned to develop photos in the darkroom, use 3D modeling software, and speak a little bit of Russian. I held down jobs as a set painter, sandwich maker, and tech support specialist.

My only regret upon receiving my bachelor’s degree (fine arts, with a minor in art history) was that I couldn’t repeat the process over and over until I’d covered every major my university offered.

Since then, I’ve applied and been accepted to two graduate programs: a master’s in community arts and an online MBA. I actually completed half (or so) of my MBA, until I’d used up my AmeriCorps education award. I was having fun and doing well. However, faced with a few years of stay-at-home parenting followed by self-employment, I couldn’t justify spending $23,000 for me to finish my MBA just for fun.

And now: snacking on knowledge

My brother-in-law coined a term for our family’s approach to learning: snacking on knowledge. And for me, right now, snacking seems like the right thing to do.

I have a young child. My 10-year career goals are muddled somewhere between novelist, professor, personal organizing coach, and pro blogger. I probably could get into a degree program (again) and do well (again), but that doesn’t mean I have to.

Aging with ADHD has required me to learn a brand new skill: slowing down. Technically, I probably can do anything I put my mind to. This doesn’t always make it a good idea to try. The fact is, I still have a solid work ethic, but I get tired now. I’m not happy when I overcommit. Life seems shorter than it once did, and I want to check at least one Big Life Goal off my list.

One of those Big Life Goals happens to be publishing a novel, and I happen to have a complete draft. I’m not only taking a practical bite out of academic life, I’m connecting it to a goal-in-progress.

And maybe that’s the biggest progress yet.

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