Distracted. Impulsive. Hyperactive. How can that be a good thing?
Well, for many of us multipotentialites with ADHD, these traits are key factors in our success. Not every multipotentialite has ADHD, but those who have it and know how to use it can turn it into a superpower. If you have ADHD, this article is a love letter to you. But if you don’t have ADHD, this article is for you, too—it’s about how we can enjoy living a little bit more when we zoom out from a persistent challenge in our lives to see what strengths have also been developing along the way.
Before we dive in, let me answer two questions that you may be wondering about.
If I identify as a multipotentialite, does that mean I have ADHD?
Absolutely not. Not all multipods have ADHD. For example, I’m the only Puttylike regular contributor who has it. Some multipods with ADHD have leveraged their unique brain chemistry to produce their multipotentialite superpowers. But other multipods may not struggle with distractedness, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity to the point where it has significantly and consistently interfered with their daily functioning. Their multipotentialite superpowers have different origin stories.
I am not a clinician, so if you suspect that you might have a neurodevelopmental disorder like ADHD, the best thing to do is to talk to your primary care provider. That person should refer you to a professional who specializes in working with people like you. If you’re wondering what ADHD is, here’s a helpful overview from The Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada (CADDAC).
If I have ADHD, does that mean I am a multipotentialite?
Only you can decide if the term multipotentialite is a good fit for the way you see your strengths, values, and contributions to the world. Multipotentialites have many interests and creative pursuits, and are known for their ability to innovate, learn rapidly, and adapt. Does this sound like you? If so, you and I might share some common childhood experiences.
Living as a child with ADHD
For me, growing up with ADHD felt lively and exhausting, sometimes simultaneously. I seemed to find myself talking when I was supposed to be quiet, but quiet and happily in my own world when I was expected to talk. I felt everything around me—and the energy of everyone around me—too deeply, and I didn’t see anything good about it. I was constantly trying to outrun my reputation of being “too spacey, too chatty, overly sensitive and ‘smart but won’t go far if they can’t get their act together’.” That description comes from CADDAC, but it also could have been a transcript of every one of my elementary school parent-teacher interviews.
As a young child, I tested into the ‘gifted’ program at school…and also entered a crowded subway with shoes and exited without them. I noticed a hundred different things on that subway journey but, until someone pointed it out to me, my lack of shoes was not one of them. I also could not keep my room or desk tidy, no matter the humiliating consequences of my actions—or inaction.
Have you ever felt like you wanted to escape an unwanted reputation, but lacked the tools to do, be, or feel better? I’ve been there.
Living as an adult with ADHD
When girls with ADHD grow up, they can become women who “often feel scattered, disorganized, overwhelmed, forgetful and struggle to be on time.” (CADDAC, 2021) Yep, still me. I work very hard to present myself as a professional who is always conscientious and impeccably organized, but it is very hard work. And even though I know I shouldn’t, I take it personally every time I fail at it.
But I’m not just a person who lives with ADHD. I’m also a mental health educator and strengths coach who is currently living a pretty good life, all things considered. And the traits that I sometimes get embarrassed about are also some of the things that my friends and coworkers love most about me.
For example, as a kid I wasn’t allowed sugar because my parents were convinced it made me more hyperactive—and they saw that as a negative. Now, my abundance of energy makes me a captivating speaker and performer who can light up the room (or a Zoom screen).
I have channeled what used to be unhelpful impulsiveness into being what CliftonStrengths calls an Activator, where I am valued as the team member who helps the group move out of “analysis paralysis” and into action. Everyone always leaves my meetings knowing exactly what they need to do to move the project forward.
My extreme attunement to vast amounts of data in my environment can distract me, yes, but I can also tap into it to provide insights that others miss. Last week, I was in a Zoom meeting with a colleague and I noticed something about her face change. I ran over to her office to ask if she was ok, and she said that she felt perfectly normal and hadn’t noticed any change. Then she tested her blood sugar, which it turns out had dropped dramatically during our meeting.
As a multipotentialite, have you experienced a time when someone dismissed your cornucopia of interests and activities…until they found themselves needing your unique perspective? How did you manage to help without saying I told you so! too loudly?
Allowing yourself to be seen
Despite the fact that many of the traits that are part of my ADHD also serve as superpowers in my life, writing this article was unexpectedly scary for me. Am I ready for the world to know about what I still struggle with? Is revealing more about myself worth the negative consequences I might face? Luckily, I have already gone down this road with my PhD research. There, I investigated how to use education and stories of lived experience to decrease the stigma of mental illness. As I thought through how to share my own story, I wondered if anyone in the Puttyverse had stories they wanted to share too. I asked: What did ADHD teach you about living a great multipotentialite life?
First, getting diagnosed with ADHD can be very freeing. It might be the first time we are seen and believed instead of dismissed and punished. For me, a formal diagnosis opened the door to getting the support I needed instead of spinning my wheels alone. But as someone who has a misguided history of valuing other people’s opinions above my own, I‘ve begun to realize that it isn’t very freeing at all to feel like I am constantly at war with myself.
Puttyverse member Rita said that her old strategy of believing “there was something wrong” with her and that she “needed to be fixed” just wasn’t working. Instead, she began to embrace who she was and work with—instead of against—the natural design of her “body, nervous systems, psyche, etc.” which made her better at fulfilling all of the multipotentialite roles in her life.
How about you, multipotentialite friend? Has there been a person in your life (even yourself!) who told you that you were broken or needed to be fixed? Did it cause you to abandon yourself for a time, or did you have an inkling that there was a way to respond to self-sabotaging behaviours without having to completely replace your authentic self?
Learning from the research
While I am your biggest cheerleader for living a more authentic life, I am not a clinician, so it’s time for a professional opinion.
Sari Solden and Michelle Frank are the authors of A Radical Guide for Women With ADHD, and they are both clinicians who also live with ADHD. They “have found that colluding with the desire to fundamentally fix yourself, your life, and your brain is incredibly harmful to the process of ultimately finding the peace and joy you most desire. In fact, the goal of ‘repair and replace’ can completely sabotage your attempts to better manage your ADHD symptoms.” (p. 8)
So if we’re allowed to drop the goal of repairing and replacing our true selves, should we stop trying to find ways to not lose our keys every morning? No! Setting aside “repair and replace” means that we can stop telling ourselves that we would be better if we were someone different. As a multipotentialite, I’ve felt the pain of this kind of self-talk many times.
Growing up, I received the message that wanting to pursue multiple passions was a sign of immaturity, lack of focus, and even selfishness.
How naive to believe you can be a professor who sings and dances! (I am.)
You’ll never amount to anything if you spread yourself across so many disciplines! (I did.)
How selfish of you to take up your spare time investing in your hobbies when you’ll never make money doing it! (It’s not.)
Before discovering my multipotentiality, I was embarrassed by my resume. It was too long and made me look too scattered. I felt so much joy and balance by singing, dancing, playing, teaching, leading, and doing science all in one week, but I also felt guilty for needing to do it. I wondered if this sense of constant inner restlessness would lead to balance or burnout. I felt ashamed for the many things I felt compelled to do, and for the “normal” things I couldn’t do at all.
Shift your mindset from lack to abundance
For example, not a week goes by that I do not stand up to go do something and forget why I did that. I continuously use all sorts of tricks to keep me on time for social functions. I was still late submitting this article. Packing is my kryptonite. It can bring me to the very depths of angsty despair because I become lost in figuring out how to select, retrieve, and pack things—and then in recalling whether I have packed them. Yes, I have tried that app you want to recommend. Like another member of the Puttyverse, Cristy, these behaviors earned me the family moniker of Absent-Minded Professor.
Cristy is a former clinical research operations leader and current team performance engineer, yoga teacher, and coach. She is also a multipotentialite who lives with ADHD. She says that her ADHD “used to be a source of shame and frustration,” but “once I received treatment from good therapy, focus meds, and great coaching, my life transformed. Today it is a source of awareness and sensitivity that allows me to use my intuition and natural empathy to help my clients (and also a lot of former employers). A former boss once told me: ‘You’re like the glue that holds the team together!’ and I still love that compliment.”
So how did she make the switch? Like Rita, Cristy had to undergo a shift from thinking about what she lacked to understanding what she had in abundance. In her case, it was the very first word in ADHD: attention.
Cristy explained that the way ADHD is named is misleading. Reading Edward M. Hallowell’s book ADHD 2.0, Cristy realized that it may be more accurate to call ADHD “a surplus of attention—not a deficit. We have attention to all kinds of things that [other] people don’t notice,” so what we need help with is “managing and directing that attention and that focus.” Cristy found that “Not all of your ideas are worth pursuing. Some are fun to imagine, and harder to execute.” She recommends keeping “an overall ‘front burner’ and ‘back burner’ awareness so you remember to pay your rent before being consumed with your new project.”
In your life as a multipotentialite, I think it’s safe to assume that many things can grab your attention. How have you learned to direct your attention so that you have the focus you need to pursue a multipotentialite path with joy?
Stay aligned with your mission by saying No first
Cristy says to start…by stopping. When presented with a new opportunity or invitation, “remember to say No before you say Yes. Since yes is your default response, give yourself time to check your calendar and to list what other responsibilities you have. If it’s a good fit and is aligned with your overall mission and direction, say yes but be specific about what portion you can do, and what your limits are.”
If you’ve followed my previous writing about living a more authentic multipotentialite life, chances are that you already have the tools to name your overall mission and direction. If not, you can use your surplus of attention to lean into your intuition. Cristy suggests you “double down on your intuition about people and enter collaborations that have mutual benefit. This is where you shine. Others with different gifts can take on projects that drain you (and don’t assume it will drain them if they get to use their strengths).”
To live the good life, be you
Contrary to what you might have heard, if you live with ADHD or you have multipotentialite ways that others around you don’t understand, you don’t have to be anyone different than who you already are to live the good life. Like Edward Hallowell says, what you might need help with is learning how to master the power of your turbo-charged mind while avoiding its pitfalls. After all, you can’t stop a Ferrari with bicycle brakes.
More and more people, especially women, are being diagnosed with ADHD later in life, as we learn that it doesn’t appear to be something that most people “grow out of” after childhood. It’s never too late to get the support you need to enjoy more of the good life.
If you have been diagnosed with ADHD and have learned a thing or two about how that translates into your life as a multipotentialite, share it with us in the comments!