Recognize Your Strengths and Choose Your Own Labels

If you grew up with ADHD, you may have heard that you are lazy or stupid or worse... but whether you accept those labels is a choice you make.

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Growing up, we internalize messages about who we are and what we are capable of. One thing I’ve learned in this life is that YOU are the master of your own destiny, and only you decide who you are!

If you grew up with ADHD, you may have heard that you are lazy or stupid or worse… but whether you accept those labels and carry them with you is a choice you make.

If I believed what I was told by some of my former teachers, employers, or boyfriends, I would be complicit in their treatment of me. I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s not. It took me years to learn to believe in myself in spite of what seemed like evidence that I was too disorganized and anxiety-ridden to ever be successful. But challenging these labels was worth it, because I earned my own self-respect and changed my life in the process.

Recognize Your Strengths

Think about it: There are many things that those of us with ADHD are great at doing by virtue of the ways our minds work and the experiences we’ve had. Sometimes it just takes a little reframing to see these things in a new light. Consider some of the traits we have and how we can  view them differently:


Instead carrying a label of “high school drop out” forever, I changed my story. I became a nurse and writer who has overcome adversity and can speak to others who face similar challenges. My history of personal and academic failures could have added up to more failure, but I made a choice to view it differently and I refused to let it hold me back.

That’s an example of reframing, but more importantly, it demonstrates resilience, which is such a critical trait for those of us who have struggled through a lifetime of challenges. Resilience is what allows us to push through and come out stronger.

Creative Problem-Solving

People with ADHD are often great at coming up with really creative solutions to problems and finding workarounds that others may not have considered. When we want something to work, we make it work!  

Perhaps this example speaks almost as much to my stubborn personality, but I have been known to “find a way” to make things happen even when others say it can’t work. I notice this trait in most of my ADHD friends. They can make amazing things happen with few resources, little time, and on no sleep! If an ADHD person is inspired or has a vision, WATCH OUT!


Think of a hobby or passion you’ve had. People with ADHD often attain a single-minded focus unparalleled by most other people.

If I want something badly enough, I obsess. I have been known to read everything I can on a subject and spend so much time on a hobby that I become an expert in the time another person might decide to “look into it.” I learned to knit one winter when I was home with a newborn, and in a matter of three or four weeks, I went from casting on my first stitches to knitting a sweater in one piece on a circular needle!

You can probably think of a time that you got “sucked into” such a hobby or interest. While you may have been told that you were “wasting your time,” this also proves that with motivation, you can master a new skill set or knowledge base and become an expert in no time! What an amazing ability! The trick, or course, is to apply this to a useful or marketable skill, and to do that, it needs to inspire you. This is why ADHD people do best in careers they can really get excited about or have some control over.

The Feels

When I was younger, I was almost handicapped by my anxiety and depression. I had panic attacks and a school phobia, and I wondered why my mind and body seemed to be out to betray me at every turn. At the time, I felt very alone in the experiences.  Later, I learned that I was not alone in my experiences, and I gained an understanding about how common anxiety disorders and depression are in ADHD individuals.

What I have also grown to appreciate is how warm and affectionate ADHD people are. I think of it as two sides of the same coin. The same vulnerability that makes us prone to anxiety and depression makes us typically open and receptive in our relationships. We can form very close bonds (even when it may be ill advised). We aren’t afraid to show affection and to love. ADHD people are enthusiastic partners (when you have their attention!), and we are kind and loving, even if we can be very sensitive.  We are old souls, full of experiences and willing to share them.

Coaching and Caring

I know so many ADHD psychologists, nurses, coaches, and social workers! It’s practically a calling for us! I believe it’s because so many of us have been through so much personal transformation and growth along the way, and we just want to share that with others and help them along their journey. (Why do you think I went into psychiatric nursing?)

If you have gone through a life of academic difficulties, depression or anxiety, social difficulties, relationship challenges, or career changes, you can view those as failures… or as grist for the mill. You have a wealth of experience about which you can write, talk to others, be an advocate, or you can help others as a peer support… get creative. But never let yourself be defined as a “failure” by those experiences! Own them!

Energy and Athleticism

Not everyone considers themselves to be an athlete, but I have to mention this because I have seen some amazing ADHD athletes! I have two cousins who are extreme unicycling athletes, traveling the world and performing crazy stunts on one-wheel! You wouldn’t believe what they can do on their unicycles! Flips, stunts, you name it!

My ADHD brother was a semi-pro skateboarder when he was younger, which was the perfect outlet for his energy and focus. He would skateboard all day, every day, and he had more skills that Tony Hawk! (I love to brag about my brother.)

I’m an avid swing dancer, and I know a number of ADHDers in the swing dance community. Dancing is perfect for ADHD people because it requires a level of hyperfocus that comes naturally to us and it’s super-stimulating. All the best dancers have ADHD!

I have known ADHD sky-divers, scuba-divers, even trapeze artists! That thirst for adventure is one of my favorite things in common with these wild people!

Risk Taking

You know that impulsivity of yours? Well, that same trait that wreaks havoc in your personal life and on your bank balance can also give you what it takes to be an entrepreneur.  One of the reasons that successful businessmen like Sir Richard Branson, Dean Kamen, David Neeleman are where they are today is because they take risks. They don’t hem and haw and overthink. They see an opportunity, they evaluate it, and if they think it’s a good bet, they jump on it!

Impulsivity needs to be controlled. But as an adult, once you have developed your powers of evaluation and judgment, this ability to be comfortable with a certain amount of risk gives you an entrepreneurial edge that others may never have. While they sit around thinking about a “neat idea,” you might go and register that domain name and find investors!

Sense of Humor

If there’s one thing most ADHD people have in common, it’s a well-developed sense of humor. This may be a product of our impulsive minds and penchant for stimulation, or could be born of necessity during childhood years in which many of us struggled to fit in and learned to play the clown. Nevertheless, I don’t know any ADHDers without a wonderful willingness to be silly. This sense of humor is a great coping skill, too, helping us get through trying times. There have been times in my life when everything seemed to fall apart at the seams and I felt I was starring in my own comedy of errors, and it was either laugh or cry. I choose to laugh.

Recognize Your Strengths and Choose Your Own Labels

If you asked me at age 13 or 19, or even 25 years old: How do you feel about yourself? What are your strengths? What are your dreams? I would have glared at you.

I was wearing some heavy labels that carried with them an even heavier burden.

But they weren’t mine to carry. And they don’t have to be yours.


YOU are the master of your own destiny, and only you decide who you are!

So make good choices. Choose action. Choose adventure. Choose to let go of the past. Choose the future you deserve.

Now go and get it!


Tell me: Do you have any examples of ways you’ve “reframed” your weaknesses or labels?  Who have YOU decided to be? Is it different that the story you used to tell yourself?

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Further Reading:

The Road to Resilience from the American Psychological Association has a wonderful page on resilience with 10 Ways to Build Resilience

The Ordinary Magic Of Resilience at

PBS’s This Emotional Life. What is Resilience? With blog posts, articles, and bios of others who have overcome adversity and become empowered by it.

Vania Modesto-Lowe, Larisa Yelunina, and Kawal Hanjan. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Shift Toward Resilience? Clinical Pediatrics, 06/2011, Volume 50, Issue 6 

Mikami AY, Hinshaw SP Resilient adolescent adjustment among girls: buffers of childhood peer rejection and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychol. 2006 Dec; 34(6): 825–839.

If you grew up with ADHD, you may have heard that you are lazy or stupid or worse... but whether you accept those labels is a choice you make.

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About Carolyn

I'm Carolyn Mallon, RN, and I have ADHD. I'm also parenting at least one ADHD child, so it makes for quite an adventure! I don't have all the answers, but I certainly share the challenges of many ADHD parents! I started this blog as an exercise to help us improve our game at home and at school. Join us!

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