Concept image of people sitting of the floor on laptops with coffees and books
14 Jul

Being the Executive of Functioning at Work

What is executive functioning?

Executive functioning isn’t a board meeting with lots of good food and wine, however, I must say many – including myself – would be up for participating in that!

No, executive functioning refers to the mental and cognitive abilities that help people to engage in goal-directed activities.

Executive functioning helps us to direct our actions, control our behaviour, and is a big factor in helping us to self-motivate in working towards and achieving our long-term goals, as well as preparing for future tasks and events.

But when experiencing executive dysfunction, people struggle with organisation and self-regulating their emotions and behaviour. It can also hinder them in accomplishing their goals.

Working to your strengths

When experiencing challenges with executive functioning, something to consider is recognising and learning what your strengths and weaknesses are, as well as how they may differ from those around you. For example, it might be harder for you to stay focused and organised, or to finish tasks on time. This can lead to potential challenges at work. Some jobs may be a better match for the type of neurology you have, and the key is to pick a career that makes the best use of your skills.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you consider your future career or when changing careers.

Choose a career you will enjoy

When we are passionate about something, we automatically give our attention and focus in learning, researching, or performing well, because it is often more meaningful to us. However, if we get bored and frustrated easily, it will be far more difficult for us to stay on task.

A career that is interesting and motivating will assist us to do well at work.

Before you pick a career, or if you are in a career that is not suiting you, make three lists to help you decide on your potential dream job:

  1. a list of what you are good at,
  2. a list of what type of work you would like to do, and
  3. a list of the expected income in this career.

Your ideal job should fall into all three lists.

Draw on your strengths

Every person is different and will experience executive functioning differently. The trick is to seek jobs where your neurology will play to your strengths.

When looking for a job or changing careers, it may be worth considering jobs that call for originality, innovative thinking and unique ways to solve problems. These can potentially be a great fit for your neurology. For example, a web designer, a teacher, social media management, or an actor.

Fast-paced jobs are ideal for brains that get bored or distracted easily and many thrive in jobs with constant change and a fast pace. With every day at work being different or feeling different, you may feel more energised and engaged in your job. Some examples of this type of work are paramedics, emergency room doctors and nurses, journalists and reporters, firefighters, and police.

Some people enjoy social situations, and if you’re one of these, it might be worthwhile considering a career working with individuals or groups, such as working with students as a tutor, mentor or classroom aide. Other type of jobs that may be suitable are customer service, sales, human resources or public relations.

Whatever career you choose, it’s important it plays to your strengths, as this will allow you to work to your best ability. It is also crucial to take the time to explore the different career options available to you, and when applying for jobs, to assess which of those would be better suited to your way of thinking and working.

And if you are in a job that is not suited to the way you think, it can be difficult to find ways to keep yourself motivated. It’s in situations like this when you need to ask your employer if you can change to a different role that suits your neurology, to find different ways to keep you motivated in your job, or to change jobs completely.

If you are in a job that isn’t suited to or serving you, another factor to consider is whether leaving the job, which could create some degree of financial stress, would be more beneficial to your mental wellbeing, over staying in a job that is detrimental to your wellbeing? If you have exhausted all avenues in asking for supports and identified that your job does not motivate or inspire you to do well, you need to consider the option of changing careers. Ask yourself if this job is ever going to bring out the best of your abilities, and furthermore, do you want to go to this job every day. If the answer is no, then it’s time to act, as it will only bring you heartache further on down the track with mental and physical health problems.

No matter where you are on your career journey – whether just embarking into the workforce, or at a stage of re-evaluation – taking the time to consider your neurology and to truly understanding yourself, your needs and your strengths, will ultimately help you to move in the right direction of career choices and positive changes.

It is never too early or too late to choose a career that is fulfilling and makes you feel valued and builds on your sense of worth. I can’t emphasise enough; you really are worth the time. So stop, take the time, and do what is best for you and your neurology.

By Barb Cook, M.Aut., Dip.HSc.,

Neurodivergent Developmental Educator

About Barb Cook

Barb is a registered Developmental Educator (DE) and an Autism and Neurodiversity Employment Consultant who is passionate in supporting, consulting and mentoring on employment issues for neurodivergent adults and employers. Barb has a Master of Autism (education) with focus on employment from the University of Wollongong, where she is also a tutor in this program and a research assistant in the area of self-determination and self-advocacy for adults on the autism spectrum.

Barb was formally identified on the autism spectrum along with ADHD and phonological dyslexia at age 40, and is editor and co-author of the internationally acclaimed book Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism, and editor in chief of Spectrum Women Magazine.

As a Developmental Educator, Barb focuses on developing individualised learning strategies, tools and supports with positive outcomes for individuals across the lifespan. Barb embraces a collaborative approach by working with health and educational professionals, support staff, employers, employees, families and caregivers to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding of a person-centred approach in fostering positive support and enhancement of life outcomes. Barb has extensive experience in working with people on the autism spectrum, ADHD and dyslexia, especially with adults in creating pathways in attaining life goals in the areas of education, employment, health and interpersonal relationships.

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