Motivational and inspirational writer, Bryan Hutchinson is the author of several books about life with ADHD including the highly acclaimed, best selling "One Boy′s Struggle: A Memoir" and the author of the hilarious eBook that went viral "10 Things I Hate about ADHD"

Famous, Successful People with ADHD… should we be Inspired by them?

Every now and then I will come across the strangest suggestions and the oddest questions. I am sure you have too. One of the strangest suggestions I came across recently is that people, especially children, with ADHD should not look up to, aspire to be or admire successful people with ADHD. I suppose there may be several potential reasons for this idea: Having goals that are too high, fear they will suffer great disappointment aspiring to such greatness or be hurt if they discover that they can’t necessarily be exactly like their heroes.
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I guess we could call those reasonable reasons, but what I am getting from this are a few things that come directly to mind:

  • People with ADHD should not be inspired or motivated by people with ADHD who have gone before them and especially not those who have succeeded.
  • If you have ADHD you’re not good enough to aspire for greatness.
  • Only “normal” people can have heroes or be inspired by people who have succeeded.

I don’t know about you, but this just seems ridiculous for anyone not to dream big and be inspired by their personal heroes, especially if you have ADHD and see others with ADHD who have come before you and have been successful. Worse still is that I get the distinct feeling of contempt for these successful people with ADHD and their accomplishments when I come across such admonishments.
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Guarding our children (and ourselves) form disappointment is only natural. But to discourage them from being inspired from others who have ADHD like them I believe is unnecessary. In fact, I think it is important to expose children to many kinds of heroes and successful people to show them that success is not defined by what disorder one has but what a person can achieve with or without ADHD. Having ADHD is challenging and those who are successful despite it (or perhaps because of it?) should be lauded and appreciated. Having an inspiring person who drives you to do well academically and other places in life I don’t think should be discouraged.
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If Albert Einstein is a shining example of a successful person considered to have had ADHD, and if you have a picture of him on your wall with one of his many famous and inspiring quotes to inspire you, then I think that’s great! Are you going to be the next Albert Einstein? Well, probably not, but neither is any “normal” person or any prodigy for that matter. There may never be another Albert Einstein. However, that’s not the point. Perhaps, though, he will inspire someone to stay in school and continue studying mathematics or inspire someone to perhaps be a physicist.
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The point is that ADHD does not mean we are doomed to failure or that we cannot overcome and succeed. Yes, we can learn skills, yes we have talents and strengths and yes we are often better than people give us credit to be, even if we are better in areas that don’t seem important or relevant to ‘them’. Whoever ‘them’ is.
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If your hero is Richard Branson does that mean you must strive to own an airline and create the first commercial spaceship to take passengers to the edge of space? (That’s right, someone very special with ADHD is doing that. How cool is that?!) No, we don’t need to own an airline or strive to do that. Your goals and aspirations don’t have to be that lofty at all, but again, that’s just not the point. To assert such a thing is, well, uninspired.
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Most people do not have heroes to be ‘exactly’ like them or to become their next incarnation. It’s about being encouraged in some way by their accomplishments. “Someone” with ADHD has done well – “Heck, maybe I can, too!” And what’s wrong with that? Fear that the one inspired, encouraged or motivated might forget their limitations due to ADHD or that they will only fail? Or they will suffer heartache because they can’t be as good as their hero or idol? Let’s be real for a moment, don’t we all fail time and again, and we all suffer heartache whether we are inspired by successful people or not?
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Seriously?
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How many people seriously go around upset with themselves because they didn’t come up with the next commercial space airlines? Or how many people really, truly think that if they do not create the next airlines then they are failures or that they need to do so to be considered successful? Does anyone really say that, or think that? I hope not. I mean, really? I’ve never met a single such person. Have you?
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Perhaps being inspired by Richard Branson will also keep someone in school to learn how to become a rocket scientist or a business person. Or maybe being inspired by space flight might give someone the motivation and inspiration to write a wonderful story about a space adventure. Or maybe, just maybe, someone with ADHD will realize that ADHD doesn’t mean they are destined only to fail. Is that really so bad?
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Sometimes I think over protecting our ADHD children (or ourselves) from failure or disappointment goes too far. If people with ADHD should not be inspired, motivated or encouraged by successful ADDers then I think that’s a shame. Or maybe the goal is to see ADHD so negativity that we ignore or even, maybe, discount anyone’s success with ADHD? After all they absolutely must have been failures in some other aspect of their lives… right? Of course...
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My suggestion is just as it has been for thousands of years for people who have lived before us: Be inspired by your heroes and allow yourself to aspire for your kind of greatness, even if you have ADHD!
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Are we so unfortunate as people with ADHD that we should not be allowed to have dreams, aspirations or even people we look up to who have succeeded and gone before us? Should we ban books about them while we are at it?
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If however you’d like to be inspired by a few successful ADDers, consider:  Richard Branson, David Neeleman, Terry Bradshaw and Karina Smirnoff. That’s just for starters, there are thousands of others. Yes, many have struggled and many have failed more times than not, but people with ADHD have found ways to become successful. Instead of banning books about them or disregarding their success – how about discovering how they did it, what strategies they used and how about who inspired and motivated them?
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My personal point in this blog post: Show me someone successful, with or without ADHD, and I will show you someone who has heroes, who was inspired and motivated by successful people who had gone before them.
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One of the ideas I present in my latest eBook How to be Happy Every Day – even if you have ADHD is to be inspired by those who have succeeded, but I also go a step further and suggest also being happy for those who have, or are, succeeding and overcoming their struggles with ADHD. I think there is truth to the statement that if we cannot be happy for others, then we cannot be happy for ourselves. Even if we have ADHD we can have heroes, too, and acknowledge those who have succeeded with ADHD!
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More power to you!
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Inspiration is a spark that can ignite a fire within anyone to be greater than they thought possible in their own individual way, and I truly believe that even people who have succeeded who have ADHD can provide that spark and be an inspiration to others. When an aspiring artist admires the work of another artist, they do not want to create a work exactly like their favorite artist, but would rather find their own approach and create their own work. They may have originally picked up a brush because another artist inspired them-but what drives them to create their own art comes from within them.  Being inspired by someone may give someone else the ability to see that there are possibilities for them, even though those possibilities might be different.
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There’s nothing wrong with protecting a child (or ourselves) from disappointment, it is only natural, but at the same time allow them (or ourselves) to experience the possibilities that are out there for people with ADHD. Let them see what others have achieved (and how) so that they do not feel alone and perhaps they will become motivated in some unique way to excel in their own areas of interest.
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I have long admired and have been greatly inspired by Stephen King! I was put in a special education class for reading and writing in second grade, now I believe that thanks to being inspired by someone extraordinary (whether he has ADHD or not) I enjoy writing every day and I strive to become better at it! I am still not a fraction as good as Stephen King and I do not write horror or fiction for that matter, but hey, he did inspire me to take up writing and to continue learning about writing! What’s so wrong with that? I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, but what if I had not been inspired by him? Who knows? I don’t know, but maybe, just maybe, I would not be writing this blog today if he did not provide me with that special little spark of motivation, inspiration and desire. I’ve also been greatly inspired by Dr. Hallowell and his efforts to help encourage and motivate people with ADHD, but I have no desire to become a doctor! However, I still try to encourage and motivate in my own way.
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Who has inspired and motivated you? Do you think if you do not reach their heights or do what they did, then you’ll consider yourself a failure? Or, do you use the spark of inspiration and motivation to help you strive to reach your own individual ambitions?

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Thank you for reading this post, as you can tell it meant a lot to me to write it. I really think it is a shame if we should not be inspired, encouraged or motivated by successful people with ADHD! Hey, I might even design a space shuttle after all, or maybe I will write a book!

Now, go and do your-kind-of-special!

~Bryan
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Rory January 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Bryan -

What a great and timely article. I just read something similar online (about not looking up to famous people with ADHD) and was floored.

I don’t know where certain people, or why for that matter, there is this subculture in the ADHD community with such a negative view of what someone with ADHD is capable of achieving.

One comment you made that sticks out for me is about finding someone with ADHD who is successful versus someone without ADHD who is successful and they all have heroes.

Do we need to justify? Clarify?

Can’t we just appreciate people for who there? I mean, I get the argument for people with ADHD looking up to people who have ADHD and have found successful. I’m not suggesting this should not be the case. I just wish we could look up to people for who they are.

Going one step further, I saw a recent Wall Street Journal article where a prominent advocate in the ADHD community suggested, “imagine how much more successful Albert Einstein would have been IF he had been properly medicated…”

My jaw dropped to the floor. That is one of the major no-no messages to send. I used to hear that all the time as a child…

Imagine if you applied yourself.
Imagine if you tried harder.

I found that so offensive I used to tell people, yea, I might have done worse.

My point here is…I guess…that we need to step back a bit and appreciate people for their qualities, their successes, their failures, and the ability to overcome adversity and personal challenges.

How many people who do not have ADHD fit the bill, if only you tried harder?

To suggest one with ADHD is doomed to a life of struggle and failure is just plain ignorane…in my most humble, respectful opinion.

I love your blog post today!

Rory
http://www.ADHDFamilyOnline.com

Bryan Hutchinson January 29, 2012 at 3:06 pm

That really struck me, what you wrote about how much better Einstein might have been if he had been medicated… “OMG!!”. He wasn’t good enough? I think medication helps a lot of people, but I think it is under reported the amount of people that can find no constant assistance from meds. Or what do they do when there is a crisis for meds like this last year? I think there has to be a better way or additional ways to be helped rather than the take meds first approach. But that’s my opinion and again, meds help a lot of people!

I also read that Einstein was terrible in other areas of his life in a comment somewhere. It is almost like if we admire someone outstanding another person must take them down for some reason. What kind of mentality is that?

I wrote this blog post today for when people see these comments and suggestions or hear them, they can stop and think about this and sincerely ‘hear’ what is being said and perhaps even the ‘why’ behind it, because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Some seem so afraid that if people with ADHD find success then others won’t seek help, or research will be impacted etc. So we should ignore them? Or act as though their accomplishments are not amazing or worth noting?

I don’t know. It just seems so wrong to me.

Good to hear from you Rory!

Bryan

Judy January 29, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Looking up to your favourite author, actor or musician as a child is fairly commonplace. Way back in the day, children used to look up to only people they knew personally because that is all they had access to. Sometimes they looked up to the people they were taught about in school.

Nowadays, thanks to the media and the internet opening up the world to most of those in North America, it is commonplace to have heros and idols from everywhere doing all sorts of wonderful things. Hero-worship has become a rite of passage and the famous inspire many children nowadays. Even some adults.

Most of the time, we don’t know these people have a disorder or anything else unless that is part of their fame. Also, being famous is not equivalent to being successful anymore, which is a whole other story. As long as parents are discussing the difference between an accomplishment and just being notorious with their children, hero worship can indeed inspire one to great things.

I guess, like all things in life, excessive behaviour of any kind is detrimental to your well-being, including aspiring to be like your idol.

I conclude that ADDers are prone to excessive behaviour, being built into their DNA and a huge part of their struggle to control themselves long enough to fit into society’s idea of normal and desirable is the challenge presented at a young age. With proper guidance and care, it can be done. I worry that trying to fit into the acceptable behaviour mode with therapy and medication lessens the creativeness and the ability to be great.

After all, most of the people seen as successful and worthy of “hero status” are of the generation that did not have access to today’s discoveries and knowledge. They have become successful without our modern day discoveries of drugs and therapy to temper their disabling symptoms of ADD/ADHD. They had to learn to accept their whirling thoughts and live with the failures we are trying to prevent our own children from having.

Again, maybe this is a whole other subject for discussion :)

I love your posts, your point of view shows a lovely caring nature and your ability to make people think are always fun.

Bryan Hutchinson January 29, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Hi Judy,

You make a very good observation in your comment. We can’t prevent all failures or setbacks and we shouldn’t! We must learn and improve and without failures we can’t do that. We cannot achieve anything great or wonderful, or even averagely special if we are not willing to take a fall, to struggle and to step back up and try again. Of course, with ADHD it’s a bit more than that, but we still must learn and in some cases I think we are just getting a little over protective of making a mistake or failing along the way. However, it has come to a point that some believe that any mistake or failure is a sign that they are weak, and that they need to be perfect. No one needs to be perfect and all of us struggle. I think having idols or heroes makes us strive when the going gets tough and get back up when we fall, because guess what, as you point out, our heroes and idols didn’t have it easy and they had to improve, modify and get back up and take steps forward even after taking more steps backwards.

Bryan

Melody Gilligan January 29, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Loved ur article, Bryan…here is some more interesting information.

Famous People with ADHD It is surprising how many famous people have dealt with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the past. For example, Vincent Van Gogh, a famous artist, dealt with ADHD well into adulthood. Leonardo Da Vinci is another famous artist that was afflicted by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Other prolific artists that were known to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder include Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Ansel Adams.

Some of the most well known people throughout history have suffered with varying degrees of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Some of these people include Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Galileo, Stephen Hawking, Nostradamus, Sir Isaac Newton, Emily Dickinson, Leo Tolstoy, Robert Frost, Napoleon Bonaparte, Bill Gates, Beethoven, Christopher Columbus, Walt Disney, Malcolm Forbes and the Wright Brothers.

The sports industry is not without its famous players that have struggled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the past. Some of the more well-known sports stars with ADHD include Jason Kidd, Magic Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Babe Ruth and Pete Rose.

Famous actors, actresses, comedians and musicians are not immune to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Some of the more well-known stars who have suffered from this disorder include Jim Carey, Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Anthony Hopkins, Steven Spielberg, Sylvester Stallone, Susan Hampshire, Lindsay Wagner, Suzanne Somers, Steve McQueen, Kirk Douglas, Henry Ford, Whoopi Goldberg, Will Smith, Cher and Bill Cosby.

Tamara Thorne January 29, 2012 at 9:50 pm

I’m trying to stay focused on editing a book, so I’ll just say, “Bravo!” Great article.

Sarah Gogstetter January 30, 2012 at 7:11 am

see my comment on facebook ;)

Agreed 100% of the way. I personally what others think of me, I will succeed no matter what people say or think. I don’t live my life for those people who think I’m not allowed to succeed. If I let people tell me I couldn’t do XY and Z because of my hand, my ADHD, my mood disorders, my learning challenges, my perceived failures and/or my socioeconomic status I wouldn’t have never done anything.

Andy H January 30, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Great post! We have so much in common with so many great people.

sheryl October 3, 2012 at 1:48 am

Thank you so much. I enjoyed this article so much. I have an 8 year old son who is ADHD. He is really struggling right now. Earlier today I was telling him about some of the really successful people with ADHD.

Audrey December 8, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Thank you so much! I 100% agree with you. I’m a senior in college and the school work and deadlines have not been easy living with ADHD, but I will graduate in May and go on to grad school for clinical psychology. I know I will be successful and be able to motivate and encourage others like me who struggle with ADHD. I am not ADHD, I HAVE ADHD. It isn’t a definition for a person, it is just something to learn to work with, and most people have something that makes them a little different. A person with ADHD just gets some added benefits, such as creativity, sensitivity, compassion, intuition and enthusiasm!

Maricela January 12, 2013 at 10:29 pm

I am so glad to read the comments and experiences of many of you. My son was recently diagnosed with ADHD in his freshman year in college. He has struggled with ADHD throughout his early school year, but it did not become evident until high school. The psychologist told us that because he is smart, he was able to get good grades until 8th grade, but he had a hard time copying with the increasing academic demands of high school. Yet, he graduated. He did not do well the first semester in college and that is why he was tested. We are waiting to hear the results of the tests and the recommendations to the university. He is taking medication for depression and are hesitant to add more drugs. Have any of you heard of successful treatments and strategies that do not include drugs?

jeanita February 12, 2013 at 7:42 pm

Now that’s my fear. That my 14yr old son would become depressed or drop out high school. Since he already struggled in primary school. He is now attending a school of skills. Though I also sometimes doubt whether I made the right decision.

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