By Judy Brenis, ADHD coach, AAC
Jay Carter’s resume reads like a Who’s Who in Business, but it wasn’t always like that. His psychologist once said, “Jay Carter has taken a rather circuitous route to his present success.”
“That couldn’t be truer, says Carter, who has ADHD and has worked at a Fortune 100 company for the past 14 years.
Labeled a troublemaker as a child, Carter could never quite figure out how he ended up in the principal’s office or how he’d gotten into a particular fight. “I never set out to get myself in those kinds of situations,” Carter says.
Carter came from a ‘normal’ family. His dad was a lawyer, his mom a nurse. His grades were pretty good in elementary school, because he didn’t have to try too hard, but at parent-teacher conferences, the teachers always told his parents that Jay was a delightful child, if only he would stop fighting and keep his mouth shut.
Inconsistency was the only constant in his years at school. His grades were erratic, totally dependent on his interest in a given subject. In high school Carter felt very isolated, a feeling fed by some of the situations that had occurred in elementary school. He tried attending boarding school, but was kicked out, so he returned to high school; this time, however, he excelled, skipping his senior year and attending a branch of Emory University, where, of course, everything fell apart. “I did pretty well my first two terms, but then I was dismissed for missing too many classes.”
Carter also admits to a fairly common experience of people with ADHD; he spent a year in rehab. “If you understand ADHD, there’s a lot of self-medicating related to the ADHD and the baggage you pick up living a life that’s out of control.”
After rehab, Carter bounced from one job to another, either quitting or being fired. But at age 25, he began to turn his life around. First, he married the “right” woman and then he got serious about school. “One of the big differences for me was that when I went back, I went to school full time and worked full time. Even now I find I do much better when I’m busy. School by itself provides too much free time. I was busy enough that I couldn’t mess around and that helps focus my attention.”
Being a bit older than his peers, when Carter returned to school, he differentiated himself by majoring in international business and German. Then, as a college junior, he and his wife moved to Germany, where he attended the University of Heidelberg, followed by a year at the University of Trier in Trier, Germany, where he studied finance and strategic management.
Upon graduation, Carter served as a German language interpreter at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Georgia. “That opened a lot of doors and gave me a great deal of confidence,” Carter says. He then went to work for the German airline, Lufthansa. Again, while working full time he went back to school to earn his MBA, receiving all A’s and one B. “It really is amazing when you remember how erratic my grades were earlier. It is part of the paradox of ADHD, but it also gives people hope when they see that you can have ADHD and still focus long enough to get an MBA or get through school,” Carter says.
In the midst of all of this, Carter and his wife began their family. They now have three children, ages 14, 12 and 4; two have been diagnosed with ADHD. It was only while researching his daughter’s learning challenges that Carter read Driven to Distraction, by Ned Hallowell and John Ratey. He says, “On every page there was something I could relate to.”
Carter visited a local assessment center in Chicago, where he was living at the time, and was officially diagnosed. He began taking ADHD medication, and upon moving back to Minnesota to work at a different job in the same company, “a job that was a much better fit,” he began seeing a psychologist. Carter attended ADHD support group meetings as well, and it was there he met the person who would become his ADHD coach.
In 2008, Carter took an even bolder step when, in an effort to help provide publicity for the ADHD Awareness Conference that was going to take place in his home town, he contacted the local newspaper and spent hours being interviewed about his ADHD. Carter wasn’t that nervous about disclosing his ADHD. “But I had decided it was the right thing to do and I thought my company would be supportive enough that it wouldn’t be an issue, and it really hasn’t been.”
Carter admits he was very lucky that his employer understands, but he assures others that in most cases people with disabilities can get what they need to be a more productive employee without disclosing everything. “I tell people to disclose to the extent that you need to, in order to get what you need. You can say I have trouble concentrating, or ask your boss to give you a list of things in order of priority so you will know what to work on first.”
“Unfortunately there’s still a stigma around the ADHD diagnosis because people don’t understand it. It’s a challenge we are working through. The same thing applies to some other disabilities as well, but with ADHD, a lot of the symptoms are the things lazy people do, so there’s almost a moral judgment by people that don’t understand.”
While accommodations can help people with ADHD be more productive at work – Carter uses productivity tools of speech-recognition and mind-mapping software, and receives administrative help from a virtual assistant – he also pointed out how it’s poor social skills rather than poor productivity that often holds people with ADHD back. He admits that was one of his biggest challenges.
“Most people don’t realize what that means in a work situation. I was never comfortable with classic networking,” Carter explained. “I wasn’t really good at communicating. I didn’t communicate what I was doing so people didn’t realize the contribution I was making, and for the first 12 years with the company, that really had a negative impact.” Carter says he also had to learn how to stop saying dumb things in meetings. “I did it too often; I could recognize that, but I just couldn’t stop doing it.”
Since being diagnosed with ADHD and working with a coach, however, Carter has made tremendous strides in his career, even receiving a promotion despite the economy. “The piece I was missing was the understanding of my ADHD, how it manifests itself and how it impacts my life,” Carter says. “And one of the biggest breakthroughs I had with my coach was re-examining the beliefs I had picked up like tumbleweeds throughout my life. As an ADDer, I’m a poor self-observer; one of the great things about a coach is how they can stand back, reflect and witness from an objective standpoint. I have been able to change many of my beliefs, and there have been many positive results from that.”
In fact, Carter is now a certified ADHD coach himself and runs, Hyperfocused Coaching Systems, LLC. “The training taught me a lot about my own ADHD and I really wanted to help others and have the same kind of impact on others that my coach had on me.”
Carter speaks to organizations about success in the workplace with ADHD, and hosts a weekly podcast, The ADHD Weekly Podcast. “I like to share what I’m learning as I go along in life. I let people know what works for me and what might work for them too.”
“I also like to help people unfamiliar with ADHD to understand what a struggle it really is and that it’s a serious condition. As ADDers we have a hard time believing it ourselves,” Carter says, “especially when we have gone through years of undiagnosed ADHD. Coaches can help us change our limiting beliefs.”
“I wouldn’t trade my ADHD for anything. It’s a part of who I am,” says Carter. “There really is an aspect of giftedness to it, and if I can focus 99 percent on my strengths and keep my weaknesses from tripping me up, that’s great.”