Dr. George Sachs’s career change story
A career change at 30 has been the key turning point in Dr. George Sachs’s life. At the time he was really struggling in his career and didn’t know that many of his troubles were due to undiagnosed adult ADHD.
Today Dr. George Sachs is a successful licensed clinical child and adult psychologist, specializing in the treatment of ADD, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorders. He is the founder of the Sachs Center, a holistic treatment center for ADHD, co-founder and clinical director of Inflow, a science-based app for adults with ADHD, and author of Helping the Traumatized Child, Helping Your Husband with ADHD, The Adult ADD Solution and The Happy, Mad, Sad book for toddlers.
From changing the scoreboard at the stadium to a dot.com career
What was your first job?
Oh, I love this question. My father’s favourite expression was money does not grow on trees. That was what he always said. So, at the age of 13, I started working. My first job was changing the scoreboard at a baseball stadium in my neighbourhood. And then I had my own business, mowing lawns. I grew up in Connecticut, and we also used to go around the neighbourhood and shovel the snow for people. And then I probably had 100 jobs. I mean, I’m not being hyperbolic, you know, little jobs. I worked in a pharmacy, in high school during summers. And then in college, I delivered chicken wings. I taught English in Asia, in Korea, after college, and then in Japan.
How did you go from doing several jobs to your first career?
The start of my first career happened when I came back from my travelling. I was in my 20s and I started working in New York City in the technology industry. This was the beginning of the dot.com boom in the 90s. And it was a very exciting time in New York City. At the time I was also attempting to be a television writer and had limited success with that. Writing was my real passion. But it was the beginning of the dot/com era. And there was a lot of opportunity in New York. And so I was working as a consultant for different companies.
Facing the challenges of undiagnosed adult ADHD
What challenges did you have to face in your first career?
Well, at the time I had undiagnosed ADHD and later I learned and understood that a consulting career can be very difficult when you have ADHD. You’re always kind of scrambling and it can be overwhelming.
At the time I got a job at Barnes and Noble.com, an American big bookseller online company that couldn’t compete with Amazon at that time. So it went out of business and I was laid off. 9/11 happened, and I ended a relationship. I was 28 or 29. And I realized that I wasn’t having success, unlike my other friends in their 20s. I don’t mean big success, but just traction in their job. They were moving up and being promoted. And I was not and this was before I had realized I had ADHD. But I was really struggling to make it in any career. I was approaching 30, and I really had to do some self-analysis.
In search of stability and meaning for my next career
How did you come to the realisation that you had to make a career change to have a better life?
After being laid off, I was unemployed for a good six months or a year. I realized that I didn’t want to be chasing the next job every two years. I wanted something where I could have stability for the rest of my life. Also, I wanted a job where when I was 70 and had grey hair I was still respected. And I saw in technology that there was no buddy older than 35, at least back then.
I majored in psychology in college, but I didn’t really seriously entertain it because I had this entrepreneurial bug. But at some point, I decided it was more important for me to have stability and structure and actually have a profession where I was helping people. And so I went back to graduate school when I was 31. Which is not a quick road. Really, as I say door to door from the day I decided to go to graduate school to become a psychologist, to the time that I opened up my own practice was 10 years.
A long career change journey
It took you ten years to move from one career to the other. What did you do during that time?
I did work as part of my training as a psychologist in Chicago, doing testing of children with ADHD, and then in Los Angeles, doing therapy for children in South Central Los Angeles. And then I became a psychologist, and worked for a famous psychiatrist in New York City, Dr. Halliwell, who wrote the book “Driven to Distraction”. When I left I started my own private practice, which I did for the bulk of my 40s. And had success with that, because I really enjoyed helping people.
During your journey, you discovered your real passion and you also discovered to have adult ADHD as well.
When I went to graduate school I realised I had adult ADHD. That discovery led me not only to help other people but to help myself.
It is often said that once we are aligned on the right path for us, we can attract the right opportunities. What was your next right opportunity?
During the pandemic, I received a phone call from two young technology guys in their 20s, from London. They were looking to build a therapeutic digital app on the iPhone, and Android for people with ADHD. They needed some expert who actually knew something about ADHD. We hit it off well because I had a background in technology and also an entrepreneurial bug. And so for the last three years, I have been working with them on building this app. It’s now live on the app store for Google. It’s called Inflow.
The challenges of a career change at 30
Looking back what did you find most challenging?
I can say that changing careers in my 30s has been really a tough time. But I’m very happy, I did it. I went with my passion, which was important. It was also realistic. I say, realistic passion because I could have still had this drive to do television writing. But I was concerned that I was getting into my 30s. And if I didn’t have success there, I would have really suffered mentally and emotionally.
It’s incredible to hear your story, how everything panned out, and how you discovered that you had ADHD.
At the time I didn’t know I had adult ADHD. When I started testing children, I was reading their assessments and say, “Oh my God, this is me”. I started putting the pieces together and realized this is what I have. And this is the reason that I struggled so much of my life because of ADHD. It was very helpful.
They say people don’t like labels like you have ADHD or you have autism. But I find that very helpful because then you can know yourself better. And then you can make decisions from that. For example, freelancing is very hard for people with adult ADHD, generally, because you have to be super organized. But we also don’t like to really work for other people as much. So it’s kind of a difficult bind.
I think structure is very important with ADHD. Graduate school provided me with a lot of structure, just do this thing, and then do this thing. I call it hoops of fire, I had to just keep doing these things that they asked me to do until I was done.”
How my adult ADHD diagnosis told me to pursue my passion
So how did you help yourself with your ADHD before starting to help others?
I discovered that the most important thing is to find something you are excited about, not just stability or money because adult ADHD is not really a problem of attention. That is the definition, but really, it is a problem of motivation. So, if you are excited about something with ADHD, you can pursue it and hyper-focus on it and get a lot of things done. But if you are bored, nothing happens.
Knowing that I had adult ADHD really told me that I have to pursue my passion until I’m not passionate about it anymore. And so when these guys called me, I was getting a little bored with the private practice life, you know, it was fun to hang out to build the practice and work with a lot of people. But ultimately, towards the end towards the beginning of COVID, I was just sitting in my office all day. And then I realized I needed maybe another career change, not a dramatic one, but doing something a little bit different to stimulate me more than just sitting in my office all day.
Defining Adult ADHD
Let’s talk about ADHD. What is it, and how can it be defined and diagnosed in adults?
ADHD is a genetic, neurodevelopmental challenge. It is hereditary. If you wonder if you have it, check your parents, you know, do they have a lot of problems with disorganization, impulsivity, and procrastination, and maybe difficulty managing their emotions? That’s one clue. Somebody in your family has it. But really, like I said, the main problem in adults is getting things done. It is like you just cannot have the energy to finish a lot of things. Especially if they are boring. Feeling disorganized, overwhelmed, always like you are not doing enough. Feeling like other people are succeeding around you, getting laid off, getting fired. Getting actual problems in life manifests because of undiagnosed ADHD in adults.
How can adult ADHD affect people’s careers, you mentioned being laid off, but in the day-to-day life as well?
Well, like, if you’re in a job you’re not particularly excited about you don’t finish things on time. You’re always late. Your work may be not satisfactory to your supervisor, you miss details. You are not a detail-focused person. So if you’re really struggling in your career in your job, ADHD could be one of the reasons.
How to reduce the negative impact of ADHD at work
What are some effective techniques that help to reduce the negative impact of ADHD?
The number one thing is to find out if you actually have it, and that’s where the value of the label is. You can go online, you can call my center and get tested, but most big cities in the United States have some sort of ADHD testing.
In London, there’s a place called ADHD 360. That’s the company, they have clinics. But any psychiatrist or psychologist should be able to diagnose you. And in Europe in the UK, I think you can put your name on a list for the NHS. In the rest of Europe, it’s a little bit more difficult. For example, in Italy, I think there’s one good ADHD doctor in Florence, maybe because I have a client in Italy, and he struggled to get an appointment with this person. I think he had to go to Switzerland to get the right medicines. So some countries, even though they’re developed, are behind in ADHD treatment.
I had another client in Finland, who had a very negative experience with the doctor there because a lot of countries in Europe do not think ADHD is a real thing. Or they think people are complaining and making excuses and just saying they have ADHD. You have to be very careful to find somebody who really specializes in it. Otherwise, you may get actual negative experiences with the doctor, which is not uncommon in mental health. Look for somebody who like, actually specializes in it.
ADHD is a motivation problem
And the second one?
The next thing is to really see that it’s a motivation problem. And therefore, you have to be excited about what you’re doing. Generally excited every day. That doesn’t mean you know, every task is fun and exciting, because paying your taxes or, you know, dealing with certain paperwork may not be fun, but generally speaking, the job excites you. And people will feel that excitement from you. But more importantly, you are going to be able to focus more and accomplish more.
ADHD is a motivation deficit. And if the reward is not enough for us, then we will not move forward. I described doing boring things, almost like climbing Mount Everest. You are at the last bit, and you take one step every five minutes because of the lack of oxygen up there. And that’s what ADHD feels like when we’re bored. We just can’t move forward towards something. So recognizing you have ADHD, getting help, which means possibly medication. That’s not the only answer, but it’s certainly something to try. And then behavioral coaching. And that’s provided by Inflow, the app that I have created. One of the things that’s really helpful is getting outside support. And that’s because if we don’t have the internal motivation, a coach is a great way to get you excited about things and to get you to move forward. You can’t do it alone.
Impulsivity, creativity and fear of rejection with ADHD
We mentioned the negative aspects of ADHD. Are there any positive sides?
Well, I think if you are actually doing the right job and the right career, you can have a lot of energy and a lot of passion. People with ADHD are often impulsive. But there’s a correlation between impulsivity and creativity. For example, if you go to a brainstorming, meeting at work, the ADHD people are going to be able to fire off ideas because you kind of have to be a little impulsive to brainstorm, right? People who are not impulsive, can’t generate as many ideas. So there is some research that people with ADHD can generate more ideas quickly. So that’s one thing.
What else? I think people with ADHD have something called a fear of rejection, or a rejection sensitivity. This is basically, why we are afraid to be rejected. But there’s no evidence we’re going to be rejected. And I believe this comes from an actual history of rejection because when we were younger, and had ADHD there may have been reasons why we were rejected by peers or jobs. I was fired from several jobs because of ADHD. But we take that forward into our life. And it can be a challenge, because we are always worried people are going to reject us.
ADHD and toxic emphaty
The silver lining is that we get good at reading people’s faces and emotions because we are kind of looking at them a lot to make sure they are not angry at us. So that looking teaches us a lot about people’s expressions, then we get really good at that. That is why a lot of people with ADHD are very empathetic. Because they can read emotions well, almost too well.
We can fall into something called toxic empathy, where you’re overly empathetic with somebody. So when riding the bus or the train, most people just ignore everybody. But with ADHD, you look around, and you start feeling the energy and the feelings of everyone. And then it can be overwhelming. We are very sensitive to emotions, which can be a positive thing, especially if you’re a teacher, a salesperson, or a therapist where you have to be able to know what the other person is feeling.
ADHD Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace
There is a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. What do you feel could be done more to include people who are living with ADHD and help them thrive in the workplace,
Well, we have a long way to go with that. I think autism is actually further ahead with this idea of inclusion. But with ADHD, it’s a lot about getting things done and getting things done correctly, which a lot of people with autism can do, generally speaking, but with ADHD, this is a real challenge. So there’s still a lot of judgment about people with ADHD in the workplace. So telling people you have ADHD, telling your supervisor, your boss, your HR department, is still not an easy decision. Because you don’t know if they’re going to judge you as lazy or not as competent.
We have a long way to go here with full inclusivity with ADHD. But I think if you work for a big enough company, and tell your HR department that, maybe they can find another job that’s better suited for you. So that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to fire you. If your skills are better people-oriented, or you need something more active, maybe they can find something that suits your personality with ADHD better than just sitting at a desk all day long doing spreadsheets.
I do think companies are waking up to this. In the United States, there’s a law called the Americans with Disabilities Act. And I don’t know what it is in Europe, but I’m sure it’s the same. And basically, if you have a disability, and you disclose it, then you are protected. That doesn’t mean they can’t fire you, but they should provide accommodations and work with you. But we still have a little bit further to go with society and society’s appreciation and acceptance of ADHD.
Helping people with Adult ADHD to thrive in their careers
Each of us with our choices can have a positive impact in the world. How do you feel through your work you are making the world a better place?
I see it with my individual clients, which is why I am very happy, I made that career choice to go into helping people because I get the satisfaction. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. But when I can see growth in a client then I feel good. And regarding the Inflow app, we get a lot of feedback from people who are very happy with it. They finally feel understood, appreciated, and included in a community, and they are actually learning how to better manage their lives. And so that really makes me feel that I am making a difference.
The importance of finding a community
What type of advice would you give to anyone living with ADHD, during their journey to Self Realisation?
The most important thing is education, and then self-acceptance. With adult ADHD the problem is, because of the history of losing jobs or rejection, we generally have low self-esteem and don’t feel good about ourselves. And so if you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s hard to make changes, right? Here is where we get stuck in this kind of depressive, sad place about ourselves.
But if you can find a community of people with adult ADHD online, I recommend Tik Tok, because there are a lot of interesting people there, and of course, Inflow, all of a sudden, you don’t feel alone, you don’t feel like you are the only one. That means you have less anxiety, and then more self-acceptance, because all these other people are now sharing their feelings about their ADHD, and you’re sharing and they’re accepting you. And then that leads to self-acceptance.
This is the basis of any kind of recovery, like Alcoholics Anonymous, the power of the group. It’s very important to find a group so that you start accepting yourself, and you don’t beat yourself up as much. And then you start learning about what ADHD is. Ultimately, self-acceptance is the key, because there are some things we just can’t change. I had a cleaning person clean my apartment, it looked amazing yesterday. And today, I’m wondering what happened. So I, you know, I can’t beat myself up. I don’t say, I can’t believe I did this. I just think I’ll have to have her come back. Soon. So I think that’s really important. Awareness that you have ADHD, self-acceptance through community, and then actually working on, slowly working on behaviour changes.
A last piece of advice
The last question. If you could give yourself a piece of advice, what would you say to your younger self?
Well, I could say something like everything’s going to work out. But I don’t know if that’s the best advice. I guess I would say, take advice from people. Because when I was younger, I didn’t really want to listen to other people’s advice, as I thought that that was boring. With ADHD, or even just being a young person, it can be very hard to take feedback, because we’re rejecting our parents as teenagers to become independent.
Now I recognise that there is a lot of value in the wisdom of other people. And, there are a lot of people that want to help you if you listen.
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