Countless people diagnosed with ADHD have a story about someone — a friend, a coach, a teacher — who believed in them when the world didn't. The mentor's support and encouragement gave them the confidence and self-worth to go on to finish school, get a great job, complete an important project, or achieve a goal. I learned about the value of a mentor as a young girl.
When I was a kid, little was known about ADHD. My inattentive and impulsive behavior was frustrating for my family and teachers. I tried to do what I was told, but I failed miserably most of the time. The shame over feeling that I was a disappointment to others made me angry.
One person never made me feel that way — my grandmother, my first mentor. When I was a teenager, she sold the house she lived in all her life and moved next door to me. Unlike others, she always believed in me and was confident that I would do great things. I wish she were here today to know that I have a successful career helping others with their struggles, just as she guided me.
Gentle But Honest
My grandmother was the first person to ask me what I needed to do to be a better student, instead of telling me what I should do. She was always patient and gentle, and she applauded me when she caught me doing something right. When I did something wrong, she asked me what I learned from the experience and what I could do differently the next time.
My grandmother didn't let me get away with blaming others for my mistakes. I was honest and open with her and didn't feel the need to fib my way out of the hot seat. With her, there was no hot seat, just lessons to be learned that made me grow. She helped me learn many of those lessons by pointing out that I was too impatient and needed to slow down — otherwise I tended to make impulsive decisions that would get me in trouble. In my senior year of high school, I fell behind. One day my grandmother asked me, "Why don't you come over and do your homework here? It's quieter. There are fewer distractions." Peace and quiet was my first academic accommodation, long before IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) were around. Knowing that I was easily distracted and that I needed a quiet place to work was an important lesson to learn before going off to college.
My inability to pay attention was something that I felt ashamed about, especially when I came out of a daydream in the middle of history class and realized that I hadn't heard a word the teacher had said. My grandmother understood my daydreamy personality and soothed my guilt with humor. She called me her little "space cadet" who had a weird way of doing things, but who always tried her best. It was from her that I learned to applaud my own efforts, even when I didn't do a perfect job.
Choose the Right Person
I encourage you to seek out and find a mentor whom you admire and respect. The first step is to define what you need a mentor for. You may decide that you want more than one mentor — someone to help you grow your professional career and a more personal mentor to help you be a great mother or to use your time more productively.
Take your time choosing a mentor; you want to know that he or she has your best interests at heart. Seek out the same qualities in a mentor that I admired in my own grandmother:
> understands ADHD and/or your challenges
> believes in you
> has a willingness to share knowledge and skills
> values your opinions and beliefs
> is honest, trustworthy, and respectful
> empowers you to develop your own beliefs and make your own decisions
> is enthusiastic
> helps you develop self-confidence
> gets you to grow out of your comfort zone
> has firm but realistic expectations of you
> has qualities you admire and want to emulate
> is flexible and compassionate but doesn't excuse your mistakes.
A mentor can be a family member or friend, minister, priest, or rabbi, a spiritual advisor, a teacher or instructor, a next-door neighbor, or your boss.
One of the most rewarding experiences I had as a coach was working with Carol, an owner of a technology startup, and her employee, Ted, who has ADHD. Ted was brilliant, but his symptoms got in the way of his achieving all of his professional goals. We worked together to help Carol and Ted understand and appreciate each other's work styles. Ted eventually flourished under Carol, who developed a flexible management style but didn't excuse Ted’s procrastination and impulsivity. Today, Ted is a success and has a small company of his own. He is grateful that Carol believed in his abilities and didn’t give up on him.
My grandmother's soft-spoken words made a difference in my life. I can still hear her say: "A stitch in time saves nine." "Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?" "Whoa, slow down, first things first." The best thing for my whirling ADD brain was "Keep it simple, little darling." She was my go-to person when making major decisions or figuring out how to be successful in life. I love you, Grandmother. Always.
This article appears in the Winter 2012 issue of ADDitude.
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To find out about other ways ADDers can get encouragement, visit the ADHD Adults support group on ADDConnect.