Diagnosed later in life, guest Brett Thornhill was taken aback by the difference in his life afterward – so much so he labeled himself “Brett 2.0”. Following his three core pillars of understanding, accepting, and embracing his ADHD, Brett guides the way through how he came to be more comfortable with who he truly is while facing the challenge of great life change.
About Brett Thornhill:
Diagnosed with ADHD at age 43, Brett feels his diagnosis was a catalyst for him understanding, accepting, and embracing himself.
As a result, Brett made the decision to walk away from a 20-year career in marketing and toward re-creating himself.
Brett now operates an ADHD coaching practice in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, working with Adults with ADHD and parents of children with ADHD.
Soon Brett hopes to launch his own ADHD-focused podcast.
For Brett, there was a substantial difference between before and after his diagnosis.
When talking to others soon afterward, Brett labeled his before-diagnosis self as “bad Brett” and his after-diagnosis self as “good Brett” as a way to compare the two “lives”.
Labeling his old self as “bad Brett” felt self-shaming, so Brett changed his label to simply “Brett 2.0”.
Diagnosis, for Brett, started a process that led to many changes in his life, changing his perspective and letting him see the world around him in a different way. He was able to make sense of aspects of his life that he hadn’t up to that point, and find out the reasons – not excuses – behind them.
Brett: Do you use those reasons to shame yourself or provide direction and empower oneself?
Brett feels as if he went through a mourning period after diagnosis: shock, denial, acceptance, anger, and depression.
Many people, including Eric, feel a sense of grief for the lives they could have had if they had known earlier in their lives of their ADHD.
The Three Pillars:
Following his mourning period, Brett found what he now calls “the three pillars”: understanding, accepting, and embracing.
Understanding is figuring out both what ADHD is and is not, and the reasons behind that.
Acceptance is not resignation, but focusing on reality and being honest with oneself. Part of acceptance is being honest about what you struggle with and where you need to work. On the other hand, embracing what you are talented at is important and often even more challenging. Accept who you are, not who you aren’t.
Both Eric and Brett are guilty of defensively downplaying their successes and skills. For Eric, having played piano for his whole life, when asked of his still-extensive guitar-playing ability, he would respond with “I fiddle around a little bit.” Likewise, Brett would argue with anyone who would dare call him a musician or photographer, despite investing a considerable amount of time into developing those skills.
Embrace who you are, what you are good at, that there are others who can help you, and then use that to pursue and drive your direction in life.
“Yes, it made a change in my life, but that didn’t mean that I sat back and didn’t do anything. I mean, I had to go get it.”
“My language changed from ‘I can’t do that, I don’t know how to do that’ [to] ‘I haven’t learned how to do that yet.'”
Brett takes to task the idea of “I can’t do that,” by suggesting that people break down a given unattainable goal by asking what would have to change in order to reach such a goal.
Then, create a comprehensive list of each and every step, no matter how drastic, one would have to take to accommodate that goal. At this point, describing the goal changes from “I can’t” to “I can and I know how”. Then it becomes a choice of how far one is willing to go toward making those changes.
Thinking back, Brett doesn’t think his life before diagnosis was bad: he had a great family, wife, and long-running job.
Those upsides and his general success in life made it initially harder for Brett to accept his diagnosis.
Previously, Brett worked as a destination marketer, marketing the province of Newfoundland as a travel destination. Because he held such a personal passion for Newfoundland, It was easy for him to stay interested in his work – the job allowed him to be involved deeply in the creative process on multiple levels.
Nonetheless, there were many aspects of the job Brett really disliked – mainly those surrounding logistics and task planning.
His reasons dating back to school, Brett has a list of words that, to this day, cause him a negative mental reaction when he hears them – words like ‘project’ and ‘research’.
Brett describes himself as a gut marketer – someone who markets mainly from instinct and intuition.
When taking part in meetings, Brett would be easily intimidated by other marketers who were heavily research- and statistics-based in their approach.
Rather than have an easy time of explaining a marketing idea, where everyone instantly likes it, Brett would actually relish the chance to defend his proposals from those who would disagree with him.
That motivation drove him to become proficient at those sort of debates, as well as the skills that accompany it: quick thinking, innovation, intuition, and reading people’s emotions – all skills that portend to those with ADHD.
Empathy, the ability to know what others think, feel, and how they interpret information are skills essential to being a good marketer and just so happen to be common strengths of those with ADHD.
Eric quotes Brené Brown: “Stories are data with a soul.”
Despite all these upsides, Brett felt there was always a piece of him that didn’t quite fit in.
The Fringe Theory:
Brett was once told he had the ability to “suck the oxygen out of a room”.
Sometimes, Brett will be talking during a meeting, have a major idea pop into his head, speak that idea, and have the room go silent in response. A week later, usually another member of the same group will arrive at the same idea, worded slightly differently, and everyone will understand it.
As a result of the initial silence, Brett would feel as if he had acted inappropriately or been completely wrong about that particular idea. Only now, after his diagnosis and working to embrace who he really is, would Brett be able to overcome that feeling.
Brett has developed what he calls “the fringe theory”: Whether you don’t understand what others do, or you do understand what others don’t, the feeling of isolation and loneliness is the same.
When one is still in a place of not being as secure in their thoughts and not knowing oneself as well, the feeling of isolation and loneliness can be much harder to deal with.
Eric posits the methodology of talking with people individually prior to talking as a group so as to gain a better understanding of where each person is regarding the topic and the introduction of new ideas.
The Downward Arrow Exercise:
Eric begins the Downward Arrow exercise by starting with the scenario of someone saying that they could not reasonably leave their current job.
If one did not have their job, what would that mean? Maybe they couldn’t pay their mortgage. What would that mean? Maybe they would lose their house. What would that mean? Et cetera.
The goal is to run through a number of different scenarios. If similar end-results occur, then it can be useful to find the root of some of one’s fears.
Most of these situations are temporary, not permanent. Also, oftentimes people will overlook other factors like, in this case, savings, help from friends, or even a lack of sound evidence that the worst case scenario will occur.
Ultimately, the exercise provides a person with choices as opposed to absolute negatives.
Brett: “Get through the ‘can’t’ to find the ‘won’t’.”
Selfish vs. Self-Centered:
Eric feels we should be using the word ‘selfish’ to mean taking care of oneself, whereas being self-centered should then mean being only focused on yourself and no one else.
Eric: “When you take care of yourself, then you can take care of those who matter most in your life.” An example would be the air-mask instructions on an airplane – secure your own mask before helping others with theirs or you may not make it.
At one time, Brett was extremely, overly concerned with not being self-centered to the extent that he was holding himself back from being “a centered self”. Being a centered self means to take care of oneself in order to take care of others, recognize what you’re good at and to highlight and develop that further.
Productivity and Shame:
Eric emphasizes the importance of shame when dealing with productivity. He’s updated one of his presentations to include mainly new information and strategies on that front.
When people start to talk about shame and the stories they tell themselves, and can take some of the weight out of that shame that’s holding them down, it will free them up to do more of what they’re capable of.
Don’t wallow in the shame – use it as a stepping stone to move forward. We don’t make progress without seeing and admitting our flaws, and it’s about progress, not perfection.
Brett uses and analogy of blowing up a large balloon. When you blow one breath into the balloon, you won’t be able to see the difference it makes. Yet, without that first breath, the balloon will never be filled. The first breath is also usually the hardest one.
Your life will be built of bricks and mortar. The bricks are all of the external acknowledgement and empowering sentiment others provide you from the outside in. The mortar is all that you have on the inside to support yourself. Bricks are necessary and without them, the structure will not rise very high. However, without the mortar to secure the bricks in place, as the bricks are stacked on top of one-another, it will take less and less to knock them all down.
Find and Contact Thornhill:
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