Okay, ADHD people, think back to a time when you felt lost and unsure what to do next. While everyone else was following a logical path through life’s milestones — college, employment, thesis defense, marriage, kids, home ownership — you felt like nothing fit.

Maybe you’re there right now.

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photo source: nationalservice.gov

I was there just before I completed my bachelor’s degree. Despite having spent four years studying fine arts, I knew I couldn’t make it in the art world. Successful artists are focused and driven, willing to toil thanklessly for years before anyone notices them. They stick with one medium until they master it. They’re adept networkers who remember to carry their portfolio and business cards, and they leverage social connections into opportunities to show and sell their work.

Not ideal for someone with ADHD.

And yet, I didn’t want to go chasing a paycheck at some “boring office job,” either.

Fortunately, someone told me about AmeriCorps.

I’m in the middle of reading Dr. Wes Crenshaw‘s I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not (review forthcoming), and I was delighted to see him recommend AmeriCorps to young ADHD’ers who need a break before moving on to college or career.

Every year, AmeriCorps places thousands of volunteers into full-time service with non-profits, public agencies, schools, and other change-making organizations.

But don’t be fooled: this is no standard volunteer gig. My program, AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), provided a modest living allowance in exchange for a one-year, full-time commitment. I had to apply and interview for my position just like any job. Once I was “hired,” I joined the staff of a respected non-profit organization.

During my year of service, I immersed myself in work that was inspiring, challenging, exciting, and often overwhelming. VISTA work happens on the front lines, building capacity in communities that need it most. We weren’t permitted to spend any significant time on administrative, busy-work tasks, so I poured my energy into actually doing.

As I cut my teeth in the non-profit world, I learned what kind of work I enjoyed and what I couldn’t stand. I thought about different career paths and carefully weighed the pros and cons of going back to school.

I did all of this in an engaging environment with no long-term commitment. While I ended up taking a full-time job with my host organization, my fellow VISTA members dispersed all over the country (and world) after our service ended. Some enrolled in graduate school, some used the connections they’d made during their service year to get jobs in town, some applied for Fulbright scholarships, and one even started a successful business selling snacks.

As Dr. Crenshaw points out in his book, ADHD teens and young adults often mature a few years behind their peers. This makes them more likely to benefit from taking time off after high school or college.

acw2008_posterFinding a time-bound, altruistic, and productive way to spend that time off can remove social stigma from these breaks and prepare you for your next step. Not only that, serving a program with a lofty mission like “eradicating poverty in the United States” will help you feel good about your choices, even if they take you off the beaten track.

Every year, more than 75,000 people serve in AmeriCorps programs. If you’re not sure where to go next, try searching for some of your interests on the AmeriCorps website. A great opportunity could be waiting for you!

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