ADHD Success Stories: What Can You Learn From These Leaders?
ADHD Success: You’re Actually A Ferrari
I have ADHD, and this used to make me think of myself as a bit of weirdo. Not a weirdo. But…deficient. Like I was a horse with a broken leg running alongside thoroughbreds.
You ever feel like that? Like you can’t catch up? Like you’re doomed to circle the same goals and tasks forever but not make progress?
All because you have an impulse problem.
A discipline problem.
A focus problem.
A time problem.
An ADHD problem.
Here’s the thing. You are different. But you’re sure as hell not broken. And if you want to start a business you’re likely ahead of the game.
People with ADHD are 300% more likely to go into business. And ADHD entrepreneurs are some of the biggest stars in their respective industries.
Not in spite of their “disorder.” Because of it.
A lot of leaders in business credit their success specifically to ADHD. The trick is - learning how to use your ADHD, not just react to it.
People with ADHD have superpowers. We’re unusual, non-traditional. We’re fast machines that see things others don’t. We create. We explore. We do.
I think it was put best by Dr. Ed Hallowell, author of the revolutionary book Driven to Distraction, “People with ADHD have a Ferrari for a brain, but they have bicycle breaks. Strengthen the breaks and you have incredible power.”
The point is you have incredible power in business if you harness your ADHD and make it work for you.
You have the makings of an incredible ADHD success story.
In this article, I want to introduce you to 4 business juggernauts - all of them ADHD success stories. We’ll talk about their journeys and how they kicked ass in the marketplace.
Most of all, we’ll pull a few lessons from their biographies that you can take with you - to think about and use as you navigate as an ADHD entrepreneur.
Do you see yourself in any of these superstars?
Richard Branson: ADHD Leadership Looks Different
When I think “ADHD Success” my brain goes directly to Sir Richard Branson - British billionaire and founder of the Virgin Group.
While, yeah, he’s a powerful guy. A brilliant, wealthy man. A leader that a lot of people try to pattern themselves on. He was also a huge washout at traditional education - thanks to diagnosed Dyslexia and undiagnosed ADHD.
He struggled with reading and learning, attention and prolonged focus. “If I’m not interested in something, I just don’t grasp it,” he said in a TED interview.
But despite his inability to understand the difference between net and gross at board meetings - seriously, he still has problems with remembering which is which - he’s managed to build and run the largest group of private companies in Europe!
Lesson: Become A Reframing Mastermind
Branson credits a lot of his success to learning differences - calling them “exceptionalities.”
He has a gazillion ADHD success stories in his pocket, and most of of them center around his ability to communicate empathetically, take risks, and see new paths to solving old problems. All qualities that are typical in ADHD adults.
But most of all it’s his ability to frame his assets in terms of what he has, not in terms of what‘s missing. “Don’t let what you can’t do define you but instead pursue and work hard at what you can do.”
I don’t think Branson ever says to himself, I’m screwed because I’m not like other people.
It’s more like, I have what no one else has.
Eileen Carey: Do What Works For You
Eileen Carey may be less well-known than Richard Branson. But when it comes to ADHD success stories and the hustle of Silicon Valley - she’s kind of a big deal.
Diagnosed with ADHD late in life, she had a boatload of trouble functioning in the 9 to 5 world of cubicles and conventional workflow.
So she figured out how to tweak her environment and get the most out of her abilities.
She considered her capacity for noise and the best hours of the day to work. She considered how to weaponize her hyper-focus and her short attention span.
Soon she was standing out as the CEO of the software company Glassbreakers and became one of the biggest badasses in U.S. Cyber Security.
Lesson: Get Intentional About Your Needs
Carey made a point of getting super intentional about her schedule and environment.
She puts meetings toward the beginning of the day. That’s the time when she’s most energized.
For deep focus work, she needs long stretches of quiet. So she has silent work sprints on Friday afternoons and Saturday nights. She’s never interrupted and her workspace becomes as hushed as a library.
Most of all, Carey doesn’t beat herself up anymore. “I HAVE LOST SO MANY KEYS! Those stories aren’t funny – but when they happen now I’m just like, whoops that's my ADHD and I’m not mad at myself anymore.”
Charles Schwab: Big Concepts, Good Questions
Most ADHD success stories involve seeing things differently - a sort of corkscrew analysis of what’s possible. And while it might seem weird to put the word “corkscrew” alongside the words “Charles Schwab,” it definitely fits.
Schwab went undiagnosed with ADHD and Dyslexia until middle age - when he saw his son struggling. All he knew was that he got Fs in school and had trouble taking notes.
None of that stopped him from being a pioneer in finance.
It was Schwab who opened up the stock market to “regular” people - not just the Wall Street elite. This was considered a crazy, radical idea back in the 1970s.
But he saw an opportunity that no one else could. It made the Charles Schwab Corporation a powerhouse - and changed the financial industry forever.
Lesson: Unorthodox Problem Solving, Intellectual Humility
Schwab credits his own success to his humility in asking questions other people wouldn’t ask. And he didn’t shy away from his odd mental pathways.
“I get into a meeting with business associates and I can process all kinds of stuff,” says Schwab, “[I can] get to the conclusion much faster than other people who have to go step by step, processing things sequentially.”
Schwab’s ADHD helped him do better than fit in. It helped his business stand out.
Jenny Dearborn: Sweet Revenge
Jenny Dearborn has occupied c-suite positions for SAP, Hewlett-Packard, and many other tech giants. She says she feels “blessed” to have ADHD.
But her take’s a little unusual - as far as ADHD success stories go. The lesson that propelled her was more about…well…shooting the finger at her naysayers.
Dearborn was dismissed as a kid. She was told she was “stupid” by teachers and counselors. (What a-holes.) But, somehow, she held onto her self-esteem through this. And she used those dismissals as fuel to prove them WRONG.
Dearborn stuck it out and discovered that the world actually really valued people like her. She became sought after precisely for her ability to process unusual ideas - and for her grit.
Lesson: Perseverance, Self-Determination
Dearborn’s ADHD success story teaches us that just because we may come from one environment where we don’t fit, doesn’t mean we don’t fit anywhere.
It teaches us that ADHD success stories are founded on self-respect and a willingness to take our place.
“It gets better,” is her advice to neurodivergent diamonds in the rough, “...neuro-diversity is highly appreciated in the real world. It’s this incredible gift to be able to see the world differently.”
The Big Point Is
ADHD success stories aren’t about blinding talent or crazy luck. They’re about people who struggled in school and, at first, felt left behind.
Like you. Like me.
But that’s only the first chapter of the story.
You have gifts because of your ADHD. Gifts of vision, nuance, empathy, creativity - things that are pretty hard to teach.
Your ADHD is not the end of the world.
It’s the beginning of your story.
Now that we’re ADHD besties, we should probably connect on Facebook. Am I right?
You'll find a ton of resources on starting your own business and ADHD success.
Psychology Today, Seven Habits of Highly Successful Entrepreneurs With ADHD, Shane Perrault Ph.D.
Inc.com, How Richard Branson Uses a Simple, Psychologically-Proven Brain Trick to Turn a 'Disorder' Into a Strength
Richard Branson’s Blog, Exceptionalities Should Be Celebrated, Richard Branson
KaliedescopeSociety.com, Startup CEO Shares Advice for Women With ADHD
The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, Success Stories: Charles Schwab, Founder of The Charles Schwab Corporation
Society for Human Resource Management, Big Data Helps Workers Thrive: A Q&A with Jenny Dearborn, David Ward