ADULT ADHD IS PERFECT COPING MODEL
I once met a gentleman at a social event who was President of a major corporation. We hadn’t been chatting long before it became clear to me that this was one impressive guy, and it was easy to understand how he ended up at the top of the “business ladder.”
It was clear he wanted to talk about psychology, which was fine with me. At one point he volunteered that he had ADHD, and I asked him what sort of concessions he had to make to succeed in his world. In so many words, of course, I was asking him how he coped. To paraphrase his reply:
“I really became aware of my condition when I was in college. Up to that time I had a lot of trouble focusing on things, carrying through with my plans, and keeping myself occupied with the task at hand. In high school I could coast along, but college was another matter. I took a basic psychology course in my freshman year and one day I made an appointment with the professor. I told him my symptoms and he suggested ADHD. That changed my whole life.”
He went on to tell me how he learned all he could about his condition and what steps he could take to compensate for it and be a successful student. As we continued to chat I began to see the specific characteristics that explained why I was impressed with him: His level of achievement motivation was clearly off the charts at the high end; his work ethic was unmatched by anyone I had ever known; his energy level was unbounded; he was articulate and a clear thinker.
He went on to tell me he continued the coping strategies he developed in college. Specifically he noted that he gets up an hour earlier than necessary to be at work at the time he wants to arrive. “During that hour I map out my day, literally writing down meetings I have, memos I need to write, tasks I need to assign to others, and so on. To do all that, of course, I have to refer to a complete list of what I had done the previous day and what was still on the list. I also refer to my appointment book for the upcoming day.”
As soon as he gets to work (about an hour before anyone else on his office floor) he puts in a call to his Executive Associate. “She knows the daily routine and she knows the call is coming, so I’m not disrupting her own early morning schedule. We go over everything on the list I have prepared for the day. We spend about 15 minutes adding some things, deleting some things, and editing others. As soon as she gets to her office, which is next to mine, we go over things again and I’m now ready to face the day.”
Not surprisingly the assistant was at this function with him, literally only a few feet away. In fact, during our brief conversation she intercepted others coming to chat with him, saying something like, “Give him a minute and he’ll be right with you. So how have you been?” Had she not done so, she knew his attention would have been diverted to the newcomer and my conversation with him would have ended, hanging in the air.
He told me his Executive Associate is indispensable as he goes through the day. “She keeps me on schedule, keeps me on track during meetings, and knows that when something unexpected comes up, she must keep it under wraps until we get together at the end of the office work-day. Then, together, we discuss where the matter belongs for my evening and the next day.”
It is no exaggeration to say that by the time our conversation had reached this point I was literally exhausted. The energy level he expended telling me his story was intense and required some mental effort just to follow him! Still, his words and fast presentation style showed considerable sophistication. I have had interactions with people who, in my estimation, would clearly be diagnosed with ADHD. Unlike this gentleman, however, there was little underlying structure or logical organization to their words, and trying to follow them was like trying to converse with a fly.
Our CEO’s approach to each day is a model of effective coping: He does not allow his ADHD to define who he is; he attacks the day as a challenge to be met within the realities of his condition, not something to be avoided because of his condition; he develops a strategic plan not only to take on the things he knows are ahead, but a plan that also allows him to deal with unexpected contingencies; he enlists the help of someone else in carrying out his plan, admitting that he can’t do it all alone, and that there is no shame in reaching out to another person.
In short, this man exemplified principles of good coping, based on focus, organization, and a realistic acceptance of his limitations.
I recently saw a newspaper piece by Kristin Woodling, owner of Pamper Your Mind, a private counseling practice. She was describing the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs and noted that those characteristics are typical of ADHD diagnoses: high energy, vision, creativity, insight, impulsiveness, and risk-taking. She noted that the trick for them is to channel these traits so they can lead to productive results.
My CEO friend used his executive assistant to help him channel his traits that, unchecked, could produce haphazard decisions, projects hanging undone, and general disorganization that would frustrate all involved. These are lessons for all of us. Coping with everyday life often requires us to meet challenges by taking risks, engaging in creative strategies to deal with problems, organizing our efforts, maintaining our energy level to persevere, and enlisting the assistance of someone trustworthy. Go for it!