Meet six successful women who learned to own their ADHD symptoms and found success in the process.
Diagnosis and treatment of attention deficit are keys to moving forward. Accepting your diagnosis and having the courage to own your symptoms and to discover your strengths will push you across the finish line. These inspiring women did just that – and were able to meet their goals and achieve career dreams.
Read how each of these women with ADHD handled their diagnosis, developed workable treatment strategies, and had the resilience to get back up when life had her down.
A self-described scatterbrain who forged ahead to become a top actress in Hollywood
Michelle Rodriguez is known for playing tough, sexy women in the TV series Lost (#CommissionsEarned) and in the Fast & Furious (#CommissionsEarned) movies. In 2006, Rodriguez admitted she had ADHD in an interview with Cosmopolitan magazine. She said she decided against taking medication, but she was afraid that her attention deficit would thwart her career dreams. “I want to write and direct, but it’s not easy with ADHD. I have a hard time focusing when I’m alone. I’m a scatterbrain.” As it turns out, Rodriguez’s concerns were unwarranted.
During her childhood, Rodriguez’s family moved around a lot. She was born in 1978, in Texas, and she lived in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic before her family settled in New Jersey, when she was 11 years old. She dropped out of high school, but later went back to get her GED.
Any problems she had in school didn’t keep her from a successful acting career. After several jobs as an extra in movies, Rodriguez saw a notice for an audition in Backstage and took a chance, even though she had never before auditioned for a speaking role. She landed the lead in Girlfight (#CommissionsEarned), beating out 350 other women for the part. She received the 2001 Best Debut Performance Award at the Independent Spirit Awards.
When Rodriguez went on her second audition, she walked away with a part in The Fast and the Furious. She hasn’t stopped acting since, appearing in over 20 films and several TV series since 2000, as well as doing voice work for several video games. In 2005 she was in the cast that won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.
Rodriquez has had rough times in her life, like many people diagnosed with ADHD. In 2006 she was charged with a DUI and, in 2009, she attempted to attack a photographer who got too close to her. By her own admission, she “partied hard.” Rodriguez discovered a pattern about herself: She rebels, realizes that she is hurting herself, and works to get her life back on track.
In 2013, Rodriguez told Cosmopolitan Latinas that she planned to take a break from acting to try her hand at writing and directing. “Sometimes you gotta believe,” she said. “And sometimes you may be wrong. But until you try it and put it out there, you can’t let anybody have an opinion about it. That’s how you get it done.”
A shy, withdrawn ADHD student who turned into a beauty queen and advocate
Brookley Wofford builds brand awareness through social media, public awareness campaigns, and multimedia platforms. She has worked with small start-up firms, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies over her career. In addition, Wofford was the first columnist for Kaleidoscope Society, an online magazine created to empower women with ADHD.
Wofford was diagnosed with ADHD in second grade. Before the diagnosis, teachers had suggested that she be screened for autism. She was in the gifted program, read well above her grade level, but preferred spending recess in a quiet corner reading a book rather than playing with her classmates. Doing group projects made her so fearful that she sometimes had her mother pick her up from school rather than face them.
Wofford daydreamed when taking tests, doodling as if she “had no control over her pencil,” even though she knew the answers. She did better on tests when taking them alone in a quiet room.
Wofford’s mother wanted to know why her daughter struggled at school. When she found that her daughter had ADHD, many of her behaviors made sense. Wofford remembers feeling happy during the months after her diagnosis, and she blossomed socially and academically.
Wofford blossomed in other ways, as well. In 2012, she won the title of Miss Mississippi International, and, in 2015, she was crowned Miss Minnesota United States. Her program, “Unlocking Confidence Through the Arts,” is an effort to bridge the educational gaps of students with ADHD, especially those in low-income schools and in schools without art programs. She is also involved with Art Buddies and is a national spokesperson for Children and Adults with ADHD (CHADD).
Wofford believes now that her ADHD gives her “a roadmap for success.” She uses medication, on a limited basis, and exercise and nutrition to curb symptoms. What helps her the most is art: being creative, helping others through Art Buddies, and being an advocate for the ADHD community. These activities relieve the stress that often accompanies her efforts to manage her own ADHD symptoms.
Wofford keeps a notebook of her success stories and photos of past moments that make her feel proud. When she doubts herself, she looks through the book to remember what she has achieved. This helps her look to the future with confidence.
A makeup artist to the stars whose goal is to accept, not hide, her own ADHD
Modeling in New York City led Marta Bota down the path of makeup artistry. She is a freelance makeup artist whose career has spanned more than two decades. She has done makeup for the on-air talent and celebrity guests on CNN, FOX News Channel, CNBC, MSNBC, and HBO. Working with makeup uses Bota’s creative gifts. “Artistic expression has always been therapeutic for me,” says Bota.
Bota’s diagnosis came about when her son was being evaluated for attention deficit. The doctor handed her a questionnaire about her son’s behaviors. As she read over the questions, she recalled having the same challenges as a teen.
Several months later, after her mother’s death, Bota found her old report cards stored in boxes. On the back of them, were comments such as “Trouble paying attention” and “Needs to learn to focus.” She was in the gifted and talented program, but she struggled to keep up with the work and to stay on task. That was her Aha moment. She decided to get tested for ADHD and to find ways to cope with the condition.
Bota had developed coping strategies before her diagnosis. She knew that a 9-to-5 career wasn’t for her, so she started her own makeup firm, MB Face Design. What she likes most about it is that there is no routine – every day is different. She taught herself how to get things done by moving among several projects to avoid being bored by one of them.
Bota focuses on the positives of ADHD. She has more energy and gets more done in a day than many neurotypical people do, she says. She is creative and resourceful. Most of all, she learned to forgive herself and accept her condition.
In 2014, Bota received the title of Mrs. DC DuPont Circle America. Her platform was ADHD Awareness, Diagnosis, and Treatment. She also runs the ADHD Help and Hope Network on Facebook, giving inspiration and information on managing symptoms to thousands of fellow people with ADHD.
An ADHD coach who guides other women to overcome their own ADHD
Jenna Knight is an ADHD coach who works with women diagnosed with the condition. Her own struggles help her understand what other women are going through.
Knight was diagnosed with a learning disability in early elementary school. Her teachers noticed that it was hard for her to focus, but they didn’t suspect she had ADHD. During her school years, Knight struggled with organization. She remembers when her mother was asked to come in to look at her desk at school. Among many other items, there were half-eaten sandwiches stuffed inside the desk. The look of disappointment on her mother’s face remains with Knight.
Her teen years weren’t much better. She hung out with “the wrong crowd” and used alcohol and drugs. She was in frequent fights and, at 16, was placed in foster care. A year later, she returned home and graduated from high school. After graduation, Knight left home and drifted from job to job.
In 1995, Knight got sober. She enrolled in a community college, where she was diagnosed with ADHD. When she first took medication, she said, “Wow, I can finally focus, and I can sit still.” It was a few years, however, before she made progress in her life.
Knight’s epiphany came after going back to school, and receiving her bachelor’s degree in urban studies. Knight got involved with an LD/ADHD Task Force in Massachusetts and learned more about ADHD and how to manage symptoms. She realized that medication alone wasn’t enough.
In time, Knight became an advocate for adults with LD and ADHD, working with the Massachusetts Statewide Rehabilitation Council, in Boston. There she met an ADHD coach, pursued a coaching career, and started her own firm, Never Defeated Coaching, in Worcester, Massachusetts.
She struggles to keep track of the details of her business, but she can’t imagine a line of work that would bring her more satisfaction.
A consultant and producer who believes that ADHDers can help create a better world
Margaux Joffe is an award-winning producer, creative consultant, and advertising professional. Her goal is to use media to inspire and educate others. She has produced, among other projects, public health campaigns, a documentary to raise awareness of human trafficking in India, and a campaign for prevention of sexual assault.
Joffe spent years believing that her difficulties with organization and time management were personal flaws. She tried living like neurotypical people do and suffered periods of depression and anxiety when she couldn’t pull it off.
One day, as Joffe strolled through IKEA with her mother, she found the noise, crowds, and lights overwhelming. She shut down emotionally. Her mother called her a few days later to discuss the possibility of ADHD. As her mother ticked off the symptoms, Joffe had a watershed moment. She made an appointment with a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her as having ADHD.
After her diagnosis, at the age of 29, Joffe had mixed feelings. The diagnosis explained many things about her life, but she didn’t want to think of herself as “disordered” or having a “deficit.” Understanding ADHD freed her to find a path to success.
Owning attention deficit. Joffe works with a psychotherapist and uses traditional treatment methods to manage ADHD symptoms. Self-care is essential for her overall wellbeing and daily functioning. She makes sure she gets enough sleep and she exercises regularly. Yoga improves her focus, memory, and mindfulness. Because Joffe’s brain is always racing, she follows her “24-hour rule”: She waits a day before committing to working on any new idea or project.
To help herself and other women with ADHD, Joffe started the Kaleidoscope Society, an online magazine that shares positive stories of women living with the condition, and offers resources to help them manage their lives, relationships, and careers.
“The key is to own your ADHD and to stop trying to please others,” says Joffe. “Those of us with ADHD have a sensitive heart, a creative mind, and incredible energy. We have the power to lead our generation to do things in a better way.”
An entrepreneur who empowers other women to believe in themselves and their ideas
Caitlin D’Aprano is a business consultant and the founder of WillPowered Woman, which gives support, encouragement, and opportunity to single women who are experiencing violence or abuse from partners in the San Francisco area. She also founded and runs a women’s accessory company, WPW, which sells products made from fish leather.
D’Aprano was diagnosed with ADHD in 2015, and this gave her a new perspective on life. It helped explain why she impulsively decided to give up her life and job in London and move to San Francisco a year earlier. The diagnosis allowed her find the solutions and strategies to help her succeed.
D’Aprano went to high school in Australia. She struggled with the school’s “narrow teaching methods.” When giving tests, teachers preferred that students answer math problems in order – no skipping around. D’Aprano broke the rules one year by answering the questions she knew and circling back to tackle the tougher ones. She earned “top of the class” that year. When her teachers found out, they forced her to follow the rules, and D’Aprano didn’t complete any math test after that.
D’Aprano attended the University of Melbourne, in a three-year program, but it took her five years to complete, because of her inability to focus and her impulsiveness.
ADHD helps D’Aprano think creatively as a business consultant. It allows her to see challenges from different angles and to offer creative solutions to clients. Having more than one business helps keep her focused. Says D’Aprano: “I get bored working on the same things, so I have several different projects I work on.”
Living with ADHD is a challenge for D’Aprano. To get things done, she uses to-do lists, blocks out time on her calendar to focus on a particular task, and gives herself strict deadlines. With these strategies in place, she finds that ADHD hasn’t gotten in the way of success or happiness.
D’Aprano’s mission is to empower women. She thinks that many women who have been diagnosed with ADHD hold themselves back. Her advice? “Be kind to yourself, believe in yourself, surround yourself with people who believe in you, and quiet those negative voices that tell you that you are never going to get anywhere.”
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Updated on October 9, 2020