Day-in and day-out, I talk to people living with ADHD who want to find their life purpose. The reason, goal or motivation that will be the answer to them experiencing a fulfilling and satisfying life. It’s universal to want to have a sense of meaning in our lives and feel as if we are making a valuable contribution.
For persons with ADHD, this is especially important because what we are passionate about truly contains the answers to what will hold our attention and interest. When something holds our attention and interest we are more likely to experience success and feel happier. The positive experience of success and happiness then spills over to positively influence other areas of our ADHD lives.
The problem is that many of us are not really sure what a life purpose is and where or how to find it. Like trying to find a needle in a haystack, we can easily miss the opportunity to experience the satisfaction that expressing a life of purpose can provide.
Below are five myths about life purpose that once you let go of will open the way for you to identify your life purpose right away.
Myth #1 Your Life Purpose is Your Job
This is one of the more common mistaken ideas that I tackle first when I talk to someone with ADHD who wants to find their life purpose. Why is this myth about life purpose so pervasive? I think it’s because we live in an increasingly work/job focused world that doesn’t teach us that there is a difference between our life purpose and what we do to earn a living. In fact, they are commonly two totally distinct things.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely possible to integrate your life purpose into your work. I have been lucky enough to have been able to create this for myself and I know many other ADHD coaches who experience the same. HOWEVER, when people feel stuck and struggle to identify their purpose, it’s often because they’ve come to think of their career, work or job as the place in which they’ll find their purpose. Or, it’s the reverse. People try to find their life purpose through the process of expanding their career and end up being tremendously frustrated. Either way it just does not work.
Solution #1: Allow yourself the possibility to see your life purpose and your job as separate things. Ask yourself: “Am I trying to trying to figure out my life purpose or my next best job move?”
Myth #2 Your Life Purpose Can Only Be One Thing
Because people with ADHD can often confuse their job with their life purpose, they can fall into the trap of thinking their purpose is one specific thing.
Remember being asked what we wanted to be when we grew up? With our ADHD out-of-the-box thinking we might have said things like: “I want to be an astronaut…and a lion tamer” or “I want to be a queen… and a fireman.” Or, if you were like my youngest son at the age of five, you wanted to be Santa Claus… and a hammer! As adults, when we think about life-purpose, we mistakenly focus on a single outcome and forget about the numerous possibilities we embraced when we were young. A purpose-driven life often includes a number of options and many of them will be equally satisfying.
Solution #2 Don’t try and narrow things down too soon. Be curious as to why a certain idea appeals to you and remember to stay open to multiple possibilities.
Myth #3 You Must Find Your Life Purpose Before You Start Living It
Oh, the conundrum this mistaken myth creates in our ADHD lives! Our life purpose is closely connected to what we love doing most. What we are innately good at. This means that when we are doing what we love, doing what we are good at rather than struggling to do the things we are not good at, we are already taking our steps along the path towards our purpose. This means that we don’t need to wait for anything, nor find anything else, to be living our purpose. All we need to do is remember what we love to do, what we are good at, and do it as often as possible.
Solution #3 Do more of what you are naturally good at and love to do.
Myth #4 Only a Fortunate Few Live Their Life Purpose
This myth is a trap that keeps so many of us with ADHD from experiencing the satisfaction of living our purpose. It may be true that fewer people are able to enjoy a job that also integrates their life purpose. However, when we recognize that our life purpose is a combination of what we care most about, what’s important to us, what we love to do, and what we value, it becomes clear that anyone, especially someone with ADHD, always has the option to live their life purpose in some way everyday.
Solution #4 Remember what you care most about, what you love to do, and what you value the most and be sure to include these in your everyday life.
Myth #5 You Should Be Able to Figure It Out On Your Own
It may seem that as personal and unique as life purposes can be, that we should be able to figure out our life purpose on our own, right?
Because it’s so personal, so close to us, we can have a difficult time seeing our life purpose because it’s so closely connected to who we are. It’s a bit like that saying about how it’s difficult to see the forest through the trees. When people come to me looking to find their life purpose it may be difficult for them to see the bigger picture. Using my coaching skills, I am able to ask questions that will reveal the answers to them. And when I reflect back their responses, an interesting thing happens. More often than not clients have an “Aha” moment where they finally see what their purpose is all about.
Solution #5 Don’t go purpose hunting on your own. Find the support you need! Outside eyes and ears trained to tune into listening to your truth can help you see the answers within yourself.
Everyone has a purpose and with the innate talents and unique strengths so common to persons with ADHD, it’s just a matter of discovering yours. So, if you’ve been purpose hunting and coming up empty, it’s time to de-myth your thinking and consider these solutions.
This past month I made a big mistake. During a routine manicure, I impulsively had the technician apply acrylic nails. You know, those long unbreakable nails that seem so elegant on someone else? Well, ever since, it’s like I have been typing on stilts. It’s amazing how an additional ½ inch at the end of your fingers can throw off everything from typing, to cleaning, to getting dressed and to making it impossible to play the new ukulele I bought in December. It’s like walking around with a small pebble in my shoe and trying to ignore it, but it’s always there…irritating, distracting, and bothersome…energy draining…not to mention the additional typos I am making and the extra spell check time! Putting up with these nails for the past couple of weeks, how distracting they have been, I began considering other things I am tolerating in my life, little and big, and how I could eliminate them.
You see, tolerations are things we put up with, situations and/or persons that drain our energy, hold us back and create stress. Often we may not even be aware of what we are tolerating, the things that annoy, irritate, stress our energy and make it difficult to move forward. For people with ADHD, tolerations create considerable distractions!
A toleration can be big… like living in a cramped home in an unsafe neighborhood. Or it can be little and seemingly insignificant, like having a burnt out light bulb in your coat closet…or…dare I say it…too long of nails. Tolerations could include: incomplete tasks, frustrations, problems, other people’s or your own behavior, clutter, “shoulds”, unmet needs, crossed boundaries, outdated wardrobe, unresolved issues or guilt, lack of exercise, eating habits, being indecisive, procrastinating, lack of sleep, uncomfortable bed, etc. Many things we might not have even considered because we just put up with them. Unaware of the underlying toll they are putting on our lives.
Take a moment now to consider your life and ask yourself: what are you tolerating?
Following are some steps you may want to try to help manage if not eliminate the tolerations in your life.
First, make a list of your tolerations. Challenge yourself to come up with 10 things you are tolerating. Once started, most people can think of at least 10 things they are tolerating currently in their lives that they had not previously been aware of. Don’t worry if some of them seem “impossible” to handle. In order to address them, you first need to acknowledge and be aware of them. The best way to do that is by writing them down.
Next, you may want to prioritize your list and focus on five at any one time in order to avoid overwhelm. Because prioritization can be difficult when you have ADHD, think about this as a task of including a mix of two big and three small tolerations in these five. The “bigger” tolerations may take more time to eliminate and having “smaller” tolerations that are relatively quick and easy to handle will have you enjoying the feeling of relief, success and accomplishment as you cross them off your list!
Finally, decide what you want to do with these tolerations. Typically there are three things we can do with tolerations:
- Decide to keep it – Don’t do anything about it right now.
- Fix it/eliminate it – Take action that will take care of the toleration so it isn’t bothersome anymore. Change the light bulb, create one spot for paper clutter to go, have annoying acrylic nails shortened. What tolerations can you take care of today?
- Change your perspective about it – Make the decision that you are going to reframe how you experience a “toleration” as something that has been bothersome for you. For instance, the carpet in your living room that is like a constant eyesore due to the activity of kids, their friends coming over and family pets could take on a new perspective that is grateful for the reminder of a house full of fun and laughter.
Some tolerations – like the burnt out light bulb – can be addressed quickly and easily. Simply change the light bulb so every time you go to turn on that light you don’t have that annoyance of no light. Handling others can require a significant investment of time, energy and money – such as finding, and being able to afford, a new and better place to live.
You may not want to do anything or take action to change your tolerations right now, but just writing them down and getting them out of our busy ADHD brains will raise your awareness of what they are. You’ll naturally start deciding which to keep, which to fix and/or which to change your perspective about.
I recommend going back on a quarterly basis and repeating the process of identifying tolerations that might have crept back into your life. Decide if you want to keep, fix or change your perspective around any new tolerations you notice.
As for me…I have already made an appointment to have these elegant nails that I have been tolerating shortened…and look forward to an evening of strumming my ukulele once again.
How about you? What are you tolerating in your life? What can you get rid of, fix or change your perspective about? I’d love to hear from you. Email me at .
When your child is a college bound senior, you want him to be prepared so when he enters college, he is part of the 50% that eventually graduates with a degree. You’ve spent years helping him with study skills, taught him right from wrong, and worked tirelessly to mold him into a capable, academic young adult. They are just about at the finish line…preparing to graduate from high school and go off to college…your job is just about done!
But wait…in all that prepping for college, what about some of the lesser known essential skills that students need once they head off for college? Skills like resiliency, self-advocacy, problem solving and resiliency. Being able to balance newfound independence with increased responsibilities. And basics like how or when to sleep, eat, shower, do laundry. Not having these key life skills can undermine any academic aptitude or test taking tactics and have students packing up their dorm room and books before the Thanksgiving break!
So, as a parent, how do you help support your ADHD college student in transitioning successfully to college without nagging or giving unwelcome advice? How do you continue to be part of their support system and provide guidance through these murky waters? The answer? Even before your son or daughter is transitioning to college, you transition to being their coach. A parent coach so to speak, who is supportive, motivating, empowering and definitely not nagging or judgmental. At this time in an ADHD student’s life, it’s time for parents to take a step back and land the helicopter so your student can take a step forward and take on responsibility for the academic AND life skills they will need at college. But how?
During the very limited months between high school senioritis and their first semester at college, it’s important for parents to take a back seat in a way that empowers their college bound student. This is the time for them to test the waters gradually, on their own, so they can develop the confidence in their own resourcefulness and succeed in this biggest transition yet in their (and your) lives.
To help your own transition from helpful parent to empowering parent coach, consider adding these ADHD coaching strategies to your parenting style:
- Replace caution with curiosity. You have done your job, taught your child how to stay safe and take care of himself, and now is the time to replace your words of caution with curiosity. For instance, rather than nagging your soon to be college freshman to stay on the lighted paths, make curfew or travel in pairs, ask them how they plan to stay safe on campus? What happens when you don’t make dorm curfew? Or, Who would be good to pair off with when it comes to socializing. Being curious, including and eliciting input and problem solving with your students has them more fully committed, remembering and following through and might even reassure you that they have actually been paying attention all these years.
- Advocate self-advocacy. This is the time to practice letting go as parents and letting your student grow in the experience of taking responsibility and learning to self-advocate. Increased self-awareness for how they learn prepares them to enter college ready to request accommodations if they need them. Taking on the job of scheduling and attending doctor’s appointments has them stepping up and owning their own health. Becoming comfortable with small steps such as these will have them ready to navigate the bigger self-advocacy issues such as creating their schedule with their counselor and setting ground rules with dorm mates.
- Replace “why” with “who, how, what, and when.” “Why” questions typically put anyone on the defensive, making us feel like we have to explain ourselves. Asking questions that do not start with “why”, helps your student explore their own solutions and practice their own problem solving skills. Rather than asking, “Why are you taking beginning basket weaving in your first semester?” ask, “how will basket weaving help you reach your goals?” Or, “what is it about basket weaving that is interesting to you?” Or “who might you be able to talk with to find out about options similar to basket weaving?” Or “I wonder, when is the best time in your curriculum to take basket weaving.” Removing “why” from your vocabulary removes defensiveness from theirs.
- Encourage action. Taking one small action step, as soon as possible, is a good answer when uncertainty, overwhelm or indecision seem about to takeover. The sooner your student can take even one small step of action, the more likely they are to use that momentum to solve whatever problem has come up. As a parent coach you can brainstorm small steps your student can take when they feel stuck. For instance “what is the outcome they want?” “What can they do today to take action” “What is one small step they can take today that would start to solve the dilemma?” “What information do they need to solve this problem,” or “who might be able to help them?” There are many ways your student will continue to need you to be involved, but that contribution is encouraging them to explore options that will move them forward, rather than you picking up the phone to call the college, dean, administration, etc.
- Know the rules, but let your student play the game. As your student’s parent coach, it is helpful if you are knowledgeable about some of the school’s policies, requirements, deadlines, administrative structure, etc. Your job is to enhance your student’s ability to be resourceful and perhaps point them to the place to find the information they need. For instance, if your student is unsure about registration dates, you might offer, “I noticed an academic calendar on the website, you might want to check it out.” Or perhaps they call in a panic having forgotten their key and are locked out of their dorm room (it happens). It’s fine to acknowledge the problem with “how inconvenient” and then to ask them, “Who might have another key to your room?” or “Who might know how to get your room unlocked?” Or “Where can you hangout until your roommate arrives?” Remember that you are trying to help your student to be independent, use their resources, be a problem solver and chances are high they are not the first nor last to encounter certain troublesome situations.
- Keep communication open: Keep the lines of communication open. Being available to answer questions and respond to requested advice or to teach a new skill is very different than enabling and doing it for our children. Challenge yourself by remaining nonjudgmental and available for your child if they have questions, remembering to encourage their independence, problem solving, resiliency and resourcefulness as they explore their own answers and help you stay out of the “nag” zone.
College is an amazing time for both students and parents. As the responsibilities and relationships are changing, both sides are growing in new ways. Your child is entering into one of the most exciting times of their lives. Supporting, empowering and encouraging your student, as a parent coach, allows for both of you to enjoy this journey.
I would love to hear about your experiences with your transition to college. Let me know what worked and what didn’t work for you below.
Also, if you are interested in finding out how an ADHD coach can support you and your student to make this a smooth process, email to set up a complimentary ADHD heading off to college session.