Let’s talk about ADHD for a minute.
I have it. It’s pretty raging sometimes. I don’t medicate it, nor do I plan to. And I run a business.
People with ADHD find themselves very drawn to business. It’s an intuitive choice for people like me. We make rapid connections. We easily wear multiple hats. We can focus like demons. We pivot well. And we don’t like being told what to do.
Add that employment sucks when you have ADHD, and it starts to seem like having this disorder and starting a business seems like a really good fit.
Having said that, when you’ve had a bottle and a half of red wine, taking recreational Percocet and calling your ex seems like a really good fit. That doesn’t mean you should do it.
Because the flip sides of ADHD are… not so rad. Sometimes, it’s kind of a big fat train wreck. Sometimes, there’s no “kind of” about it. So, it’s not surprising that some of us in the ADHD community wonder if the some-days-superpowers are enough to counter the many-days-liabilities.
I’m not a therapist. Not even remotely. But as someone who has managed to not run my business into the ground for more than a decade, I have some experience on this topic.
Should you also be one of the ADHD among us, then I’d love to give you my advice on how to stack the deck in your favor. That way you have the best possible chances of maximizing your superpowers and minimizing your liabilities.
1. Conduct a fearless moral inventory.
The fearless moral inventory isn’t only for the red wine and Percocet crowd. It’s for everyone, but especially those who identify with any strongly presenting non-neurotypical issues.
There are many types of ADHD – Dr. Daniel Amen says there are seven – and each type presents a different way with different strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, you already know your strengths, and are super proud of them. But your weaknesses? Perhaps you’re not as willing to acknowledge them.
We don’t acknowledge our weaknesses in part because we’re afraid of the consequences of doing so. We don’t want to be accountable to them. So we try to brush them under the rug and ignore them, and we set ourselves up for a lifetime of repeating the same mistakes and never learning from them.
But acknowledge your weaknesses, and you can do something about them. You can get more of your power back. You get leverage. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll tell you that every jump up in the level of success I’ve ever experienced has come at the heels of acknowledging a specific weakness within myself.
“I've never seen any life transformation that didn't begin with the person in question finally getting tired of their own bullshit.” – Liz Gilbert
Knowledge is power. Know what you’re working with.
2. Play to your strengths.
There are things I am very, very good at. I am really good at talking to people. Now that I’ve acknowledged my weaknesses and improved some of them, I’m even pretty good at listening to people now!
I may suck at certain deadlines, I may suck at the extraversion required for social media interaction. I may suck at tying up loose ends or knowing when I’ve gone on too long.
But I’m good at listening, talking, and making complex things simple. That’s the basis of my business. You won’t see me advising on social media, because it’s not my strength. You will see me writing a lot and talking a lot. About specific subjects.
Tim Ferriss famously said,
“The superheroes you have in your mind are nearly all walking flaws who’ve maximized 1 or 2 strengths.”
That’s how they do it. They know what their strengths are, and they don’t try to maximize their weak points. Whatever your strengths are, that’s what you can build your business and your brand around.
(Aside: My high school guidance counselor – frustrated at my COMPLETE and insufferable lack of engagement on career planning conversations – once asked me, “Is there ANYTHING you like to do?” I told him I liked talking on the phone and I liked telling people what to do. He told me I couldn’t make a career out of that. Life’s a funny thing, y’all.)
3. Build around critical weaknesses.
There are some weaknesses you can probably improve. (More on that later.)
But there are other weaknesses that are so fundamental to who you are, that you can probably never improve them and still retain yourself. For me, that’s scheduling and structure. I can handle a little bit of scheduling – classes, webinars, client calls – but I can’t handle much structure beyond that.
I can’t consistently show up at 10:00am every day to do social media for an hour. I can’t consistently write from 12pm to 2pm. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll find the magic way to accomplish these things, but there’s a certain level of structure and planning that just makes my ADHD brain completely shut down. After years of working on it, I can’t pass a certain threshold. That’s what I call a “critical weakness” – one that’s around kind of permanently.
So I don’t even try. When I made a bet with Kris to write 100 blog posts in 100 days, I was VERY conscious about not specifying I’d write a blog post a day. I might write 2 or 3 in one day and nothing for 2 or 3 other days. My energy and attention ebb and flow. So instead of committing to schedules, I commit to larger deadlines and trust that I’m going to get my shit together at some point to meet them, even if it involves an all-nighter.
If you know you have specific ADHD liabilities, then structure your business to accommodate your known issues. People with physical limitations do this all the time. There’s no shame in you doing it, too. Don’t try and meet some normcore morality of how you “should” work. Build a business around how you DO work.
4. Strategies to improve non-critical weaknesses.
That said, there’s a lot of room to improve. Not all weaknesses are unfixable, no matter how much they feel like they are.
Cause, see, people with ADHD? We’re OBSESSED with feelings.
It feels hard. It feels boring. It feels impossible.
If we can take the long view and break out of any fixed mindset issues, we can surprise ourselves with how much headway we can make on things that feel impossible to us now.
Google “How to become more punctual” or “How to stop interrupting people” or “How to get focused when you have ADHD.” (Actually, just start adding ADHD to all your searches.) There’s so much you can do to improve things you suck at. Read the book I Always Want To Be Where I’m Not and see what Dr. Wes advises. You’d be surprised.
5. Learn to combat narratives.
Narratives are the stories we tell ourselves about things. Those stories tend to go way beyond fact, and they really screw people with ADHD up, because we are really good at running with them.
“I haven’t blogged in 6 months” is a fact (presuming it’s true).
“I haven’t blogged in 6 months and I’m never going to get consistent at it because I’ve tried and failed before and I just can’t seem to get my shit together” is a narrative. It’s the act of storytelling, of creating a vivid and detailed narrative to describe what’s going on. Usually the worst, most dramatic interpretation conceivable.
(Pro tip: Narratives are really cool for creating adrenaline, which lights up the ADHD brain. That’s why they’re so, so tasty. When we’re bored or unhappy or irritated, narratives are like a coke-fueled trip to a brothel for our neurons.)
Learning to stop narratives in their tracks – learning to stick to the facts – that’s key to being a high-functioning ADHDer. All that time you spend lamenting how you’re a screwed-up terrible non-writer? That could be spent writing blog posts or shooting videos or answering emails. Learn to recognize when you’re storytelling, and mentally yell “STOP!”.
So, stop narratives in their tracks. Read Byron Katie’s Loving What Is and Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. That will get you started. Get good at this and you’ll run circles around the most non-ADHD people on earth.
Now. Can I tell you a secret? ADHD people aren’t abnormal at all.
ADHD is like a magnifier. That’s a plus and a minus.
For the good stuff, it’s a plus. Neurotypical people can often be smart and insightful. ADHD people can often be MEGA smart and insightful.
For the not-so-good stuff, it’s a minus. Neurotypical people can often be neurotic and distractible. ADHD people can often be MEGA neurotic and distractible.
You’re not “anything” because you’re ADHD. You’re just prone to be MORE “everything” than a neurotypical person.
We have the same strengths and weaknesses “normal” people do. They’re just both a lot louder.
But if you’re ADHD, know this: You’re probably REALLY smart. If you’re willing to take that fearless moral inventory, you can apply that smartness towards leveraging your strengths and finding strategies for your weaknesses.
Then you’ll kick ass.
Take that, guidance counselors of the world. :-p
Things you can do next…
- Explore a bajillion posts on the Start Here page
- Hop on the mailing list to hear about new blog posts
- See cats giving business advice on Instagram