Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder
By Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., John J. Ratey, M.D.
One way to understand how to get the most out of life with ADD is to consider which qualities lead to happiness and success in people who have ADD. I could fill an entire book with success stories of people who have ADD. Indeed, I am teaming up with Catherine Gorman, a former history professor at Harvard and a mother of a child who has ADD, to do just that. We are writing a book about successful, happy adults who have ADD. The book, entitled ADD-That's Met, will be for teens: we want to give them a positive look at ADD and tell them some true stories of how great life can be if you have ADD.
I will tell brief versions of two of those stories here, and then comment on what qualities tend to recur in the lives of adults who are successful and happy in life with ADD.
Bob Lobel is the sports anchor for WBZ-TV, channel 4, the CBS outlet in Boston. He has ADD.
Bob is one of the most popular and experienced figures in the Boston media. He has thrived in a competitive business for more than twenty years. But he is not a shrewd, competitive go-getter. Quite the opposite. He can't foe us long enough to be devious. Bob's long suit is creativity. He is a master ad-libber; indeed, he told me that it is much easier for him to ad-lib than to read the copy from the teleprompter. "Reading copy feels really unnatural to me," he says. "So we have figured out a way for me to half ad-lib, half read." Some of his ad-libs have become part of the regular Boston lexicon, making him somewhat of a local legend.
For example, once, when a player who had been traded from one of the Boston teams had a huge day for the team he had been traded to. Bob ad-libbed on the air that night as he told of the player's great day, "Gee, why can't we get players like that?" That line has become a Boston staple for whenever a player we have let go does well somewhere else-and there are legions of them, starting with Babe Ruth.
Not only is he the master of the ad-lib, quickly making friends with new turns of phrase. Bob is able to make friends with new people so easily that he has lasted a long time in a business where people come and go every week. Instead of stabbing people in the back, Bob pulls knives out of people's backs. He builds bridges others have burned - often not for his own benefit but for the benefit of the hotheaded guy who shouldn't have burned the bridge in the first place and deserves a second chance. Bob will do this and not tell anyone about it. He works behind the scenes to build goodwill-not because he is a saint but because he is basically a guy who loves life and has a heart full of good-will. He wants to see the good times roll-for everybody. He will make himself look silly, say. by putting on a red nose and antlers on TV to look like Rudolph in the Christmas fund-raiser for Children's Hospital, and do so gladly to make money for a cause he believes in.
All these skills-which don't show up on his school record or his professional resume-make him one of the most effective and happy men in his business. It also means he often gets the hot story first. People want to call him before they call anyone else.
Bob has two older children from a previous marriage and an eight-year-old with his present wife, who is getting her Ph.D. in psychology. Bob and his wife are unassuming about their star status in Boston. Bob says one of the keys to his work is not taking it too seriously. "Basically, I just try to have fun every day I go to work. I work hard, that's for sure, but I love what I do. I am one of the luckiest guys I know."
Always an underachiever in school, never tagged as one destined for great success, Bob went into broadcasting simply because he liked how he imagined the work to be. He got his start in a small market in New Hampshire. After that, his talent took him to the top of his field.
"Having ADD is one of my greatest assets." he told me. "Looking back. I couldn't have done it without ADD. What makes me unique comes straight from my ADD. I'm like the cutup in sixth grade. I thrive on chaos. I love to ad-lib. I think outside the box. Geez, I can't think inside the box. I can change leads three seconds before airtime and make up the copy as we go on the air. This is just who I am. It comes naturally to me. That's why I think of ADD as a gift, not as a liability."
Bob didn't know he had ADD until midway through his career. When he was in school, no one thought about ADD. When he did get diagnosed, he was already at channel 4 and doing well. He had learned how to deal with his ADD without any formal assistance. He just followed his strengths and didn't get bogged down in negative thinking. He always made sure he had a creative outlet. He didn't try to get good at what he was had at; instead he tried to get better at what he was good at.
When I asked him how the diagnosis helped him, he said. "Just realizing that there was a name for this really helped. Just knowing that ADD existed helped me a lot. Instead of thinking I was the odd man out, that I was different in a bad way. I realized that I was different, but in a good way. Somehow, knowing that others had this, and that there was a name for it, made it all feel so much better.
"The second thing was that after I got diagnosed I focused even more on just trying to channel all the chaos and energy I always had in my brain in a constructive way. Knowing about the diagnosis helped me do this. And the medication helped me a lot. as well."
Bob takes Ritalin. Once he and his doctor adjusted the medication so he had the right dose of the right medication, it helped tremendously. He became even more effective at "channeling the energy and chaos." to use his terms.