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Having It All

After a midlife diagnosis and with help from an ADHD coach, this man is on a mission to change, well, everything.

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Randy Schwartz, a softball dad, dedicated family man, and a successful salesman at a company that markets energy-efficient lighting and power technologies, was diagnosed with adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in 2006.

The year before, Schwartz’s ADHD symptoms had come to a head. He became increasingly forgetful and could not stay focused at work or in meetings. ADHD affected his home life as well.

“Our daughter and I joked that, whenever we would go someplace, we all had to wait for Randy to get in the car,” says Randy’s wife, Abby, 48, who is an architect. “Randy’s chronic lateness affected all of us.”

Despite his absentmindedness, Schwartz excelled at work. After graduating from Bucknell University in 1985, he worked as a systems programmer for AT&T. He thrived at this job, which involved short-term, task-oriented goals. For 14 years, he successfully held other positions requiring similar skills.

In 1999, though, after switching into sales, he struggled with time management, follow-through, and multi-tasking — and he didn’t consistently make his sales quotas. It was when Schwartz started his own sales consulting business, in 2005, that Abby decided to take action. She arranged for him to see a neurologist, who ruled out memory disorders. After further testing with another doctor, Randy was diagnosed with ADHD.

Schwartz started medication and began working with a coach, who helped him develop strategies to manage his ADHD. “When I first met Randy, he wanted it all — to manage his priorities better, be on time, be a better husband and father,” says coach Michele Novotni. “Which goes hand in hand with his Red Bull-like energy.”

A typical day on the job finds him making sales pitches to prospective clients on the phone or in person. When he’s not on a business trip, Schwartz spends time at home with his wife, 18-year-old son, and eight-year-old daughter.

“We’re an ADHD family,” says Abby. “We understand what Randy is dealing with every day, and we support him. Things are much better now.”

Randy: Looking back on my childhood, there’s no question I had ADHD. I bounced off walls ever since I could remember, and found ways to compensate for my undiagnosed condition. In high school, I’d cram for tests and memorize the material. It worked pretty well — I excelled in math and finished thirteenth in a class of 775. I didn’t do nearly as well at Bucknell.

The greatest challenge in my personal and professional life is being on time, whether it’s for picking up my daughter or son or meeting customers. I lack “executive skills.” I’m a smart guy, and I know what I should do, but I often go off on tangents. Through the years, many of my friends have come up with strategies to deal with my forgetfulness. For instance, they coined the term “The Randy Rules,” one of which is inviting an extra friend along, just in case I forget to show up.

Abby: I suspected for a long time that Randy had ADHD. Despite his symptoms, and the problems they caused, I always loved him. At times, though, I’d criticize him, because I thought he lacked self-discipline. We’re opposites. I’m very focused and disciplined. For years, Randy would beg me for help to get things done. I’d show him, tell him, remind him, but, in the end, none of it worked.

Randy: In 1999, I worked at a large computer company as a pre-sales systems engineer, and started taking on sales roles. I thought, “Hey, I can do this, so why not go into sales?” With a child on the way, Abby and I thought it would be a chance to fatten my paycheck. After I took the sales job, though, I had difficulty prioritizing my day, because I couldn’t estimate how long it took to do things. I spent too much time on administrative details, creating spreadsheets and templates, and not enough on making my sales quotas. Things really went downhill in 2005, when I left my sales job to start my own business. My wife noticed that I was getting more forgetful. I’d forget to pick up my daughter from school, even if Abby reminded me several times.

Abby: His absentmindedness frustrated the family. He was always losing his cell phone and keys. I’d remind him six times to pay a bill, and he still didn’t do it.

Randy: In 2006, Abby took me to see a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania, under the false premise of ruling out Alzheimer’s or memory disorders. The neurologist said I might have ADHD. He sent me to a neuropsychologist for testing, and I was diagnosed as having ADHD.

Abby: I felt vindicated and relieved. Now that we finally knew that ADHD was the source of Randy’s symptoms, we could figure out how to manage them. Up until then, it was a battle between the two of us.

Randy: My first reaction was, “OK, now what do I do about it?” When I met Michele, in August 2006, I was on a mission to regain my life. She encouraged me to learn more about ADHD, and we came up with solutions for getting things done at home and work. Six months and three medications later, I settled on Concerta, which gives me clarity I never had. Now, instead of just reacting to situations, I make a conscious decision about what I will do and say.

Michele: Randy struggled with work issues that many with ADHD face. He had problems staying organized-finding materials and prioritizing. We worked on mastering the “D” words: deleting, delegating, and diminishing tasks. Randy was one of the hardest-working people I know, but he wasn’t getting much done. I suggested he start outsourcing some of his administrative tasks, so he hired a college student to help out with filing, timesheets, and expense reports.

At his previous job, Randy was hired as a sales consultant, but he was spending time on strategic planning and marketing-for which he wasn’t being paid. We talked about renegotiating his contract, or setting boundaries at the job, so he wouldn’t get waylaid by these additional tasks. I suggested he start wearing a reminder watch to help him stay on top of his many main responsibilities.

Randy had another goal: to be calmer and less critical at home, so he and his family could enjoy their time together. A second dose of medication in the late afternoon, along with behavioral strategies, helped him achieve serenity.

Randy: Group counseling also helped me a lot. Michele runs a nine-week group called “Succeeding with Adult ADHD.” Before I attended, I thought I was the only person who consistently showed up late and misplaced things. I’m a very positive person, but after years of tardiness and absentmindedness, you get down on yourself. Your self-esteem takes a beating. At the first session, I realized I wasn’t the only one.

Nancy: Randy and I struggled with organization. We’d bounce ideas off each other. I came up with a slogan: “If you don’t put stuff away, there’s hell to pay.” This became the mantra of the group.

Randy: I thought Nancy’s slogan was great, but I wondered how I’d remember it at the office. Michele suggested I take a photo of myself grimacing and pointing a finger at the camera — like a drill sergeant standing over a new recruit. That photo hangs in my office, with the caption, “Now, or hell to pay.” It’s a vivid and personal reminder to complete the task at hand. Or else.

Nancy: Randy added a lot to the group, because he talked so openly about his struggles. He was also skilled at creating processes, like his filing system to tame paper piles.

Randy: When it comes to paper, my philosophy is “everything has a home.” I bought a bunch of inboxes from Staples, stacked them five-high in my office, and organized the piles of paper on my office floor into dozens of categories. Then I labeled and color-coded the inboxes to correspond to the categories, and filed each pile in its own home.

Nancy: Randy’s extremely energetic and very funny at times.

Randy: Having an overgrown sense of humor is a plus. When you have ADHD, you need to laugh at the situations you get yourself into.

Michele: I also met with Abby, so she would better understand ADHD. I explained to her why it was so difficult for Randy to do things. Abby is a wonderful resource for him.

Abby: Michele introduced us to the “body double” strategy: I sit and read a book in the same room where Randy is doing tedious paperwork. My presence helps him stay focused.

Randy: Getting a diagnosis, finally, working with Michele, finding the “right” medication, and openly discussing ADHD with my family and friends have increased my confidence. I understand myself better. I’m able to say, “Look, you’re going to be late at times, but, more often than not, you can control it.” I feel better about me.

Michele: When I first met Randy, he talked about what he couldn’t do. Now he talks about what he can do. When we got together, a couple of months ago, he was positive and smiling. I could tell he was really enjoying his new sales job.

Randy: I understand now why my brain ticks the way it does. I have accepted that ADHD will be with me every day — at every family event and every business meeting. Now I have the tools and structure to manage the challenges. Life is good and getting better every day!

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