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Sep 27, 2007

Portrait of the Consultant as a Young Man (with undiagnosed ADD)

report1.gifIn the mid-80s when I was in high school (a decade before my attention deficit disorder diagnosis), there were already clear signs that I would be a frustrated adult -- full of talent, and fully challenged at putting those talents to use. Check out these three quarterly reports from October 1984:

Calculus: Phil is an enthusiastic member of this class.  He participates freely in class discussion and has many good ideas. It is enjoyable to have him in class but also a frustration.  For although he seems to understand new concepts when presented, he doesn't appear to spend time studying so that these ideas and skills become part of his general knowledge.  Until he can discipline himself to do the hard work involved in the education process, he will not be recognized as the talented special person he wants to be.  There will be times in Phil's life when this will have a lasting impact on what he can achieve. [Emphasis added]

British Literature: Phil's work is always imaginative and usually insightful.  His quiz scores suggest that he might prepare his assignments a little more carefully.  Attention to detail is sometimes tedious but always necessary in both analytical and creative writing and thinking.

Philosophy: Phil's quite good performance in both class discussions and written assignments was marred only by his failure to hand in the mid-term exam on time.

So what's changed since then? Many things, thank goodness.  Early in my engineering career, my bosses smacked me a few times for sloppy work and poor detail management, so I got serious about improving.  Along the way, I actually came to enjoy doing careful work (at least sometimes) for two different reasons. 

First, I came to realize how useful and important and rare it was to be a professional who did careful, thorough work.  By doing better work, I made myself much more valuable.  And by being more valuable, I got to do more interesting work. 

Second, I got a lot of satisfaction from learning to do something well that I used to do poorly.  Up until then, most of my "wins" came from doing things that came easily.  Succeeding at something through hard work and persistence was a new and in some ways deeper pleasure.

These days, colleagues and clients often say they're impressed by how I do things with more care and thoroughness than most professionals they work with.  They appreciate how I sweat the details.  This is praise I appreciate -- when I hear it, I know I'm making a difference.  Sure, many consultants are much more competent and pains-taking than I, but they live in a different world with different kinds of megadollar clients.  In my world, I'm happy that I can work with clients and colleagues whose talents and efforts are complementary to my own.  No heroes.  Just people who like putting their strengths together.

Of course this isn't to say that I've conquered all the problems that my teachers spotted in 12th grade.  In particularly, I'm still persistently late: I miss deadlines, I'm late for appointments, and for some damned reason I'm still surprised half of the times when it happens.  I'm working on that, though.  Working on it.

By the way, if I haven't mentioned it to you: check out my new site, the ADDexecutive: Business Strategy and Management for Executives with Attention Deficit Disorder.  It's still in live beta, but worth a look for smart grownups with the ADD bug.


Report card illustration from the Discovery Channel's Educator Resources.

10:47 PM in Links of Note, Me, Quotables | Permalink


You still have high school school stuff from 1984? What little I did keep I probably couldn't find.

Posted by: Joseph H. Vilas | Sep 28, 2007 1:11:51 AM

I don't have much: maybe a file folder's worth of papers like my interim report. Plus my two (thin) yearbooks. My best friend and high school roommate just sent me a scan of my high school ID. (Oh, so THAT's where it went.) He doesn't keep much in the way of mementos. I'm surprised he had that. Then again, as mementos go, it's both small and visual. So maybe it was a good choice.

Oh, and yes, I still have three of your books! (In case you're trying to find them.)

Posted by: Phil | Sep 28, 2007 1:19:15 AM

I still have all my high school stuff, too, in a box or two that goes with my college papers, too, because we didn't have microSD cards back then (which wouldn't have the teacher's frequent praise anyway). :)

I need to check out your site, but I gots too many things to do, with the ADD and all. :)

Posted by: Toastie | Sep 28, 2007 11:39:04 PM

You and KD have the worst captchas...

Posted by: Toastie | Sep 28, 2007 11:39:42 PM

You and KD have the worst captchas...

Posted by: Toastie | Sep 28, 2007 11:40:45 PM

Your blog entry reminded me of one my funniest high school papers. I had to write an essay for some composition class when I was a senior. The teacher loved me and we used to have these great conversations about Jack Kerouac.

So this one essay I wrote on procrastination...and I remember it being very funny. The grade on it read:

98%, very well organized, charming. -22 points for being 12 days late -- 76%

Posted by: Jenny the IG | Sep 30, 2007 1:08:18 AM

Wow, this is a heavy post. It's spooky to confront one's own talents and inhibitions like this. I had a similar experience while reading a book about ADD. I thought I had it. My therapist had suggested that I have a touch of it. I tried amphetamines, and they did not help. They did not even energize me. They just made me feel buzzy. "You might clean up your room" the shrink told me when I started on them. But that did not happen. So I don't know. I quit those drugs and have left the matter in abeyance for now. But hey, if we have to check email every 15 seconds and have the TV and stereo both on while we work, well then, what the heck. Other folks have done it.

Posted by: Elrond Hubbard | Sep 30, 2007 9:15:21 PM


I heard John Maxwell speak this weekend. 1 thing he said I read in a book a while back but is super true to both of us.

Work on your strengths.

For my part, as a guy who hired my second employee, (a project manager who loves intricate details) I constantly struggle with details in my life. I even left the headlamps in my car on this morning.

I have found more recently that the more I work on my strengths, the better I get at them. I also get worse at my weaknesses. The nice part is that my strengths are helping me to make more money so that I can hire people to do that in which I suck, leaving me to do more of which I don't.

Posted by: adam schultz | Oct 2, 2007 8:28:44 AM