When I was 10 years old, I was diagnosed with dyslexia, and a motor-visual impairment that made it difficult for me to copy the lessons teachers would write on the blackboard into my notebook. (My ADHD diagnosis would arrive twenty years later.) To counter my dyslexia, my parents were advised to give me a portable typewriter (a Brother EP-44 with a futuristic two KILOBYTES of RAM. (Yes, you read that right. Not gigabytes, not megabytes, but KILOBYTES. In other words, I could type exactly 2048 characters before the memory was full.)
But the technological limitations of 1982 aside, there was a much darker part of having to lug a seven-pound word processor with me wherever I went: I was immediately labeled as “different,” and when you’re ten, “different” is the kiss of death. Years of few friends, lots of bullying, and constant “I don’t want to go to school” arguments with my parents ended only when I got into LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, where, guess what, everyone was different!
But you know what came out of those years of hell? Superpowers. In addition to typing well over 100 words a minute as an adult, there was one huge benefit that I didn’t know was being planted in my young brain at the time: I was learning to not only accept being different, but to use it to my advantage, for the rest of my life. I can attribute the majority of my success, both personal and professional, to the fact that I’ve never been “normal.”
See, when you’re different, you learn to handle all sorts of things quicker, better, and more to your benefit that “normal” people. You grasp concepts better, you’re less likely to let fear prevent you from trying new things, you fix mistakes quicker, you learn to pivot faster and with less drama, and possibly most importantly, you learn to not give a damn about what other people think about you or your actions.
While mild disabilities such as dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, and OCD can be traumatic for kids, and heck, even for adults if undiagnosed or untreated, if utilized correctly, the life-skills learned from coping with them can be a gift to the grown up employee, or even entrepreneur.
Those with some kind of learning disability have tremendous amounts in common with brilliant entrepreneurs/employees.
We’ve had to “learn how to learn” in a different way. Much like a blind man who learns to “see” with his other senses, those with learning disabilities learn to “learn” in different ways. While these used to result in me getting in trouble in school for not arriving at the answer the “right” way, they’re exceptionally helpful in the entrepreneurial world, where sometimes, you just need to get things done right now, and it doesn’t matter how. Those with disabilities have usually figured out the shortest way to get from point A to point B within five seconds of being given the task.
We’re the most upfront and honest people you’ll ever meet. When I start working with someone, they know within five seconds that I’ve got ADHD, and I work “faster than normal.” I’m up-front about why I’m different, and I’m the first person to tell you that I am, and that it’s a benefit. I do this not because I believe I’m better than anyone else, but so that you understand how I work, why I work the way I do, and how it can be useful to both of us, as long as some simple guidelines are followed. Want me to get something done?
We RARELY miss deadlines, because we require them. For someone with ADD, ADHD, or most any kind of learning disorder, chaos is our worst enemy. Organization is our best friend. Once we learn that, a whole new world opens up for us. We can work in certain ways to guarantee that certain things get done when they should, and we’re not rushed when we do it. The problem comes when we’re not given a deadline. In our world, “soon,” isn’t an actuality. Give me a deadline, and I guarantee you’ll have it in your hands before it’s due, and it’ll probably be perfect.
As long as we trust you to truly listen to us, we’ll be the most honest people with whom you’ll ever work. Those with ADD/ADHD have one fear: That when we need to express ourselves, we’re not truly being listened to. This is a problem for multiple reasons, but the main one is that we need to feel like we’ve said what we had to say, and were truly heard, so we can file it as completed and move on. If we trust that you’ll truly hear us when we talk, we’ll never lie or withhold information from you, ever.
We’ve been told that our disability is a negative so many times, that chances are, we’ll work harder than anyone else because we want to prove the world wrong. The first time I sold a company in 2001, I was over the moon with happiness – not just because of the sale – but because it was a moment in my life where I was able to prove every single doubter wrong. I’ve used that fuel and that passion to start and sell three companies in total, as well as write two best-selling books.
Because we’ve been put down so much, in the end, we truly want to succeed, and want people around us to succeed, as well! At the end of the day, we know what it’s like to fail, and more importantly, we know what it’s like to be told that we’ll never succeed at anything. It’s exactly because of that, that we want to succeed, will work harder than anyone else to get there, and if we’re working with you or for you, will be your biggest cheerleader, as long as we know you have our backs. In the end, we love the rush we get from success, and will do almost anything to get it.
Have you subscribed to the Faster Than Normal podcast yet? You should! We interview tons of successful people with ADD and ADHD who tell us their tips, secrets, and keys to being Faster Than Normal!
Peter, these are all good points. At the same time, it’s hard sometimes to convince employees to see things that way (and to be open about it). I just wanted to share something I wrote lately, around the stigma that can be associated with ADHD because it’s a topic I’d love to see explored (and overcome) – maybe a good topic for your podcast?