02/05/2011 12:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Burrito, a Power Nap, and Some Adderall

This is a story about a time I traded a $3 burrito for an Adderall pill.

It's also about a realization I had one year later, after taking a power-nap in an office bathroom stall.


The only thing that stood between me and my bachelor's degree was a 35-page research paper about the future of the music industry.

I had written the 5-page introduction, but beyond that, all I had was a pile of incoherent notes about the industry-shattering role of Napster. The paper was massive compared to anything I had ever written, so I was freaked out to the point that I could hardly concentrate or make any progress.

One night, with only two days left until the due date, I slouched over my computer for several hours in hopes of wringing some thoughtful sentences from my brain. I typed and deleted the same passage over and over, minimizing the document and puttering around on AIM and MySpace for sweet relief every 15 minutes.

Nothing came. Nothing at all. So, in a fit of extreme stress and frustration, I slid my plastic lawn chair back from my desk and took a walk over to my neighbor's house. I explained to her my problem and propositioned her with a carne asada burrito from a local taqueria called Papa Chevo's. I told her I would deliver to her the following day.

While walking home, I reached into my pocket and fished out the tiny orange pill:

Adderall is a pharmaceutical stimulant commonly used to treat attention-deficit disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and narcolepsy. It allows people with chaotic attention spans to concentrate for extended periods of time.

I went to bed 7 hours later having cranked out nearly 20 pages of work. I wasn't tired, but it was 8 in the morning and sleeping just felt like the right thing to do.

I bought my neighbor a burrito the following afternoon and requested that she not give me another pill again, no matter how many burritos I offered.

The bottom line is this: An Adderall-laden session propelled me forward while writing that extremely challenging paper, which was the final step toward my bachelor's degree.

But just because it solved a problem doesn't mean it's a solution. My attention span falls flat all of the time, especially when I'm forced to do things that bore me.

Here's why Adderall is not a solution (for me).


One year later, I was hired as a transcriptionist for an insurance company in Monterey, California. I spent my eight-hour days editing horrendously spoken audio tapes into formally written court documents and letters. One after another. Eight hours a day. Everyday.

One afternoon, after about six weeks on the job, I nodded off at my desk, nearly bonking my forehead atop my keyboard. I looked around, embarrassed, and then snuck off to the men's room, where I sat down on a toilet seat and slipped into a deep power-nap. It would be the first of several midday intermissions.

While walking back to my desk after that nap, I contemplated ways to make the job manageable. As I sat back down in my cubicle to resume the task of transcribing, I remembered the burrito-Adderall exchange one year earlier.

Prescribed concentration?

I'm the kind of person who likes to step back at the end of a project and admire the fruits of my labor. (Not everyone needs that, but I do, which is why the insurance gig was not suitable for me in the long run).

And I'm no doctor, so I won't pretend to be an expert on the prescribed uses of Adderall, but this I can say for certain: I could have scored myself a prescription; I have no doubt about that. And it would have made my workday a breeze.

But that is precisely the problem: The ability to tolerate a job shouldn't be placed ahead of the desire to pursue a better one.

It's a matter of poorly stacked priorities.

We shouldn't be enduring the tough lives we currently have; we should be constructing more purposeful ones.

I could still be sitting in that cubicle if I had successfully landed a prescription, and that would be a shame, because that job depressed the hell out of me. Instead, I let the job torture me to until I carved a new path.

Between the lofty demands of society and the patchwork solutions we've drawn up to help cope with those demands, we're chasing ourselves in circles.

Note: The burrito story probably sounded like an endorsement of Adderall, while the power-napping one probably sounded like an over dramatic plea for naturality. Regardless, you should check out this page for more information on the drug and watch this CBS video to see what students are saying about the drug.