How balancing anxiety and ADHD understimulation led to my “just right” job
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Delia Gallegos combined her love of fandoms with her business experience to create the perfect job for her ADHD. Delia is the chief financial officer of Black Nerds Create (BNC), a collective for marginalized creators to make fandom content.
Delia first joined BNC as a side hobby to her business operations career. But during the pandemic, she took part in the great resignation and left a job she loved at the Smithsonian. Delia realized that everything she loved about that job was about being there. Without the stimuli of in-person work, she couldn’t get a thing done. Delia’s resignation led her to transition her hobby to full time when she saw that BNC could use her business skills.
Listen to this week’s episode of How’d You Get THAT Job?! for tips on forming habits with ADHD — and how sometimes you need to throw everything against the wall to see what sticks.
Delia: That just made me realize, like, OK, if I can't control for these external factors that were making my job so enjoyable and my ADHD is, as I say, acting up so badly, like, what am I doing?
Eleni: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "How'd You Get THAT Job?!," a podcast that explores the unique and often unexpected career paths of people with learning and thinking differences. My name is Eleni Matheou and I'm a user researcher here at Understood. That means I spend a lot of time thinking about how we find jobs we love that reflect how we learn and who we are. I'll be your host.
Growing up, Delia Gallegos loved story. Her love of stories like Harry Potter and Doctor Who led to her co-founding Black Nerds Create, an online community focused on critical and creative fandom. For years, Delia was helping to run Black Nerds Create, while also working a day job. Then came the Great Resignation and Delia left her office job. Now, her main focus is serving as the chief financial officer of Black Nerds Create. Delia has ADHD, and she's found a job that inspires her enough to keep her feeling productive and fulfilled. Delia, it's great to have you on the show.
Delia: Oh, thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Eleni: So, could you tell us what is Black Nerds Create?
Delia: Black Nerds Create is essentially a collective that provides content through a lens of critical and creative fandom. What we like to say is we, like, we exist at the intersection of fandom and creation. We're talking like, you know, Marvel or Star Wars or things like that that people build fandoms around or, you know, some books, literature, things like that. Often you see people get inspired by those spaces, you see people all the time. Big-name creators who will say, "Oh yeah, I was inspired by growing up reading the Nancy Drew books" or whatever. And so, our goal with the content that we create is to provide kind of that bridge for marginalized creators, but especially Black creators, because we're often so underrepresented in media.
So, there's a lot of Black people who don't feel welcome in fandom spaces but feel inspired by these works. So, how do we take those people and bring them into creation and hopefully inspire them to create their own things, whether that's within fandom and it doesn't go beyond that or hopefully goes beyond that into their own works. Like we've developed an anthology before, we've held virtual conventions before, you know, just inspiring people to take that next step in their process.
Eleni: It's interesting because I think on first impression, when I hear the word like fan, I often think of it as more of, you know, like a consumer, or like an appreciator. So, could you talk a little bit more for those of us that perhaps are not that familiar with fandom, like how it kind of starts to, I guess move beyond just like consumption and like into creation? How does fandom do that?
Delia: There are different types of fandom, let's say. So, let's say, you know, you watch Game of Thrones back when it was airing, you watched it every week. But that's kind of all you did. You enjoyed the show. That's what we would call casual fandom. A lot of people participate in casual fandom, even if they don't realize it. Like if you are really into sports or a sports team, that's a fandom, right? You're gathering — I don't do sports — you gather weekly to watch your team do the thing with the sports, right?
So, that you could say is casual, but you're, the bridge creation often starts with what we call and, you know, we didn't, you know, create this term but critical fandom. So, what that is is viewing fandom works or any work really, could be literature or music through a critical lens, that means you may love the work. Like for me, originally my biggest fandom was Harry Potter. And we all know, you know, the author has done things that, you know.
Eleni: What author? I thought there was no author.
Delia: No. Right, right. Well, that's a great that's a great way to put it. For listeners who don't know anything about J.K. Rowling or her controversies, essentially within the last few years, she has really grounded herself in TERF ideology and TERF rhetoric. And for people who don't know what a TERF is, a TERF is a trans exclusionary, radical feminist. So, these are feminists who believe that trans people are harmful to the feminist movement, are specifically they're pretty vitriolic towards trans women specifically. A lot of people are not engaging with her works at all, not giving her money. And I, at Black Nerds Create, fall in that camp.
You know, Harry Potter will always have a special place in my heart, but I can't consciously support somebody who would be so vitriolic and harmful to a marginalized group of people. Even before she went down the path, she went, you know, there are some harmful things in those books. And so, breaking that apart critically, like what does that mean? Critiquing it as a work, critiquing it for its messaging while still holding it in a place of love and enjoyment. You get really deep into it and you start asking questions and those questions can create inspiration. Like, "Why aren't there characters that look like me that are the main characters? What would that look like? What does it mean to be Black going to Hogwarts, a British boarding school?" you know, things like that.
Eleni: Yeah, that's so cool. I know that you didn't get diagnosed with ADHD until later in high school, but like now, in retrospect, do you think your ADHD or your differences or the way that your brain works had anything to do with like why this might be such an important outlet for you and why you have such a strong interest in this? Like, is there any connection there?
Delia: I think so. I grew up, you know, the stereotype. I was the book nerd, you know, reading all the time. And when you have ADHD, it's about what can engage your mind because, you know, your mind isn't rewarding itself off of basic tasks, like any neurotypical brain would. It's much easier to get really fixated, I think, on things that do interest you. So, when those things are nerdy and fandom-related, it's really easy to go all in because it's like something that's feeding your brain in the way that other tasks don't.
So, I think I've always had a propensity to nerd hard, if you'll say, and for me my journey coming to Black Nerds Create happened right at a time where I my day job was not at all like rewarding my brain. I was struggling a lot as far as like my ADHD in that job. And so, having this like nerdy outlet, how it started for me, it was just a nerdy outlet really was able to know, I guess you could say, satiate my brain. In a way, it was this interesting kind of like side thing that just kind of grew over time.
Eleni: Yeah. And how did that happen? How did a nerdy kind of side project become your, like, full-time thing?
Delia: You know, sometimes I wonder how to because it's been over the course of many years, but at the same time, it just seems like it happened all of a sudden one day, right? Originally, I worked at iHeart Media and that job was very fast-paced and I would say I was really good at it and it was really good for my ADHD in that like I was constantly stimulated, so I didn't have any problems as far as like focusing on the work, getting the work done, but it was really bad for my anxiety, so I had to leave that job and enter the public sector to try and find a healthier work-life balance. But that job was, you know, you hear things about government workers and a lot of those stereotypes can be true. Like it's a very slow-paced type of job, which was great for my anxiety and my work-life balance, but my ADHD like was off the rails.
So, I kind of came to the Black Nerds Create just in my spare time, just looking for anything interesting to do outside of my day job. And, you know, at that time, I was still fully into Harry Potter, and I think I just found them through a hashtag. And I was like, "Oh, this is a really cool place. They've got a cool podcast, they've got a cool content" and just kind of threw myself in that into that community. And before you knew it, I was creating, I was writing, and it was just really, I don't know, feeding my soul, if you will, my nerdy soul I suppose.
And I think that year — it hadn't even been a full year — there was a Harry Potter convention that was happening in Texas, which is where I lived at the time, and they needed an extra person to be on all these panels and they were like, "Hey, you're always really thoughtful in the community, we need an extra person to fill in the seats, do you want to come with us and like hang out with us and be on these panels?" And I was like, you know, "Absolutely. I definitely want to do that."
And I guess from there, I just kind of progressively got more involved. And so before you knew it, I was just like, "Hey, you guys seem to need help in these specific areas," specifically like with business operations, that's kind of in my at the time and my day job was kind of like my bread and butter was, I've worked in pretty much most facets of like business operations except HR and I was like, "I can help, you know, shore that up, like, why don't we just build this thing out?" And so that's kind of how it happened. And so, here we are years later, and I am fully the CFO.
Eleni: I love it. And well, two questions actually. What does that entail? What does being a CFO of like a collective, what does that look like day to day for you?
Delia: We're a small business. So, it's not you know, I wouldn't say it's got the glamor of a lot of startups, but, you know, it's making sure we have a varied and I would say unique streams of revenue compared to, you know, your average company, you know, so just managing all those. We have contractors that we get our work through, making sure they're all getting paid on time. And a lot of it is projections, lots of projections. That's most business because, you know, we have big plans, but a lot of these things take a while to realize.
And so, making sure all of the stuff is in order for that and working with our CEO and co-founder Bianna to make sure our strategic plans are financially aligned with where we are. Because I don't know if you've ever worked with creatives in business, we can dream really big, but I feel like I'm the grounding force as far as all that is concerned. Like we can dream as big as you want, but what does the budget actually allow for?
Eleni: Like, it's interesting because we often hear from ADHD folk that, you know, organization can be a challenge, planning can be a challenge. But, you know, you just talked about the fact that you've always worked in business operations, which sounds like it requires a lot of organization and planning.
So, yeah, I guess my question for you is like it sounds that like, you know, things that we've heard other people reference as challenges are not challenges for you. Do you want to talk a little bit about like how your differences show up for you at work? Like how it actually makes you a great business operations person or a great CFO or not only like when things can kind of come up for you as well, either way.
Delia: Yeah. No, business operations does require a lot of organization. And I would say, you know, and if by a traditional measure, do I struggle? Yes, of course. Deadlines are hard. Knowing when I'm going to have that spark of productivity is difficult. And so, in my 9 to 5 job, that was, you know, a lot of times what I struggled with was, you know, is my brain going to work today is kind of how I felt, which may not be the healthiest way to think about it. But that's how I felt, you know, on the day-to-day. Like, I had no idea. It really felt like, you know, I wasn't in the driver's seat all the time. For me, recognizing what I do excel at, like I'm good at my job. I'm great up, you know, problem-solving and puzzles like analytical thinking.
Even though I'm a creative, a lot of people are like, you're a creative and you do business ops? I think it's because of, you know, my neurodivergences, I don't think that one has to exist without the other. Like for me again, I think the fact that I'm good at analytical thinking is derived from just my unique way of looking at things because of these neurodivergencies. And so, I'm really good at it, but the part I'm really bad to is making sure my brain is on on the days that I need it to be on. So, finding a space and being able to kind of mold the external factors around me helps a lot and that's been across the board in school. I really struggled in school, but when I was able to control for those things and just my day-to-day life as far as like, you know, keeping a house together and keeping myself together and in my various jobs, you have to compensate for what you struggle with internally with the external. And so and you know, that is absolutely a privilege. The fact that I was able to find this position where I could, you know, leave my 9 to 5 job and make that work for me and be able to work in a space where it's fine to be open with, you know, different divergences and say, "Hey, this is where I'm at, this is what I need."
And being able to advocate for yourself and you have a team behind you that's like, "Yeah, totally. We understand." And being able to again, we're also a small, a small company. So, being able to work around that is absolutely a privilege. In my 9 to 5 job, it was more difficult, but again, it was just really about staying on top of those external factors. So, like for me, I know I don't work well in, you know, chaos. So, making sure like it's a hard well that I have to make sure my desk is clean at all times. A lot of calendar reminders, you know, finding the systems that work for me. So, I would say the stereotype is true and it isn't true. It on the surface seems untrue because I work in business ops, but you know, my struggles are the same. It's just how I've created systems around them that has allowed me to be able to do this job.
Eleni: Totally. So, you know you just mentioned giving up your 9 to 5. I know when we spoke previously, like you mentioned, like during the pandemic, you know, you had a number of revelations and said many which led to you being part of the Great Resignation.
Delia: I did.
Eleni: So, you talk a little bit about what some of those revelations were and what led you to the revelations?
Delia: Oh, boy do I. I was at a job that I loved, frankly. And then, you know, the pandemic hit. And I think, you know, it changed what your job was really like. I was working for the Smithsonian. It was a great job. I'm doing business operations there and going into work every day, you know, seeing the museums every day, my coworkers, all of that stuff I loved. It felt like we were doing something important. I mean, you know, nobody like we used to always say nobody's going to die because, you know, there's other sections of the government you can work for where that is true, but no one's dying at a museum. So, it's very low-stakes, but important work at the same time. And so, it was fast-paced, just enough to keep my brain engaged, but not so fast-paced I didn't have a bad work-life balance. So, these are things, you know, I loved all of it.
Then the pandemic hits and we go to a work-from-home status and oh my gosh, it was so bad for my ADHD. And so, trying to start to pick apart, why is it suddenly changed? It's the same job, right? And I was able to kind of sit down and really think about it and realize all of the things that I loved about my job were external. Like the actual day-to-day of my job was no different than the job that I had before was no different than the job that I had before. Like we're doing business operations, things like I mean, you can, I'm not going to say that you can get that anywhere, but, you know, and there were factors, other factors too, you know, you know, I got a new boss, things like that that just made me realize, like, "OK, if I can't control for these external factors that were making my job so enjoyable and my ADHD is, is, as I say, acting up so badly, like what am I doing?"
And you know, on top of that, with the basic realizations that everybody was having, you know, of like "What is priority in my life? Am I really living if I'm working at 9 to 5?," you know, those other basic revelations all came together and I just had to have a conversation with my partner, like, OK. And we've always kind of known because I've struggled in other jobs. You know, there might be a time where I need to not work a traditional 9 to 5, like it just may not work for me. So, we've always been putting money aside for that day that maybe come.
So again, it's a big privilege. But you know, finally we had that conversation and I was like, "Working from home is not for me. If I don't have these external stimulants and I can't control all of these external factors, like I'm just floundering and why am I forcing myself to do that if I don't have to? Like, what are what are we doing that that's no way to live if you can help it." And, you know, I'm very cognizant again, because I have friends who are also have these problems. And it is a lot of bouncing job to job to see if you can find a way to keep your brain stimulated enough so that you can perform well at the job. Like I have been there, I totally understand.
But yeah, it just was finally in conversation because at that time — it's now been a year — there was no end in sight. And so, I would have been struggling for a very long time and my job performance would have been struggling. And I as a kid who, you know, you always hear about, "Oh, former gifted kids, they have it so hard." But that's what I was I was, you know, the smart kid growing up. And so, I also have a lot of struggle with performance. I want to perform at my peak all the time, which if anybody, you know, not only has ADHD, but any neurodivergency, you know that that's not always possible.
Eleni: Yeah. Yeah. I think it's really important to acknowledge, like. That, you know, there are various components of a job, like it's not always just about the tasks themselves. And like we talk about that a lot on this show that sometimes the environment can be the, you know, most enabling or disabling factor in things. So, really it's about like finding a task that you enjoy in an environment that's right for you. Like the combination really does have to come together for it to be...
Eleni: ...the right fit. Yeah, I know that you talked a little bit about like systems. Like were there any other systems that you would like to share that relate to how your brain works and like how you, you know, are successful in your day-to-day?
Delia: Sure. I think, you know, a lot of it's been learning as I go and what works for me won't work for everybody. But absolutely, one system that's worked really well for me was accidentally bullet journaling. And what I mean by that is over time I developed the system of to-do list keeping a running to-do list that every day the goal is not to get everything checked off. The goal was to make sure I could see because I have a big one of my biggest issues is besides executive function is object permanence like I have zero zilch. If it's not right in front of me, it does not exist.
So, I kept a running to-do list that had everything I ever needed to do, and I kept it on my desk at work and then transitioning to working from home and working for Black Nerds Create, keeping it on my desk at home, just a running to-do list. And every day, at the end of the day, I made myself rewrite it for the next day. So, I had a clean, new one, had checked whatever I checked off I didn't continue it. And I had symbols and stuff. And one of my friends who also has ADHD, she told me that's bullet journaling, which I did not know. It was just a system that worked for me.
And I know a lot of people with ADHD would say, you know, that doesn't work for me. I have a really hard time with habits and you know, habits are hard for ADHD. They don't happen in the natural way that they happen for neurotypical people. Can't tell you what the difference is. That's just what I've heard, because I have the brain that I have. So, it is difficult because it wasn't a choice for me to read in. And when you're limited on choices, if you're having a low capacity day, it's hard to make that choice that I need to do this to-do list because that's what keeps my brain together. But yeah. So, you know, forgiving yourself for those low capacities where maybe you didn't do your to-do list and you kind of fell off. That's a system that's worked really well for me.
Eleni: It sounds like you have, like, a lot of self-awareness around, like, what works for you and what doesn't. Like, how did you discover all of those things?
Delia: Oh, so much trial and error. Again, like I think we said earlier, I was diagnosed late in high school. And so, I think for people who've gotten diagnosed later, just to cope and survive, you come up with a lot of these mechanisms that you don't realize they're coping mechanisms. But in order to be a functioning human, you have to figure out something. So, you're just trying a lot of things.
So, I would say, to be quite honest, desperation a lot of the time is, is what has brought me to my biggest breakthroughs of just kind of being at a breaking point because, you know, I'm talking now, having found a job that works for me and a system that works for me. And, you know, I quit my traditional 9 to 5, and that comes from a lot of privilege. But don't be mistaken. Like a lot of people with different, you know, neurodivergences, like I've had a lot of low points in my life where ADHD has been nearly debilitating, like I couldn't function. And so, in those moments of desperation of like I literally will try anything, something has to give because I'm going to lose my job. I'm going to like literally flunk this grade of high school. Like I need, something has to give.
Those are the moments where I've kind of, you know, thrown everything at the wall to see what sticks. And that's kind of how I come up with my systems. And I wouldn't recommend that way — don't wait to the point of desperation — but I would recommend just being open-minded and trying whatever you can. Because I have also had the mentality of "Oh, that won't work for me," or "That may work for them, but they don't know what it's like to have my specific type of ADHD." I think for a lot of people who are neurodivergent, we get into thinking like, "Oh, our version, though, is very difficult," or "We're really struggling with this specific piece," but try, if you can, to be open-minded and just try it. I mean, the worst thing that can happen is it doesn't work for you and you're all right.
But, you know, you can say you've tried it and maybe you learned something along the way because even systems that haven't worked for me, I've learned why they didn't work for me. And I've come to understand my ADHD just a little bit more.
Eleni: Thank you so much for talking to me today.
Delia: Thanks very much for having me. It was so much fun.
Eleni: You've been listening to "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" from the Underserved Podcast Network. This show is for you, so we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Email us at email@example.com with your thoughts about the show, or maybe you'd like to tell us how you got that job. I'd love to hear from you.
If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out our show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode.
Also, one of our goals at Understood is to help change the workplace so everyone can thrive. Check out what we're up to at U.org/workplace. That's the letter U dot O-R-G slash workplace. Understood.org is a resource dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at Understood.org/mission.
"How'd You Get THAT Job?!" is produced by Grace Tatter. Briana Berry is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. Margie DeSantis provides editorial support. For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer. And I'm your host, Eleni Matheou. Thanks again for listening.
leads user research for Understood. She helps Understood to center its work on the lived experiences and voices of people who learn and think differently.