Bullish: Do You Belong In An Institution?

Jennifer Dziura writes Bullish, a career column, for The Grindstone on Fridays and Bullish Life, a life coaching column, for our sister site TheGloss on Tuesdays.

I’ve been thinking a lot about institutions – those who can’t function without them, and those who can’t fit into them.

Two things converged for me this past week: I’m working through a training program in executive coaching and considering the difficulties of coaching my clients to function better within large organizations, especially in cases where the clients may not really want to be part of such an institution the first place. And then, a question came in from someone wondering whether to drop out of college to start a business.

And personally, I have a storied history with institutions: I was always in combat with teachers and professors (like my third-grade teacher who incorrected corrected “ice cream sundae” to “ice cream sunday” – rage, rage, against the dying of literacy!) In my masters in education, I’ve viewed my classmates as horrifyingly subservient and unskeptical. And I always harp on multiple income streams – I don’t want any one boss to have enough power over me that he or she can tell me when to get up in the morning and where to sit for forty hours per week.

(Here’s a Bullish archive for plenty more on entrepreneurship, multiple income streams, and career design.)

From a reader I’ll call ADHD Unicorn:

I’m seeking some advice, but I’m not a lady and have a really specific handful of circumstances (though, who doesn’t, I guess).

I’m not sure how to evaluate whether or not to continue a college education. I’d really like to get started running a business. You see, I’m going into the fashion business, and I’m much more skilled and basically awesome all over than most people who have the BFA that I would get if I continued in college. As far as I can tell, the industry doesn’t care too much about if you have a degree. My parents think I should have one anyway, because if my business fails I might start wishing I had one.

I’m not sure how much you need in the way of details to properly evaluate so I’ll try to make this info-dump brief: 21, male, (gay), junior at [art school], diagnosed with adult ADHD, IQ 155, INTP, unicorn, Bullish in theory still (I started reading your column about 2 days ago), polymath, told by nearly every teacher that I’m exceptionally talented (including fashion teachers), have failed about 1/4 of my college classes due to a creative blend of perfectionism, lack of getting-it-done, slow processing speed, and fluctuating motivation.

Oh and the business I would have, hypothetically, is a patternmaking business (this would be the “boring”/difficult moneymaking one) and then, once I could afford it, I’d start a fashion line which would be the greatest thing the world has ever seen.

Whew! The greatest thing the world has ever seen … if it ever gets done. You, I, and a million frustrated novelists (or, “novelists”) know exactly how that feels.

Let’s just get the obvious out of the way, ADHD Unicorn: You went on a binge of Bullish column-reading because you saw something of yourself in those columns. Our personality types are off by only one letter! You found me (I had to edit the original letter a bit) on the website of a high-IQ society. Lots of people have high IQs, but it’s some other personality quality that makes you join a club about it. I’m pretty sure I have ADD (not really the “H” – see, we’re again off by only one letter), but I make it work for me.

Oh, and when I was running a company as a college junior, I considered dropping out. I still think about it – we haven’t had a bubble like that since, so maybe the dot-com boom was my chance, and I missed it. On the other hand, I was thinking too small; I didn’t know how to really get from A to B other than to “try harder.”

If you really are some much more fashionable version of me a decade or so ago, prepare for everyone telling you how damn smart you are – with more and more concerned expressions – as you fail, painfully and repeatedly. (See Bullish: To Give Up or Not to Give Up and Bullish: The Career F*ckups I Made So You Don’t Have To.)

When I did fail, I was pretty glad to have a degree. A college degree is nowhere near enough to get you a career or even just a job, but not having one can certainly knock you out of the running for opportunities – even the kinds of opportunities that free-spirited unicorns actually want. (See Bullish: Basing Your Career On A Resume Is Like Competing In A Brothel Lineup.)

It’s already clear you won’t be spending the rest of your career sitting in an office and dutifully shoveling facts into spreadsheets. There’s a unicorn glitter explosion in your near future.

Do you really want it to happen when you have no audience and no ability to go anywhere from there?

Let’s discuss.

Fix or Compensate for a Lack of Finishing Power

ADHD Unicorn mentioned his a “lack of getting-it-done” and “fluctuating motivation,” so I asked for more information. He wrote:

That’s a really good question. I’ve been working on figuring that bit out for quite some time now. You may be entertained to hear that at one point, I even tried out an assistant, though the reasons that didn’t work out are complex and many-fold. But, yeah, my failure to complete projects has been a lifelong recurring theme that I don’t even know how to think about any more. I think I’ve been told a thousand times over that I’m too impractical when it comes to making things, I’m too wrapped up in being an artist and not so much in a being a finisher of things.

In Bullish: Launching Your Empire While Your Youthful Mojo Is Still Sky-High, I answered a question from a reader who was hesitant to quit her job to start a fashion line. I told her to go for it (she had $50K saved up!) You, though – you need to fix this first!

Share This Post:
    • Jenny

      I’d love to see his response to his, I hope he posts here. I would also love to hear when he starts his patternmaking biz, would love to check out his work. Really need to develop my sewing skills!

    • Latesha Randall

      ‘…who incorrected corrected’ – you may want to correct this. ;-)

      LOVE your columns!

    • lynn

      It is impossible to fall out of love. Love is such a powerful emotion, that once it envelops you it does not depart. True love is eternal. If you think that you were once in love, but fell out of it, then it wasn’t love you were in. There are no ‘exit’ signs in love, there is only an ‘on’ ramp. ((_B_l_a_c_k_w_h_i_t_e_p_l_a_n_e_t. c_0_m )) Lots of my friends found their lovers through the se’rvice. You may have a try… ;)

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    • ADHD Unicorn

      Firstly, I’m both relieved and disappointed that you didn’t follow through with your own set-up and suggest that, indeed, I should be institutionalized.

      You’re very right about me seeing something (nearly everything) of myself in your columns. I’m apparently at about the same place you were in college: A, trying to come up with a slightly more exacting approach to get to B. This, and your other columns, have been a huge help with that.

      Knowing the difference between problems I can fix and problems I can’t is maybe my biggest struggle. I assume I can fix ALL THE PROBLEMS. I get very little insight from other people about what my reality is; I live alone, I confuse guys too much for any to date me very long, and all (both?) of my friends are every inch as introverted as me and are too deep in their own issues to be of much real help.

      I’d really be interested in talking to you about more things if you’d be down with that; it feels a bit like I’ve stumbled upon a way to ask Me-From-The-Future questions and actually get answers back. At any rate though, I really can’t thank you enough for the advice. Hopefully someday I can make you a floor-length ball gown with a huge popped collar.


      A footnote: “ADD” is, as of 1994, now clinically referred to as “ADHD-PI” (predominantly inattentive). It’s our minds that are “hyperactive,” not our bodies. :-}

      • Jennifer Dziura

        OMG! Popped-collar ballgown!

        I’m easy to reach, of course (yay Internets), and I’m so interested in your idea that introverts tend to be too absorbed in their own problems to provide much help. Also “all (both?) of my friends” made me laugh.

        And, thanks for the DSM update. I wonder if there’s someone out there who’s personal add reads “ADHD-PI SWM BDSM OMG Venti latte” or something.


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