Discovering My Personal Superpower
Hindsight is an amazing force of nature. About six months ago I was listening to Peter Shankman’s ADHD/Superpower podcast, Faster than Normal. He had a guest on the show who described his personal discovery journey of his own ADHD.
He rattled off a few traits that were akin a list of “you might have ADHD if….” And the alarms went off…
During grade school I was always receiving negative reports. “Ants in his pants,” “disruptive,” “lacks focus,” “didn’t care,” “Doesn’t apply himself,” “Very smart, but…” and on and on. While all accurate, not one person in school ever bothered to ask why.
I believed I was smart, but I just seemed bored with school. I listened to baseball a lot in school with my am radio and ear phone. I even had one teacher convinced I wore a hearing aid!
It was the 1960s and the labeling of our children was still in its infancy. And of course most of my teachers were probably stoned…but I editorialize!
I loved to read and had no problem reading and focusing on the words. My uncle was an executive at Random House, so I went from reading Dr. Seuss directly to adult novels. My father was also an avid reader, so we always had books to discuss. I don’t think it ever occurred to him that there was an issue. After all, his kid was smart, we talked about books, I read and watched the news, and was overtly curious about the world.
Listening to others with ADHD, I now realize that I learned somehow to use the hyper-focus technique to get by. It’s a hidden super power that people with ADHD talk about having.
Here’s an example: my freshman year of high school I was struggling in algebra. The teacher was boring and if I recall a bit annoying. The third quarter I got an F. And an ass chewing at home, along with an “or else.” I wasn’t going to give up baseball because the teacher was boring! I got a tutor, buckled down (now I know that the phrase “buckle down” which was heard often, meant using my hyper-focus abilities!) and I got a perfect score the 4th quarter. I earned every single point possible on each assignment and exam.
My father was happy and the teacher was not. He accused me of cheating with no evidence to support the allegation. Fortunately, my high school Dean understood me at some level (he was a baseball fan too!) and when my father came to the parent meeting, the accusations were flying. My father was ready to hand out an ass-whooping and he let the teacher finish his rant. My father asked me how I was able to accomplish such a turnaround, and I explained my specific path of this newly found “A” grade. I worked with a tutor, studied every day, worked really hard to pay attention in class, and ultimately I got it done. The Dean asked me directly, “Ira, did you do this work exactly as you described? Did you in fact cheat?”
When I replied that I had in fact done the work and did not cheat and earned that “A”, the teacher called me a liar! My father jumped up ready for a showdown (his Bronx side showed quickly!), but the Dean rapidly defused the situation and I was given a B- as a compromise.
My community college years and eventual Cal State Long Beach career were uneventful. Bad grades, on the brink of expulsion, then a success of a semester with grades to make a parent proud. The cycle continued for years. It took me twenty years to complete my bachelor’s degree.
During the classes that I did have a certain level of success in, I hand wrote my notes, then typed them. I never looked at the notes again, but the mere act of typing them triggered the memory retention. Years later, in my vocational education coursework, I discovered my cognitive learning method was that I learned by doing and that I must have multiple sensory inputs. No photographic memory here! That means I have to do, and then have an additional input of auditory, visual, or instructional.
My brain, I have decided, is like a Tesla, with a dash button that says Ludicrous Mode! Just push it for focus and success.
Somehow, I was able to channel my hyper focus to make pictures and tell stories. Through my newspaper and wire service career. It seemed that with camera in hand, I was able to slow life down to my pace. Find that piece of light, that moment in time. One of my most famous photographs, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson at the Olympics in South Korea, I honestly remember it all happening in slow motion, looking through the camera and watching Johnson raise his hand looking over at Carl Lewis.
In graduate school, I was able to channel the focus better, but a lot of the bad work habits from my 20’s appeared, requiring another push at the hyper focus button.
So what do I do now at 58 with this new found knowledge of my brain and how it works?
Discovering this as an adult has been interesting for me. It truly explains the past more than it helps the future. But there are three primary behaviors that I use in my day to day life to keep productive, efficient and effective.
Time management. I am a zealot with my calendar. I calendar everything and find myself easily irritated with people who do not respect the calendar. But now I understand that this practice provides me a belief that I have control of my life. And while there is truly no such thing as time management, only our ability to manage our use of time, I find peace and balance when everything is organized.
Organization. My briefcase, work space, files, refrigerator, all are super organized to a point of obsession. What I thought was mild OCD, is really my ADHD manifested into a need for control and balance. Of course my wife is the opposite of this so it’s also a lesson in coping for me.
Hyper-focus. When I have a project or deadline I am able to deepen concentration to complete the project with acute critical detail. It used to be triggered by caffeine and sugar (Diet Pepsi and M&M’s) but I try now to exercise early and use the natural adrenalin and dopamine to start my day. Caffeine still helps as I am a coffee aficionado and I think the mug in my hand somehow is a safety rail. Who knows, but since I’m not giving up coffee anytime soon, I’m not too worried!
So to answer my own question, what do I do with this? Nothing really. Awareness is a powerful tool so when I feel like things are difficult or not sinking in, I need to get fresh air, go for a walk, do some exercise, eat healthy, all to throw that switch and activate the Ludicrous Mode to get sh*t done!
Ira Gostin is an entrepreneur, and marketing and communications strategist based in Reno, Nevada. He actively works with business leaders and executives to help them tell the stories of their brands. He lives in Reno, Nevada with his wife Erin, their dogs and adult kids and is an enthusiastic Formula 1 aficionado, devoted New York Yankees fan and world-traveler. Coffee is his friend. Yes, Erin makes fun of Ira’s travel checklists.