Friday, May 19, 2006

AD/HD: Short Cuts, Cunning Plans, and Other Great Ideas

In the spirit of Father's Day, I thought I'd begin this article with a story about my dad, the King of the Short Cut. It's not that all his "short cuts" are truly short cuts. It's just that he tries so many possible "short cuts" he gets lucky. Why does he risk being late or getting lost when he could take the tried and true approach each time? Because he has AD/HD and taking the same route each time is boring. Finding a new route to an old destination, especially a better, faster route, is the sort of thing that tickles his fancy. When he was a young man he had a job driving a delivery truck. He loved short cuts even then, but unfortunatley one of his "short cuts" backfired on him. Instead of saving time he made a terrible mistake. He drove the truck under a bridge with inadequate clearance. Jammed the truck in there nice and tight. I don't believe he kept the job long after that.

As they say, the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree and my own sordid history is filled with wonderful moments such as that one. I could never continue doing things the way they were supposed to for long. There was the time I was a paste up artist for a graphic design company on Cape Cod. I was given the classifieds section to work on and because I was bored with the straight line upon line format perfected by my grandfather's grandfathers I thought I'd shake things up a bit. It was the Eighties! Miami Vice! MTV! Text didn't lay down. It danced. Oh, what a classified ad I put together! My rather snarky editor took one look at it and yelped. That was a funny day. Well, I can laugh now. At the time I was too upset that my design went unappreciated and I had to paste the thing up as boring as possible.

Apparently, I am not alone in this. As I move along Hallowell and Ratey's Diagnostic Criteria for Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults I discovered that a lot of us share a common problem.

10. Trouble in going through established channels, following "proper" procedure.
Contrary to what one might think, this is not due to some unresolved problem with authority figures. Rather, it is a manifestation of boredom and frustration: boredom with routine ways of doing things and excitement around novel approaches, and frustration with being unable to do things the way they're "supposed" to be done.

By the time I was an adult I had to remind myself to keep my opinions to myself, but sometimes I just couldn't help it! The way they were doing things was so patently stupid I had to let them know. My bosses loved that. Not all AD/HD career mistakes are caused by foot-in-mouth disease or boredom, however. Sometimes we get an idea in our head that seems really good at the time but doesn't play out as we planned.

In college I had a part time job working for a comicbook store. It seemed the perfect job because I was doing a comic of my own. One night I worried that a story element was too similar to something Marvel Comics had done, so I let myself into the store at 2am and rifled through the back issues. So relieved was I that my story element was original that I rushed off to finish the art. Unfortunately, I left the store wide open, the flashlight on the counter, and the keys as well if I remember correctly. I was fired the next day. Proper protocol would have saved me from making that blunder. Instead, impulse ruled the night. I STILL don't laugh at that story. Very painful. It completely ruined my relationship with the owner who was a friend.

Of course, I can think of other degrading tales. I'm sure you have a few of your own where you had a really great, burning idea that flew in the face of procedure and came back to haunt you. Ruminating about it isn't going to make it go away, however. Instead, when dealing with school or work there are some things to keep in mind I've found very helpful.

  1. Learn their way of doing things first, even if you think you know a better way.
  2. Prove to them that you know how to do things their way. It's a game. I think it's stupid, too, but it works like magic.
  3. Nobody's going to like your new idea if they don't trust you.
  4. You may have to implement your new ideas by proxy through other people until you earn that trust.
  5. Prepare for that day by writing down all your great new ideas on paper.

As I got older I learned to rein in the impulses and follow procedure better. I learned when it was dangerous to take chances and when it was not. I still goofed up from time to time, though. There was that time I worked at Dillard's and made friends with all the store managers. They really liked me. Unfortunately, I made friends with upper management before befriending the assistant store manager over me. That had a nice outcome. He made me King of Pant Land. Ah, folding pants for hours on end. That was fun. So much for short cuts.