Succeeding with ADHD

Talking about Self-Awareness and Anxiety (with Hello Monday’s Jessi Hempel)

MORA AARONS-MELE: I’m Morra Aarons-Mele and this is The Anxious Achiever. We look at stories from business leaders who’ve dealt with anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges, how they fell down, how they picked themselves up and how they hope workplaces can change.

Today, we’re not talking about depression or anxiety, but another mental struggle that so many people face, a kind of neurodiversity. One that often creates anxiety in those who have the disability but can also impart tremendous gifts and skills in your work life, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Now, most of you probably know a bit about ADD and ADHD, that a lot of kids are diagnosed from a young age, that it disproportionately affects men, and that it can make succeeding in school and work difficult, at least in traditional workplaces.

If you follow entrepreneurship, you may have heard stories from legends of business, Richard Branson, JetBlue founder, David Neeleman, the founders of Ikea, Kinko’s and Charles Schwab talk about what ADHD gave them as business leaders. We’ll discuss that later in the show with Johan Wiklund, a professor at Syracuse who’s looked at the ways people with ADHD have succeeded in entrepreneurship. Our first two stories are from achievers who also have ADHD and who figured it out at a relatively late stage in life. First, a story of ADHD from a place you might not expect. Nate Swann hasn’t started a company you’ve heard of, but he’s had an impressive career as a military pilot.

NATE SWANN: I’ve been lucky to be able to kind of run my career the way that I wanted to. I actually started life as an airplane pilot for the army doing a mission that was one takeoff, one landing, six hours later up in the sky and it was very, very boring. That was really not the best environment for me. I could get through it and I could operate in it because the interesting parts were when you’re dealing with takeoffs and landings or dealing with any flight, takeoffs and landings, the first 30 minutes in the last 30 minutes of any flight are really the busy times, when you’re trying to do all your takeoff and landing stuff. Those times would kind of get you excited and get you going. There’s enough happening to some extent, but if you’re just going up and doing idiot circles over the same place and coming back down, it can definitely be very taxing.

I learned that, that really wasn’t the best environment for me. As a young officer looking for opportunities to excel in other communities, I actually asked to leave the airplane community and come back and fly helicopters, which is blasphemy to probably the majority of folks that were doing the business. So I came back and I was actually selected to be an Apache pilot, and I didn’t think that was really the environment for me until I got into the community and realized that was the absolute perfect environment for me. There’s a lot of activity, there’s a lot going on. We use the aircraft now specifically in both kind of a scout reconnaissance mode as well as an attack mission, so there’s a lot that you have to do. Even when you’re just out doing a boring scout mission, you’re still out there looking under trees and looking at rocks and trying to find people in cities and you’re doing something all the time. I found that that environment was way more interesting and way more fun.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Nate has an experience that’s very similar to many others with ADHD.

NATE SWANN: Throughout my career, like I said, both in combat as well as being a pilot and things, I have always excelled in areas where there’s a lot of activities, a lot of things going on all at the same time because it’s almost like the world has now sped up to where my brain is at all times. I find I am more relaxed listening to rock music and having the TV going on with a movie or something like that and playing a silly game on my iPad or something like that. That environment is very relaxing to me because it’s almost like I sped up the world around me to keep up with where my brain is at all times.

MORA AARONS-MELE: For Nate, like many others, ADHD comes with anxiety.

NATE SWANN: I think I’ve had anxiety most of my life. I remember being a young kid in high school, and I think somebody even asked me, he said, “Hey, are you anxious?” I was like, “I don’t even know what that even means,” because my life is just… to some extent I’ve always been some level of anxious. I’m a military brat. I grew up as a military brat. I’m 4th-generation military. My family has been soldiers for pretty much our entire existence in the United States, going back many, many generations, and so I think part of my anxiety probably came from the instability of just moving around as a child. I was in fifth grade in my fifth school. I went to three different high schools before I graduated.

Nothing wrong, it’s just we moved to two different states in a foreign country. I think I’d always had some level of heightened anxiety because of life as a whole. Insert ADHD into this as well, and I think it’s just, the ADHD was probably overlapped with the anxiety, anxiety overlapped with ADHD to where it was almost masking each other to some extent, but I can’t say… My ADHD has always helped me make decisions and be responsive quickly, but my anxiety really probably kicks in more afterwards when I go back and try to reevaluate what it is that I did, start questioning the results of what happened and things, did I get it right.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Nate was also diagnosed later in life. For a long time, it didn’t even occur to him that he might have ADHD, but after over a decade in the military, he started having more trouble with his management duties and relationships with others and it came as a surprise.

NATE SWANN: I would have video teleconference events with some of my peers, I would perceive something differently than they were and I would get into arguments over VTC with a number of these folks, to the point where in at least one of them I got kicked out of and I was just like, “Okay, something is unraveling here and something just isn’t right.” Needless to say, there’s a lot of things that were impacting my professional life that a number of those things came back to my personal life as well, and so I wanted to try and find a way to improve upon this. I realized that I couldn’t do it alone. Again, prior to diagnosis, I didn’t even know I had a problem. So here I am as a raging bull in a China shop destroying everything that I’m around and not even realizing that there’s a problem until I start opening the aperture a little bit wider and seeing some of the things that I’m actually doing through treatment, through diagnosis, through medication, and then going back and reevaluating. It’s like, “Man, I have been a really crappy person to live with.”

MORA AARONS-MELE: Now, being diagnosed with any neuro-atypical disorder can be scary, especially as an adult, but for Nate, it could mean his career as he knew it was over. As a military pilot, you cannot be on stimulants, which is the most common medication for ADHD.

NATE SWANN: When it comes to ADHD specifically, obviously the known drug that is there to help people get better is to take stimulant medication. The problem with it is effectively stimulant medication for a long-term usage of any kind will immediately ground you and is a flight-restricting condition if you have to be on some sort of stimulant medication. We have folks with ADHD that are in the military. They find out when they’re in the military. We can put them on stimulants and 99 times out of 100, it’s not a big deal, right? They can probably continue the rest of their career on it and it’s not going to cause any problems whatsoever, but with pilots it’s different. Effectively, and they kind of tell you this when you start flight school, I was like, “I got to stop making decisions on what I want to do with my body when I decided I was going to be a pilot.”

I have to ask if I want to take an aspirin-type-thing because they want to make sure that whatever’s going on isn’t something else and they make sure that it’s treated. I’ve got some of the best medical care as well, so it kind of balances itself out, don’t get me wrong. When it comes to this, the concern obviously with stimulants is increased heart rates and other things that go along biologically with being on stimulant medication. The non-stimulant medication, if it didn’t work for some reason and stimulants would have been the only thing, then there’s a very good likelihood that my career would have been over three or four, five years ago.

MORA AARONS-MELE: When Nate did go on a non-stimulant medication, though, luckily it worked pretty well.

NATE SWANN: The biggest thing I could feel that improved was probably my ability to kind of take in my surroundings and not immediately respond to them. Something that I’ve always been good at is my ability to be able to take in stimuli and make a quick decision and go execute. It’s very helpful obviously in my job both as a pilot and both as a military leader, especially working in combat and things. That worked out really well when you’re at the tactical level and you just have to kind of… you’re in a nice fight every day trying to figure out how to do this individual task or that individual task, and so I was really good at doing that, but when I moved to the organization level and things had to slow down a little bit more. Well, my ability to slow down, I’m like a Ferrari with plastic brakes effectively, so I’m moving in a million miles an hour and I basically have no way of slowing down effectively. The reality was once I went on medication and started seeking treatment, I could really kind of feel myself slowing down at a rate to where I could keep up with everyone else and it wasn’t flying past everyone.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Nate’s experience has also made him think about how he can be a better, more empathetic leader and he also recognizes the strengths of people with ADHD.

NATE SWANN: In the military, you got to show up for a physical training at six o’clock in the morning. They’re going to start with the bugle and the alarm is going to go off and everything’s going to happen at one particular time, and heaven forbid you ever be late for such an event. In the corporate business world, you got to punch that clock right at nine o’clock or whatever this thing is. 9:01 is not good enough or whatever. Well, the reality of it is if you can open that aperture and be a little more willing to work with folks to say, “Okay, hey. Once they’re there, I’m certain that they’re going to put in 110%.” They’ve probably done it their entire lives, to give 110% just to cope to be 80% of what everybody else is doing. You’re going to get a hard worker. You’re going to get somebody dedicated. You’re going to get somebody who wants to do the best job that they possibly can.

Nobody shows up to work to do a bad job. Another good piece of advice I got from somebody, everyone wants to do the best job that they can. They just may not know what they need to know to be able to do the job successfully. So have conversations about culture, have conversations about what’s acceptable and what’s not. Just because somebody is reacting to something, they may be having a meltdown for gosh sakes depending on what it is. The reality is they’re only responding to the environment that they’re in, and if what you can do is work with that environment and work with that individual to be flexible enough to where they can still meet all the goals and accomplish all the things you want them to accomplish and yet have a little bit of a more acceptable work solution.

I mean, for the 10 and a half months I was deployed in Afghanistan, I was on night shift and I loved it. Loved every minute of it. I’d show up to work at eight o’clock at night and I’d worked till six o’clock in the morning, every single day, 365. It was the best time of my life because I just naturally seemed to work well in that environment. I’m not saying that all ADHD folks will be in the same way, but everyone’s going to have their groove. Help them find that groove in your organization, and I guarantee you that you’re going to get someone who’s going to give 100%, 110%, 120% of what they possibly can give burning themselves out in the end. So that’s something else you got to watch out for because if they’re doing something they really enjoy, they’re going to give you every bit of it. They’re going to give you everything they can possibly give you.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Now, as Nate thinks about his next move, he wants to make sure workplaces open up to the idea of different ways of thinking and processing information, and that both the military and corporate world understand the neurodiverse community better and realize what a strength they can be.

NATE SWANN: We’re only moving closer to a modern day acceptance of neurodiversity and other behavioral health and mental health issues inside of the military. We see this in the veteran community all the time. We lose 22 soldiers or 22 military personnel a day to suicide because of oftentimes some sort of behavioral health or mental health issue, that it goes undiagnosed while in service or manifests itself while in service and doesn’t get treated or continues with the veteran after they depart the service, and we’re losing 22 a day, every day. The sad part about that is I think early on in my career, the early 2000s or so, it was very much you go to the psych, you go to the behavioral health provider, you go get family counseling or something like that, your career’s going to be over. They’re going to take your security clearance and the whole world’s going to come to an end.

The reality is over time what we’ve learned is just like I have an injury to my foot because I went out and went running and I rolled my ankle and I hurt myself. Well, I go to physical therapy and when I get the therapy, I heal my foot back up, I’m a better soldier when it’s all said and done, and I can go back to work and I can continue to operate like I would. If I don’t get the help and treatment, I will only continue to slow down and get worse and that sort of thing. We’ve learned over time that because of the strain and stress of a very long, what these very long wars have done to our military, it’s taken our leaders the opportunity to say what are those other areas that we can focus on and try and improve, and mental health has definitely been one of those targeted areas where it’s become more acceptable.

I mean, I remember as a young company commander, I had my brigade commander tell me every single senior leader in this organization will go to behavioral health and will get evaluated at least once in your command because they want to crush the stigma. They want to get rid of it. They want people to go get the help that they actually need because if I can help you, I may not be able to fix you. I mean, some things just can’t be fixed, but some things can be managed and they can be managed to a degree where you can get you back in the fight because I’ve invested so much time and effort and energy into making you who you are. It doesn’t do me any good to let your anxiety or let your depression or let something manifest to such a degree to where that takes you out of the fight.

MORA AARONS-MELE: I also spoke with Dan Bastian, who along with his wife, Angie started the company, Angie’s Boomchickapop. It’s a delicious popcorn snack brand. You might’ve seen their pastel packaging at the grocery store that started in the early 2000s and has grown to be valued at over $200 million. Bastian grew up having trouble in school, but he didn’t exactly know what was wrong.

DAN BASTIAN: I wasn’t understanding things. Things were coming in, but they were getting kind of jumbled up in my brain and I was really… I felt like for the first time I wasn’t fitting in, in the academic setting. It kind of was a little scary and I became anxious. It was about that time from third grade, it just continued to get worse, and I felt myself falling further and further behind. It really intensified, and as each year went along, I started feeling more and more inadequate, more anxious in class, in school and I started to act out.

MORA AARONS-MELE: As an adult, he continued to face some of the problems he felt as a kid and college wasn’t easy, but somewhere along the way, he discovered teaching largely because he realized he could help kids like himself and connect in a way that others just couldn’t. There were things that worked about that job and things that were harder to deal with.

DAN BASTIAN: Oftentimes, I think my biggest struggle – and even today is when it’s all on me that I have to present or create and I’m supposed to be the expert – is when I get very anxious. I think in the classroom, although I am probably considered an expert, I also challenge the kids to become experts themselves, I think. When we had teachers meetings or we had to speak in front of parent teacher conferences, that wasn’t easy for me. I still viewed myself as inadequate. I still had these same struggles and fears and demons.

MORA AARONS-MELE: A lot of these demons, they didn’t go away as he and Angie started building their business, but Dan also knew his strengths and he started to draw on them.

DAN BASTIAN: What I was really good at was putting together a checklist of things to do and knocking it out, and then going to work and working really hard and focusing on what I was good at, which was building relationships, working long hours, being relentless, being persistent and building a team. What I wasn’t necessarily great at was being out front and center, and I kind of accepted that and allowed Ang to take advantage of that. What I have is a strong work ethic that gets things done.

MORA AARONS-MELE: That work ethic, the ability to focus so singularly on a goal helped him build his business while he and Angie balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses out.

DAN BASTIAN: I think I have this feeling like if it can’t be done, I want to do it. The really hard part is where I think I flourish, where I think most people would give up, I’m pretty good at being persistent and moving forward. Because I didn’t know any better, I was not afraid to just go after things. If I probably knew more, I’d be terrified of doing what I did. I was just very aggressive in meeting with buyers and meeting with store managers and sharing our product and working, and working, and working all hours, all weekends and everything because that was what I knew. My first reaction and decision was to move and move quickly, and because I didn’t have the patience to sit and wait nor did I have the ability to understand the potential consequences. Maybe I had the ability to, but I didn’t want to hear about “Let’s look at it from this perspective.” I only had one perspective, and that was to move fast before anyone else would.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Even with the success of their company, Bastian admits the ADHD and the insecurities that come with it are still there sometimes.

DAN BASTIAN: It’s just been an ongoing journey. For me, it’s something that I have been struggling with forever. I always thought that over time it would go away. This feeling of this anxiousness, being so anxious and feeling kind of inadequate about what my main challenge was getting up in front of people and speaking. I’ve seen different coaches and therapists throughout the years of just wanting to get better, and better in the sense of getting more confident and accepting who I am and accepting that I may not be perfect, I may not do this really well, but it’s not a reflection on who I am as a person. I’m not a failure.

MORA AARONS-MELE: He reflects on what helped the business grow and how much it was influenced by who he was, including his ADHD.

DAN BASTIAN: When I had something to focus on that was really instrumental or was really important in my life, I could zero in on it intensely, and I could zero in and focus on 10 different things intensely. That was one of the things that I think ADHD people tend to be able to do is, I would have a notebook back in the early 2000s and I would have a checklist of 20 things every day that I needed to do that every night I would, the night before I would write down do this, do this. I would check things off and I would have a bunch of them going on at one time while I was at my desk or I was out on the road or in the plant. My ability to focus on getting something done was strong.

Now, once I lost kind of… if I would get distracted, that’s when the problem would arise and I would move on to something else and something that I was starting on won’t always get finished. That’s where my wife would come in and kind of… the other employee was like, “All right, we’ve got to focus on this,” because I’m not good at leading meetings. There’s these things we need to get done and I can go off on a tangent, and all of a sudden we have 15 minutes left in the meeting, we’ve only covered two things, but if it’s important, I can knock it out.

MORA AARONS-MELE: So like many stories we’ve heard this season, having a mental difference or struggle doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. In fact, it can help you. Here’s my conversation with Johan Wiklund, a professor at Syracuse who himself has ADHD and who studies the impact of ADHD on business. I immediately sort of was interested in the opening of an article you wrote about ADHD because you ask the question, is ADHD bad or good? You framed it in the context of you being extremely tall. You’re what, six foot seven and I’m six foot two, which for a woman is also extraordinarily tall. You said, “Well, is being tall good or bad?” Well, it depends, right? If you’re stuck in a tiny airplane seat, pretty bad. If you’re wanting to see in a crowd, being tall is great. Why was this an analogy that you wanted people to think about when you talked about the context of ADHD and work?

JOHAN WIKLUND: Because I think that’s so important when we look at people around us to realize that there is no human attribute that is universally positive or negative because I think everybody has a role to play in society. It’s a matter of finding the right context for you. Anything you are as a human being can be good if you find the right place for yourself where you can flourish. I’ve seen that in my research very much when it comes to people with ADHD. I’m sure you know the classic thing that traditional school is usually really much like torture for a person with ADHD. They don’t fit very well in that context, where in let’s say sports or entrepreneurship, they can fit very well. So that’s why I use an analogy of… when people see me, that’s the first thing they always comment upon, “You’re so tall.”

MORA AARONS-MELE: I love that, don’t you? Like, “Oh, I didn’t know. Thanks.”

JOHAN WIKLUND: Right, right.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Okay, but you do point, and I have to say as the mother of an ADHD kid, I find this to be true, it’s really the negatives that we hear about mostly.

JOHAN WIKLUND: Yeah. I mean, the reason for that is because it’s the medical profession that has kidnapped the discussion about ADHD, and it’s not strange if you think about it because medical doctors help people who have problems. You’ll only see a doctor if you’re having a problem. You don’t go there and they say, “Oh, you’re looking so great. Everything is fine.” No. You go there because you have some kind of issue. ADHD has very much been discussed by the medical profession. As a parent with your own kids, when you see a person with ADHD, you know that they might have some problems, but you can also see that they can do excellent in many walks of life, in many other situations. I think that it’s important that we get another voice added to that conversation.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Well, you have ADHD and you’re an academic, which is right. You must have loved school. How did your ADHD help you become who you are?

JOHAN WIKLUND: First of all, I think in academia, you find all sorts of weird people that don’t fit anywhere else in society because I think academia lends itself to… you can really adapt work to fit your own ideas and idiosyncratic ways that you are as a human being. For me, it’s research. It’s really strange. When I started the first grade, my teacher asked everybody, “What do you want to be when you become an adult?” I’m old enough that all the little boys that said they want to be firefighters or police officers, and then I said, “I want to be a professor.” I still remember this because my school teacher asked me – nobody else than me – she asked me, “Why do you want to be a professor?” I was so embarrassed because I couldn’t give her a straight answer, but I’ve always seen research as something that’s fascinated me and that’s why I went into academia. I had a bit of a career in consulting before, and I guess I felt I didn’t fit there at all, but as soon as I started working on my dissertation, my wife told me that, “You’re like a fish back in water.”

MORA AARONS-MELE: Just to zoom out a little bit, is there a certain kind of mix of tasks in general that suit people with ADHD?

JOHAN WIKLUND: I mean this is not my own research, but they have done research and one thing that’s important is that there is variation in change, that you don’t do the same thing all the time. I mean, if you have ADHD, you get easily bored and therefore just doing the same thing over and over again does not suit a person with ADHD. It’s interesting because on the other hand, that seems to be something that people with autism enjoy very much, that they can actually do really well and seem to be attracted to doing things that are repetitive. Anyway, anything that creates excitement, there’s variation, and self-expression are typically things that suit a person with ADHD.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Before we dive in specifically to entrepreneurship and ADHD, I just wanted to, I know you’re not a psychologist, but there are, I think typically two broad areas of ADHD, inattentive and impulsive. Do you find differences in sort of success or workplace fit depending on if you’re more impulsive or if you’re more inattentive?

JOHAN WIKLUND: Yes. This is what I found in my own research and others have found that in studies all over the world in terms of entrepreneurship, it seems that it’s the hyperactivity and impulsivity that benefit people with ADHD in entrepreneurship, not so much inattention.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Do you find that they can compensate for inattention if they are deeply engaged? How does that all play out?

JOHAN WIKLUND: Yes. I mean, that’s… being the mother of somebody with ADHD, you know that if you have ADHD, you get easily bored and that is the inattention aspect, but at the same time, you actually very good at focusing if it’s something that you’re interested in or something that you’re passionate about. What helps is that if you’re able to outsource the things that you don’t enjoy doing yourself, you can actually do well, even if you have this inattention. What I found is essentially everybody with ADHD that I spoke to hates accounting. They hate doing the books for their businesses. My first recommendation will be that don’t do it, have somebody else do it, whether it’s a friend or a partner, or a professional person, it doesn’t really matter, but focus as much as you can on the things you’re passionate about in your business.

MORA AARONS-MELE: I have to tell you though, I think that some of the best business advice I ever heard was along the same lines, which is that we spend a lot of time in business focusing on learning what we’re not as strong at and not really diving into what we’re great at, and we should really dive into what we’re great at and figure out immediately how to get others to help us with what we don’t do well.

JOHAN WIKLUND: Absolutely. I would say that that goes for all entrepreneurs, but it’s particularly important if you have ADHD because you have a pretty extreme profile terms of competence. I mean, you’re extremely good at the things you’re interested in, but you’re typically worse than average on the things you’re not interested in. Because of that and because entrepreneurship entails doing so many different things, you have to have people around you that can help you pick up the slack where there’s stuff that you just don’t enjoy doing because you’re going to be so bad at it.

MORA AARONS-MELE: It’s really bad, like not paying taxes and bills. I have experienced that personally.

JOHAN WIKLUND: Yeah, exactly.

MORA AARONS-MELE: What was your first inkling about… What was your first sense that wow, ADHD really could help an entrepreneur? Where were you in your research and your career?

JOHAN WIKLUND: I was diagnosed with ADHD at an adult age. Then I started reading, because I’m a scholar, I started reading the academic literature on ADHD. I was just so impressed by how they were able to pinpoint all of the problems that I had myself, but at the same time, I thought I’m actually pretty successful. I’ve been married to the same woman for a long time. I have two kids that are beautiful. I have a pretty good career. I thought to myself, “It can’t be all bad because these symptoms, as they call them, they’re part of my personality. It’s part of who I am and I’ve seen that I can really do well.” So I figured this got to be some flip side to this. I know that I’m really good at certain things. I can make decisions on the fly and they’re not always right, but more than not, I actually make pretty good decisions. So I started thinking, could there be a flip side? Then I’ve been doing this research now for, I think it’s eight years and I found it so fascinating that the entrepreneurs with ADHD, not only were they doing well in entrepreneurship, but it was actually in part the things that are part of the diagnosis that made them perform so well that they could flip.

They can kind of turn this thing that it’s considered a disorder. They could turn that into a strength. That was really amazing to see. When you’re an entrepreneur, there’s always uncertainty. You don’t know if your business is going to succeed, and because of that, that creates anxiety and uncertainty then creates anxiety. You want to collect more information before you act. So typically what happens is that people sit on the fence forever, but if you have ADHD, you have this impulsivity where you don’t like to wait. You like to do things right away and you’re very good at seeing the potential upside of stuff, not so much the potential downside. So you have this bias towards action, and that is essentially the most important factor of why it’s a good thing to have ADHD in entrepreneurship. When you’re faced with uncertainty, you don’t get anxious and don’t know what to do. You actually act despite this uncertainty.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Gosh, that makes a lot of sense. We spoke with a combat pilot with ADHD and he was at his best during war scenarios that would send most people hiding and screaming under a barrel, and yet he found the ability to hyper-focus in chaos and stress. That was incredible–

JOHAN WIKLUND: Yeah. I also saw that they had done research on firefighters, and it’s the same thing there that firefighters with ADHD do really well because they come into this scene where there’s just 100 things going on and it’s complete chaos, but they can focus and see these are the most important things. Also, I think with your fighter pilot, I think it’s important also that they can make fast decisions. I mean, if you’re a fighter pilot, you have to make decisions there and then, and you have to make the right call. I think that’s something which lends itself really well to a person with ADHD. It’s also important that in entrepreneurship, you design your own work to fit your own strengths and weaknesses. I think that’s largely the beauty of entrepreneurship.

So entrepreneurship, it attracts a lot of people who are kind of outside of the norm. I think what most people know is that immigrants are attracted to entrepreneurship. I think that’s well known to most people, and that is because they have a hard time fitting in their new country. They don’t speak the language. I mean, nobody knows about their degrees from universities they never heard of and so forth, but they can actually start a business and shape it into whatever they want it to be. We know that’s the same thing with people with a disability, that they are twice as likely as people without a disability to run their own business. It’s the same thing for people with ADHD, that they can design their businesses to fit their own strengths.

One thing I noticed that I found interesting was that as you may know, I don’t know if this applies to your children, but people with ADHD often have disturbed sleep patterns. I met a lot of entrepreneurs who tell me they wake up at four o’clock in the morning full of energy and they immediately start working, and then at 10 o’clock, they might crash and then they take a nap for an hour. Of course, that’s very hard to do in a regular job, right? Not many employers would accept that you get to work at 4:00 in the morning and that you sadly just take a nap when everybody else is working, but that you can do if you run your own business. That’s a simple example of how entrepreneurship lends itself to these kinds of adaptations.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Overall, would you say that people who’ve lived with ADHD all their own lives, they get bored easily. Can you learn to build resilience because even the most brilliant entrepreneur has to sit through meetings that they find boring. Can you build that sort of resilience muscle so you don’t check out as much?

JOHAN WIKLUND: I think not only that you can, I think you actually will because I think it’s… I mean, if you have ADHD and you managed to get through school and just have a functioning life, that just requires a lot of resilience because school is so poorly adapted to the needs of a person with ADHD. I think that already from when you start kindergarten or first grade, you’re facing an uphill battle in terms of getting through school, and if you manage to do that, I think you will have a lot of resilience. I don’t think resilience is a problem for entrepreneurs with ADHD on the opposite. I think they would have more resilience, particular resilience to if things go bad. You also asked me about sitting in meetings and stuff. I’ve spoken to a lot of entrepreneurs and what they tell me is that they simply adapt the meetings to their needs, meaning that… one entrepreneur said that they don’t have any chairs in his conference rooms because he wants meetings to be short, and I think that’s really clever. You don’t need the meeting to be two hours. Maybe you can fix it in 30 minutes and stuff.

MORA AARONS-MELE: I love that. Well, I’ll never forget, I heard the JetBlue founder, David Neeleman say that the reason there’s TVs in the back of JetBlue seats is because he would get bored flying because he has ADHD, and he created this incredible innovation.

JOHAN WIKLUND: Yeah. That’s a great example. Absolutely.

MORA AARONS-MELE: I loved it. My last question, I want to touch on anxiety a little bit because we do know that there is a high comorbidity of anxiety among people with ADHD. Have you looked into this and what’s your advice, and do you yourself have anxiety?

JOHAN WIKLUND: I’ve had a lot of anxiety. As you know, I’ve listened to your podcast as you speak about anxiety is a great thing because it can generate the drive to actually do something. For example, if you’re, which is also associated with ADHD, if you’re a procrastinator, it’s only when you build up sufficient anxiety that you actually start doing things and start acting. That said, I have not looked into how ADHD symptoms and anxiety interact, and potentially help or hurt in entrepreneurship. I think it’s a great possibility for future research though because generally speaking, we’ve seen very little research about anxiety in entrepreneurship and like I said, I think it’s an important driver for a lot of people.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Well, look, you and me, I mean that’s my greatest dream and I think that a lot of… what I’ve noticed going to so many conferences is a lot of entrepreneurs like to talk about their ADHD, it’s almost cool. I only wish that they were as open about their anxiety, but one day.

JOHAN WIKLUND: I think it’s so interesting, and that’s where we started off with the height and stuff, I think it’s so interesting to think about things that we usually think about as negative, like ADHD or anxiety to think about when can this be useful, what can I do because if I know I’m a high anxiety person, I know that there’s probably things I should stay away from, but I should also think about where can this actually work to my advantage. I kind of like that perspective to think about, not so much about “How can I change as a person.” I don’t mind. I think it’s a good thing to think about self-improvement, but I think very often, if you look at… I think we’re missing out this thing about if I am the way I am, where can I find my space in life where those characteristics that I have can work to my advantage, and that applies to ADHD and anxiety alike.

MORA AARONS-MELE: That’s it for season three of The Anxious Achiever. I want to thank the team at HBR, Adam Buchholz, Anne Saini, Colin Howarth and the whole group that gets the show sounding great every week. I’d like to thank my producer, Mary Dooe. Our music is by Brian Campbell at Signal Sounds NYC. We’ll talk to you soon. If in the meantime you’d like to send a show idea or give me feedback, you can find me on Twitter @morraam or send me a message on LinkedIn. I’ve been getting so many great show ideas on LinkedIn recently, and it’s been really fantastic and we are reading everything, so thanks very much. Talk to you soon.

From HBR Presents, this is The Anxious Achiever, and I’m Morra Aarons-Mele.

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