Growing up, I was an easy diagnosis. ADHD.
Until I developed tics. Then my parents took me off the meds, never to return.
The thing is, even without meds, I’ve learned how to navigate life reasonably well. I’m a science teacher and a (self)published writer. I’ve learned pretty fluent French and traveled to France, working for a summer on a farm. I’ve bought a home and I have my own garden. I’ve accomplished many things that may seem incongruent with what people imagine for an unmedicated ADHD-addled brain. More importantly, I’ve learned how to navigate myself and discovered that defining success on my terms is the only real way of finding it. Do what matters to me without comparing myself to someone else’s standards. Yes, sometimes I have to adjust to the world, but it doesn’t have to happen as often as it might seem.
Many people believe that having ADHD is a death sentence when it comes to personal success, but it doesn’t have to be, even without medication. The key is to know yourself and to find a career and lifestyle that’s a good match.
I’m going to ask you to consider that this “malfunctioning” brain of ours is also a highly attuned compass that is trying to point us in a particular direction in life, and, if you listen—carefully—you could find yourself pleasantly surprised as to where you end up. The problem is that often there’s a lot of noise drowning out your voice. So, you really have to listen. And believe. And trust.
There are a couple of places I could start, so I’m just going to pick one and roll from there.
And that’s my first lesson: This was something that I struggled incredibly to do on a regular basis. So often I was handicapped by the feeling that I couldn’t do something perfectly and so I just never started. I would put off working on something because it wasn’t the “right time” for it. The reasons were many: I couldn’t find the right beginning, I couldn’t see the outcome, I didn’t have enough time, I had a question about something, etc. In my life, the second-greatest thing I ever did was to give myself permission to not be “perfect” and to get started anyway.
For someone with very high standards and expectations in nearly every facet of his life, this was a global change that challenged my whole sense of being. Nearly everyone else knows that the most important thing is to get the job done, but that was a lesson I had to learn. Now, please don’t think that I suddenly became this flippant person that approached his work like it was a stack of burgers at McD’s. The reality is that (like nearly every other ingrained part of my personality) I couldn’t just drive out the perfectionism by repeating to myself over and over that I was allowed to do so. It was a process. I learned to give myself permission to get started on a project and then let my natural personality take over. Once I got started, I could get comfortable, make edits, be funny, and oh my gosh, it’s working!
Not only did this free me to get a normal amount of work done, it freed me from that constant sense of failure that began with the inception of a project and would hang over me day in and day out until I somehow completed the chore or let it slip by to some real consequence. Feeling like you’ve failed again and again even when it is because the dishes were not washed on time can be a debilitating emotion. Hey, you don’t have to finish, just get started and see what happens!
The single biggest piece of advice I can give you? Listen to yourself. Stop playing by other people’s rules. I’m not saying quit your job. I am saying: stop playing by the rules set up by the majority for people like them. We are not like the majority. As soon as I started accepting myself and acting more like myself, I found myself where I was supposed to be in life.
This is a major theme in my life. It has enabled me to make choices that I don’t have to feel bad about, make excuses for, or scramble to justify. I can look back and be proud of myself. I’m happy!
I don’t do everything right as a teacher. I don’t always correct the work as quickly as I can and I frequently miss administrative paperwork deadlines. What I do, is I hear people, I empathize with the kids, and I mediate disputes well. I am honest. I care. And I know my subject very well.
Some of my students test me because I need to prove to them that I really do care. They’re scared of admitting that it matters to them that I care. So I prove it, because it does matter.
In this culture, staying unemotional is a sign of strength. You know what? That same side of me that gets emotional, oversensitive and can be a bit impulsive also supports a strong sense about how others feel, caring about how they feel, caring about what I do and believing that it matters. Yes, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I think showing who I really am to the world regardless of risk represents real strength of character. You can’t take that from me.
Do you honestly think I am going to let the same society that plays Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty or watches Sex in the City judge me on who I am and what I value in this world? You must be dreaming.
I have learned that I function best in an environment that allows me to be creative and to have some authority to implement my ideas. I have developed a school-wide science fair. It worked because it was my vision. It was right in my wheelhouse. Every year, it grew, imperfections and all. This event is now four years running and has expanded to be a curriculum fair, encompassing work from all subject areas. I’m proud of it. ADHDers like me get fired up with projects! We love to get hands-on with something we’re passionate about!
A few years ago, I also started writing. For someone with a rather prolific imagination, I can’t believe it took me so long to get started. But, that’s the persistent effect of self-doubt that can affect your entire life. One day I said to myself—why are you constantly talking yourself out of this–why are you claiming failure before you even get started? And so I began a project that I knew could take me a decade to finish. No joke! I started what I knew would be, if I finished it, a three-novel trilogy. I’ve rarely been so dedicated to something in my life. And it has been equally as enjoyable. Irreplaceable.
Return to Kesan took me on a five and a half year, 400-page adventure that connected me with friends, family and others in new ways I had never experienced. It became an opportunity to share with others this whole world in my imagination. However, it was more than that. It became an opportunity to share something that was truly my spirit bared and to find acceptance in it. People supported me–actually believed in and contributed to this crazy dream of mine. It was an incredible path that I could have quit at any time… But the project gained a life of its own and became so incredibly enjoyable just for existing. And it was expressed in my voice. Telling my story. In a world of ups and downs, it’s given me the opportunity to let my idealism and spirit have the outlet they need.
I’ve just finished the 340 page manuscript for the second novel, The Star of Kaywren. Six years in, that’s two books almost down. You can bet I will have my trilogy done within ten years!
I’ve tried to give you some idea of what success looks like to me and how I’ve worked to get where I am at. I almost want to go back through this essay and remove every instance of the word success. Why?
Because the only real question that matters is: Are you happy?
Not the kind of happy that is actually just being relieved that you are keeping up with everyone else, but the kind of happy that is about listening to yourself and being happy with your choices.
I’m really happy where I’m at with my career as a teacher, but I only found the right place for me on the fourth try. And even then, I had to grow into the role I have now. Sometimes you have to be willing to let go of what everyone else says “success” (i.e. the better-paying job) for an opportunity that really resonates with you. Being in education can be so frustrating sometimes, absolutely, but I am so fortunate to go home most days feeling I actually make a difference in my school community.
I am blessed with my family and my friends… and I tell them this. I do my best to support those who support me, and I let go of connections that take too much from me. It’s taken me a long time to learn to be brave enough to let go of people from whom I was looking for acceptance. But, in the end, I must accept myself first and then find others who work with my way of being. They can’t work against me or hurt me. I have some very different people in my life–they’re all wonderful and they fit in their special ways. It’s a beautiful thing.
Writing. Traveling to France. Nature. Playing music. There are so many things that I’ve chosen because it felt right; not just for one day, but every day. These are not things I did to feel good for a day or a week. These are things, struggles and all, that I’ve felt great about every single day since they came into my life. That’s going to be a lifetime.
And it doesn’t mean that I don’t have my ups and downs. I still have my unfulfilled dreams and insecurities. But, that’s okay. I still have learning, growing and moving forward to do. I have living to do. My story, my way.
There are so many doors out there, we have to pay attention to which ones we walk through, even if it’s to be deliberately random because it fits our personality. Once you start really listening to yourself and start acting like yourself, you’ll find yourself naturally choosing doors that take you more where you actually wanted to go. Forget fear, be your beautiful self, and the universe will start to fit you more!
And that’s what I mean by happiness. That’s what I mean when I say I feel like I am where I am supposed to be.
This is where listening to myself has taken me. This is my definition of success.
I wish you the best with yours. You deserve it.
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You can learn more about me and my writing here: Stephen’s Page. If you enjoy a good science fantasy read, please consider downloading the ebook or paperback and let me know what you think… It’s not perfect, but it tells a really good story and I put a lot of work and detail into it. I’m very proud of this story and I can promise that it is a meaningful read and not something that just happens quickly.
Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. Carolyn (aka The Distracted Mom) kindly insisted that I use my own affiliate links in this post. This means if you click on the link above (in the title link or by clicking on the photo of the book) and purchase Return to Kesan, I will receive the small commission myself. You can read her full disclosure policy here. All proceeds go to the fund for the copy editor who will work on the second novel, for which I just finished the manuscript. 🙂 Thank you!