ADHD is a disorder that some people believe will hold them back from their full potential, but this isn’t necessarily true. There are many ways to use aspects of the disorder to your advantage. With the right guidance and nurturing, some ADHD traits can help you be fulfilled and lead a productive life.
While not an official symptom of ADHD, many adults with the disorder find that doing things their own way works best. Many people with ADHD find that problem solving and changing environments suit them, and they are drawn to professions that offer a challenge and a quick change of pace. While this may be a hurdle for children in the classroom, it can be the mark of a future leader.
Many leaders throughout history have displayed traits of ADHD or similar learning disorders, including:
- U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George W. Bush, and George H. W. Bush
- General George Patton, World War II leader
- Christopher Columbus
- William Randolph Hearst, media tycoon
- Walt Disney
- Vince Lombardi, famed Green Bay Packers coach
- Henry Ford, industrialist and founder of Ford Motor Company
- F.W. Woolworth, founder of the Woolworth five-and-dime stores
- Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft
Peter Kight, CEO of Checkfree, created his own company because he was afraid his impatience would create problems at a typical job.
"I would have had a great deal of difficulty if I had gotten into a staff job. I knew that. That's why I started a company,” Knight told MSNBC. “I was fearful to the point of being paranoid that I would end up working in a big company."
Dr. Russell Barkley, professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina, told the New York Times that, based on anecdotal evidence, the military, sales, cooking, athletics, trade work, photography, videography, acting, and other arts are “ADHD-friendly” careers.
All these jobs allow for a certain amount of exploration, interaction, attention to detail, and expression of creativity. They’re ideal for people with ADHD because they’re fast-paced enough to keep them interested and independent enough to allow them to shine.
Athletics—be it participating or coaching—can be a good fit for people with ADHD. After all, they’ve already drastically changed the world of sports.
You know who has ADHD? Michael Phelps. A teacher told him at an early age that he wasn’t gifted and would never be able to focus on anything. Now, he’s the most decorated Olympian of all time.
Phelps wasn’t the only person with ADHD to take home medals at the summer Olympics in London. Runner Justin Gatlin won a bronze in the 100m sprint. He’s won enough medals and trophies to be called “the world’s fastest man.”
The fact that some of Babe Ruth’s descendants have ADHD makes some believe the legendary slugger had it himself. That might explain his extravagant lifestyle and the way he either hit it out of the park or hit nothing but air.
Even Michael “His Airness” Jordan may have ADHD. If you don’t remember the ‘90s, the Bulls legacy, or the original Olympic Dream Team, his six NBA championship rings should help get the point across.
Other famous athletes with ADHD include:
- Terry Bradshaw, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback and TV commentator
- Pete Rose, 1975 World Series Most Valuable Player
- Chris Kaman, center for the Dallas Mavericks
People with ADHD are often seen as scatter-brained because they have trouble focusing on a particular subject. They’re busy daydreaming while everyone else tries to memorize the state capitols.
If you want to see how people with ADHD have affected the world, look at airplanes, cars, or any other form of transportation. People believed to have had ADHD, such as Henry Ford—father of the automotive assembly line—have made amazing advancements in business, technology, science, and art.
Besides Michael Phelps, another youngster was told he wouldn’t amount to much because he couldn’t focus on his studies. This German-born boy began astounding the public with his skills in math and physics as early as age 16.
That child was Albert Einstein.
Einstein was a self-professed daydreamer. Rather than giving in and thinking the way people told him he should, he kept imagining. “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge,” he once said.
Research into the relationship between ADHD and creativity has confirmed that, indeed, people with ADHD are more creative.
One study conducted at the University of Memphis examined creative style and achievement in adults with ADHD. Researchers found that poor inhibition, fluctuating attention, and other symptoms of ADHD can lead to random thoughts and ideas. When those random ideas are applied to creative problem solving, adults with ADHD can have greater lifetime creative achievement than non-ADHD adults. [White, 2012]
The researchers concluded that there would be great advantage in identifying careers suited to the strengths and weaknesses of people with ADHD. People with ADHD could use their creative abilities to offset other difficulties in life caused by their symptoms.
Einstein, Jordan, and many other greats with ADHD demonstrate a trait known as hyperfocus. This is when you concentrate intensely on a given subject, and your thought process moves away from objective reality and into the realm of subjective ideas. This can help you apply imagination to the task at hand. Basically, you ask yourself, “What if…” and your brain just keeps going.
David Neeleman, CEO of JetBlue, used his ADHD to his advantage. “One of the weird things about the type of ADHD I have is, if you have something you are really, really passionate about, then you are really, really good about focusing on that thing,” he told MSNBC.
Einstein changed the way we see energy and time. Vince Lombardi changed the way we view victory and defeat. Bill Gates helped revolutionize technology and communication. Inventors, including Benjamin Franklin, the Wright Brothers, and Alexander Graham Bell, helped take mankind into the skies.
Sir Isaac Newton was so hyperfocused on learning about gravity, physics, and other fundamental laws that he invented calculus to help him figure them out. Not bad for a guy who upset his mother by not wanting to become a farmer.
When they apply themselves to something that interests them, people with ADHD can substantially improve the world around them. This doesn’t mean that ADHD gives you superpowers, but it does illustrate—especially in the case of artists Vincent Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso—that there are seemingly endless ways to make ADHD work for you.