There goes one now!

My wife has a knack for spotting wildlife when we’re hiking, an admirable skill which shines in both our teenaged children as well. I’ve benefitted from this point-and-call sequence numerous times, getting glimpses of coyotes, deer, owls, eagles, and mountain goets I never would have seen on my own, in places ranging from the national forests of the Pacific Northwest to the expanses of Ireland’s Western coast. We each have our own strengths. I have a rarer, and possibly useless skill of my own that I feel makes me special.

I see anorexics.

Every time I go to the store, I spot another one.

Perhaps more relevantly, my observational mechanism happens to be tuned to catching glimpses of the dark, sinister underbelly of corporate HR. I have been thinking about my many brushes with the productivity-industrial complex, its immaculately tailored facades laced with inclusion and commitment and which never manage to mask the crapulous understench of systematic exploitation.

These moments of witness – seen by turns from the viewpoint of the outsider, then the insider – are sudden, unsought, and always punctuated by a dark red inner rage.

1. Interview Rooms that Grooms You for Failure

The first time I remember catching view of the posture of alignment between institutions of learning and the insatiable machine of corporate hiring presented itself on the campus of a large state school near the mountains. Those nearing the end of the their undergraduate programs could search listings in the library, and could even get an interview without leaving the campus. Applicants were invited to cattle-call interviews with a host of the large, well-known regional companies in a dank basement in the bowels of the business school. The setup was unmistakeable. Candidates were penned in unventilated holding rooms, called by number into cramped encounter stalls to be examined by the buyer’s representatives. Before you slid through the chute, just as you left the holding area to enter the interview room, you passed a small mirror just at eye level, with a helpful note “check your teeth.” When I saw this setup, I wondered why they didn’t just write “You’re ugly and unworthy!” Why not staple white numbered cards to our shoulders and parade us around in a sandpit, the more efficiently for buyers to shout their bids?

2. Help Them, But Not Too Much

The next time I got a similar whiff of the skewed field of play was while working for a large online education company providing vocational training to those newly hired by the big box retailers. One of the product managers told me the story of how she designed and prototyped a job-matching service that could help these folks search job listings and maybe move to a better job after having learned some new skills. Company leadership encouraged the development of this project, as did those at the big-box client – until they saw a demo and realized the thing could actually work, could really help their workers. At that point, the project was shut down unceremoniously. The client flatly stated they did not want to risk increasing their cost of labor by encouraging employees to make progress, inside or outside the company.

3. Expert Tip: Treat Your Employees Like Beasts – But In a Nice Way!

A few years later, at a huge sillicon valley fintech company, I attended some training hosted by the HR folks. HR crews in the valley have always exuded the kind of fear stench I would expect from the constantly overwrought fraud detection teams, or the buccaneers in mergers and acquisitions. At this particular conclave, an author was presenting the main gist of his book to about 250 head of HR business partners, college recruiters, and training program managers like me. His book: Contented Cows Give Better Milk. Sensing that this relatively liberal crowd might find the title of the book a bit touchy, he headed of their objections at the outset: “Now, I’m not saying here that your employees are livestock…”

4. But Why Harp On This? Because FREEDOM.

You may be wondering, Matt – what the hell does this have to do with ADHD? Why are you spending vowels and consonants describing the unsurprising fact that corporations are set up to enlist, engage, and evaluate people as they go about their principle activity of wealth capture?

Two reasons:

First, as I build my portfolio of ADHD-related content, I have considered formulating some of what I know into training for managers, to help them better cope with employees who might be underperforming. If I’m right, beneath the exhausted lids of legions of the undiagnosed sits a vast storehouse of untapped productivity. I often imagine being the one who actually helps corporations benefit from solving the mystery of how to help ADHDers live up to their potential, and to contribute more to the bottom line. If I ever solve this riddle and manage to turn it into a product I can own, sell, and deliver, I will be once again relying on the beast. Before I sit up and beg for treats, I want to sink my teeth into that leathery paw as often as possible.

Second, I believe that real recovery from the most profound effects of ADHD is not only possible but inevitable, given a few simple steps taken over time and with gusto. What is being recovered here? Nothing less than personal freedom, self determination, individual sovreignty. Many of us enter our unseasy bargains with the corporate leviathan without having invested time the time to acquire and value these traits. And those without a sense of purpose inevitably encounter others more than happy to enlist others in theirs. The productivity-industrial complex is the mechanism by which hapless individuals are systematically enrolled in corporate missions, which expand to fill the personal void left by your lack of resolution. While this may be true for the general population, it is, like so many things, especially true for those of us with ADHD.

We are, after all, just like everyone else, only more so.

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