Wednesday, August 5, 2009

ADD for Fun and Profit

Over the past months, I've been working with a really good friend, Jonathan, on software for a device that can predict heart attacks hours before they happen. My job has been writing the software that embodies the device that detects the heart attacks. The work is a lot fun and I love working with Jonathan who is smart, quick and creative. We have great economy of communication, the work is stimulating, and the potential benefits to people are exciting.

Calm Amid Chaos?
As I've worked on the software, Iris has made note of my being really relaxed, at ease and not distracted. We've had some fun discussions about why that might be.

Normally, I tend to bounce from idea to idea, topic to topic, and so on. In fact, several years ago I was prescribed a medication called Adderall for what I was told was classic Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

For me, the medication was a godsend. I was able to attend meetings that went on for hours with sustainable attention and focus. I became totally at ease and patient in situations where I would previously have been impatient and fidgeting. The medication even affected my driving -- I drove slowly (well, at the speed limit).

What Iris noticed about my working with Jonathan and a task that is interesting and challenging is this: it had the same effect on me as the Adderall. The more challenging and complex the task, the more at ease I seemed to be.

So, that got me to thinking...

Life Before Adderall
When I was growing up, conditions like ADD and that mixing up letters thing, well, they weren't conditions at all. This left you classified as misbehaving or not-so-bright. So, I usually found myself at the bottom of my class.

I can remember taking tests with multiple choice answers and coming up with reasons why any one of the answers could be correct. As a result, my test scores were about what you would get if you answered randomly.

My folks, doing the best the could, decided I simply wasn't trying hard enough. (Of course, this helped me tremendously...) In the end, I decided that I simply couldn't do anything that involved study, mathematics or English.

Life as an Alien

The thing I remember most vividly about those times is feeling like an alien. I just didn't fit in and couldn't do even simple things. The harder I tried, the farther afield I would drift. I would have given anything to fit in, to be normal.

For my parents, my fitting in and doing well was important. They had their own fears of what it might mean to not fit in. How would I take care of myself? Would I be accepted? Would I be alone?

Of course, seeing my parents' concerns only exacerbated my own concerns. There were times when I was outright scared. And, I didn't want to talk to my folks because they seemed scared too.

The Upside

On the one hand, having ADD (note, I'm using having ADD in the vernacular) made it difficult for me to do normal things like sitting in classrooms, attending meetings, conducting small talk or working in a highly repetitive job. However, there's another side to the story...

Having ADD also gave me a voracious appetite for rapidly changing environments and for highly complex and challenging tasks that require intensity and creativity. It allowed me to be really comfortable, no, most comfortable, when the situation was fast moving and furious.

Ultimately, I'm not always great at simple, everyday tasks, but I'm really great at tasks that seem impossible to others.

Supporting the Not-Normal People In Our Lives
As someone who seemed destined not to do well, I believe that I got really lucky on two fronts.

First, I was so bad at normal stuff, that I had to resort to exceptional stuff just to get by.

Second, my life has been filled with people who were able to see past my inability to do normal things and see that I had the ability to do extraordinary things. Amazingly, they didn't see normal as a prerequisite to exceptional. They gave me a shot.

If you or people in your life are struggling with normalcy and fitting in, then I would suggest that you try a new approach.

First, decide that normalcy is irrelevant, or better yet, that it's a hindrance to being exceptional.

Second, in light of the first decision, explore what really matters to you or them. Embrace the things that are wonderfully extraordinary with clarity, depth and specificity.

Third, embark on developing those things that define you or them as exceptional and make them the best they can be.

Happy Tuesday!


  1. Teflon: reading both your last two posts has been amazing for me. I love your grasp of the issues, and ability to analyze and communicate their basic elements.

    And your formula for the learning quotient really cracked me up; I'da never thought we could use math in Option-talk.

  2. Sree, thanks so much for you kind words!

    I love it when we take a concept built in one language or domain, and then translate it into another. It might be translating chemistry into emotion or painting into music or Option-talk into math.

    I find that the process of translation helps me to think more clearly.

  3. Hi Sree, Iris just pointed out that I was logged in on her computer when I left my comment yesterday, so it appears as Iris' comment.

    It's was actually Teflon.

  4. thanks for the reminder that normal is irrelevant

  5. I really loved this post - honest and touching.


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