ADHD: A Gift?

They don’t call it a “learning disability” exactly; they call it an “other health impairment” (Understanding ADHD). But it’s just a bunch of labeling-words, so it doesn’t matter. They put you on mind-altering drugs and/or stick you in a “special” classroom with other “disabled” children. Nobody even considers that, perhaps, not everyone’s brain is supposed to work the same way.

I was incredibly blessed to have been born to parents who did not put me in an institution where this would have been the case. But imagine if I had. What if I had grown up being told I was wrongly different and that I must shape up or take a pill to shape me up? I don’t even want to think how drastic of a contrast that would be to my life.

But I would have been categorized and medicated. I was that (all so very typical) kind of kid: hyper, silly, flippant, not very attentive, etc. I know I drove a lot of people crazy because my youngest brother is the same way and sometimes I want to sit on him until he calms down. (I don’t.)

I was talking with one of my gardening clients one morning and she was telling me about her ADHD (adult) son and how he was incredibly active all the time, always doing something… rafting, building stuff, biking, swing dancing, etc.  Her other son is very not-ADHD, and is quite the workaholic, working 12-hour days, never really seeing anybody or doing anything he cares about.  Who do you think enjoys life more?

That conversation with my client sparked somewhat of a hypothesis in my mind: what if ADHD wasn’t a curse, but actually an advantageous personality trait?

Thusly prompted, I set out the next morning to do research. I didn’t have to look far. Almost immediately I found two articles by the same name: “ADHD as a Gift.” The first one was more anecdotal, someone writing about their own child: The second one was more scientific, and thus hugely informative, realistic, and even encouraging:

So what’s the matter with being ADHD? I think, if you feel like you have some “ADHD symptoms”, then take it as a sign – you’d do better, or are doing better, finding your own way in the world of higher education. The way things are typically taught are just not the best for your highly-concentrated learning style. But also, don’t let the illusion of it being a disorder keep you from pursuing an education via college. It may mean you have to bend your ways a little to meet what needs to be done, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

On that note, a few days ago, I wrote a small article on how to test out whether college classes work for you for The Unschooler Experiment. Here it is: Crashing College Classes.

It’s so important to be aware of how we learn and work best. I work best alone, switching between activities often, usually moving around a lot if possible. I also like to write and read, but I usually mix these things in with bike-riding or gardening, that kind of thing. However, if the activity itself requires movement, I can concentrate on it for hours.

How do you learn best?

Unschooling Yourself

Ever since I was about 15, I’ve made schedules constantly. Monthly, weekly, daily. To some degree it’s essential when you’re a self-directed learner to structure your days in order to do what you need to do. Not everybody needs to, and certainly not everyone needs the kind of hour-by-hour structure I often set for myself; but I know that for the most part I need it to keep track of my day and how I get things done.

For as long I’ve been making these schedules, though, I have always run into one tiny frustration: there are days/times when I just don’t want to stick to the schedule. I’ll start writing a story instead of reading about frog innards as I am supposed to do. Or start playing the guitar instead of doing yoga. Whatever it is, half the time I really feel like doing something else.

As I have grown older and felt more responsible, and also more aware of and sensitive to the consequences of NOT getting something done, forgoing my set schedule has felt more and more sinful. Normal People label this practice of “doing one thing when you should be doing something else” as procrastination. So, naturally, I’ve gotten all down on myself for being such a procrastinator.

That is, until I had some sort of epiphany a few months ago: as much as what I have scheduled to do are what I want to accomplish (as opposed to a teacher or the like), I haven’t been fully allowing myself to fully live in freedom. The philosophy behind “unschooling” (the K-12 version of College Rebellion– more info here: is to let the child learn what they want to when they want to, because people learn better when they are actually interested in what they are learning and feel like pursuing that interest. And here I have been attempting to force myself to do things, finding my enthusiasm for learning wane day by day. The result is a Jessica who gets nothing done and feels like pig slop come bedtime.

The first step I took to remedy this spirit-crushing issue was to determine the waverables and non-waverables in my days/weeks/months. Because as much of a good thing it is to let myself be free, it is an even better thing to continue being responsible.

The first non-waverables are things you are committed to do for/with other people – things like work; or if you are taking a class at the community center or a nearby college, it’s probably a good idea to do those things at the original time you allotted for them, as they simply won’t be happening at a different time.

However, who says you need to read Dante at 7:45 am, and then start work on your recording session at 9:00, break for lunch at 12, record for two more hours, go do laps at the pool at 3, make food from 4-6, eat food, and then blog about it before settling in to watch a movie at 8?

“But that was how I planned my day!!!”

But what do you want to do?

I see it as “listening to your heart”, which you can definitely accomplish without being sappy. You know how you listen to your body to tell you what kind of food to eat? Maybe you don’t, but it really is so good for you to get in tune with your body – I know when I need milk, dairy, citrus, eggs, meat, leafy greens, a banana, a protein drink, etc. Even chocolate! (And since I started listening to my body, I definitely don’t eat as much chocolate/junk food as I used to… now isn’t that something?)

So, “listen to your heart.” Before you tell him goodbye… and every time else in between.

Perhaps this is the commentary inside your head during that day instead:

“Today,” your heart tells you, “I want to go swimming first thing. Then I want to come back and make a big bunch of food because I’ll be HUNGRY!! I’ll take pictures of it when I’m done, and then go ahead and record a bit. But I don’t have the kind of attention span for doing all of it, so I’ll go read a book, maybe even go to the coffee shop and chill a bit with my peeps. Maybe while I’m there I’ll go ahead and blog about my tremendous breakfast. Then while I’m at the coffee shop with those peeps, I think I shall invite those peeps over to watch that movie with me. We don’t make dinner exactly, but we do get frozen jalapeño poppers from the grocery store and those are practically just as good. Then some of them end up staying and we have a jam session into the night, in which we don’t record what I had intended exactly, but what we did record was so awesome and inspiring for my future work that it did more good than harm. At last we all crash in various places around the house and I don’t get quite as good of a start to the next morning, but that’s okay.”

As you can see, chances are you will still get things done if you give yourself leeway and don’t adhere 100% to your set schedule. This doesn’t mean don’t make a schedule – I still do, or else I have no guidelines at all and end up wasting away doing not much useful.

Although, come to think of it, what is “useful”??



This is part two of a 3-part series. Click here to read part 1, “Purpose.”

I have many hesitations about going to college, most of which I have addressed on this blog. But I think one of the “more main” issues I have with the system is you have to pick one thing to study for four or more years. Then, at the end, you must use that study to pursue a career in that same thing for the rest of your young, agile life.

I just think that idea is gross. Why? Because I have about 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 interests that I might want to study in-depth at any given time.

Still, even while I am not going the “one thing forever” route, I will (begrudgingly) admit that it is more effective to narrow current studies to only three, two, or (gasp!) one thing at a time.

Oh. Em. Gee.


How in the world are you supposed to do that??

Yes, you. I am talking to you.

No, no, certainly you can maintain reading twelve books at once and listening to five iTunes U series and doing a 3-days-a-week self-defense class, a Spanish immersion class, volunteering at the SPCA and work-trading at a local farm… as well as making sure your house stays relatively clean and your pets aren’t neglected and you eat sometimes, oh and that you actually work your 35 hours at your job so you can, ahem, pay your bills on time. Yup, it’s been done before – no prob, Bob.

But in the case that you actually want to get some sleep here and there, I’d suggest asking yourself some questions to narrow things down for the time being. Because once you find 1, 2, or 3 things to focus on, you can optimize your energy and learn more than you can when you are spread out over a billion things.

1)”What do I really get excited about?”

– Ask yourself and your family and friends what really makes you light up. For example, I have a friend Tara who loves a lot of things, but nine out of ten times you’ll probably find her bubbling over ecstatically about uteri, placentas, fallopian tubes, and general birth-related topics. Anybody who knows Tara knows what she loves to do – work with pregnant and postpartum mothers and deliver babies!

2) “What do I get mad about?”

– I know one sure thing that gets me riled up, and that is captive animals not provided with the proper-sized enclosures and/or sufficient resources. Most normal zoos do a pretty good job of this, but in my travels I have run across many street-side tourist trap petting zoos and animal parks are hardly proper for their animals that are supposed to live a certain way out in the wild. Every time I see one of these places, I don’t just get sad: I get MAD. And then I start thinking of ways to remedy this problem. Herein lies an indicator of a passion of mine.

3) “What do I think about often, and how do I think about it?”

– Do you write poetry in your head? Do you like discussing the politics of ancient Rome? Do you find yourself going on rants about herbal medicine or staring, googley-eyed, at sets of fancy kitchen knives?

Once you have determined some of the more definite passions in your life, ask yourself why:

– Why do I get all jittery about life springing forth from life and organs that re-grow themselves?

– Why do I cry hot, angry tears when I see black bears pacing in their enclosures?

– Why does my heart hurt every time I see a photograph of an African landscape?

Even if you can’t put your finger on the answer, you now know you need to DO something with that heartfelt passion. Delve into it. Research it on the internet, read books, watch documentaries, find experts and pick their brains, start volunteering or create an internship with a relevant organization/business nearby.

I hope this helps you pick out a couple of things to focus on for the time being that are super-important to you. It’s definitely helped me. Now go do it!

Want more suggestions on how to figure “it” out, and/or how to pursue these passions? Then you should read my new e-book, Life Without College – The Method! It’s free! All you need to do is send me an e-mail via my handy-dandy contact form, telling me you want it. I’ll reply with the PDF of Life Without College – The Method as soon as I possibly can.

Stay tuned for the last post in the series, Perseverance!

Series: The 3 P’s

From my observation, there are three kinds of people in this world:

  • Those who know what they like to do, of course: but don’t know anything they would really like to settle on, or study intensely
  • Those who are super, crazily passionate about 10,000 different things and don’t know if they could ever settle on one
  • Those who know the exact one thing they want and are ready to go and do it.

Chances are, you are one of the first two. If you fall under the latter one instead, congratulations!  (I am seething with jealousy.)

fire p

The next three posts are going to be a series called “The Three P’s”: Purpose, Passion, and Perseverance, in that order.

Purpose will be directed towards the first type: those who are feeling pressure to “grow up” and pick something to be passionate about, but just don’t really care in the face of just loving the life they lead everyday as a perfectly justified person that does stuff.

Passion will address those “ADHDesque” folks who like everything they do so much that they absolutely cannot imagine picking one thing to do for the rest of their lives (which is the group I identify most strongly with). It will help narrow down different areas of interest till there are just 2 or 3 that you can work on at a given time.

Perseverance is for the last group of people, as well as everyone else after they’ve read the first two entries. It will cover identifying concrete goals, reaching milestone accomplishments, and sticking to what you are doing even when you have nobody behind you pushing.

This series is loosely based off of “The Three D’s” in my new e-book, Life Without College: The Method – which is available in beta till 4/24/14.  Please contact me if you would like to stay updated on its official release around 12/01/14!

We also now have a Facebook group called College Rebels | Beyond College | Life Without College | Lifelong Learners.  Please join us now to share self-education resources (blogs, articles, opportunities, websites, etc.) ideas, stories, advice, and more with a great community of like-minded individuals!

Stay tuned this weekend, folks!

Defining Success

defining success

“Many successful college kids would have been successful whether they went to college or not.”

“The bachelor’s degree? It’s America’s most overrated product.”

“More people need to realize that you don’t have to get a four-year degree to be successful.”

At some point, before or after you read this entry, I highly recommend reading this short article from which I have pulled the above quotes, Living the Good Life Without College.

This John Stossel article stirs up copious controversy among its readers: there is a frighteningly obsessive value put on “education” in this day and age; particularly on K-12 and University being the only means of achieving a “proper” education. Words I hear repeatedly in these arguments are “job,” “employment,” and “success,” often coupled with “you can’t.”

A huge amount of fear is ingrained in the American mind. We are told by teachers, politicians, peers, and often our family that, to paraphrase John Taylor Gatto, we must go to school, work hard, and get good grades; go to college, work hard, and get good grades; graduate, get a job, work hard for 40 years in that job to get as many promotions as possible and make as much money as possible, in order to buy as much STUFF as possible. So, in essence, the purpose of education is to own large amounts of grand material possessions. How valiant. How patriotic.

“Success” is a lightly thrown-around word these days.  What is this ever-sought enigma of ultimate achievement? What does that word really mean?

It is time we stepped out and thought for ourselves enough to acknowledge we want something different.  Something better. It’s an injustice to deny ourselves the true success of passion pursued.

It really is strange: in spite of everything else you could do in your precious young years, you are told to jump right into college after graduating highschool, whether you know what you want to do or not.  And, because you are unsure of what to do, you run the risk of college becoming another comfort zone, as grade school probably was – a safe cocoon delaying your rightful introduction to the Real World of Real Awesome Things.  So many of us jump into college not knowing why, or what we want to do afterwards.

Is it worth wasting years of our lives slogging away at something we are hardly passionate about, just because we are supposed to??

Somehow, it is tempting. By November 2007 (my “senior” year) I had gone around in millions of circles in the past eight months or so, pondering over what I truly wanted to do for the rest of my life. Every time I’d settle on something I would say to myself, “Okay, this is the one this time! This is my calling.” Of course, I usually changed my belief about what my “calling” was every month, give or take a couple of weeks. Naturally, it would have been be nice for me to simply choose one thing to study for four years, and sit back and “relax” while I learned it all, feeling secure in the knowledge that, once I graduated, I would have a degree that would supposedly allow me to make tons of money in the corporate world. But, by the time I would have graduated, would I have even wanted to have a job even close to what I had majored in?

I am 21 now: the answer is a firm NO.  And that’s for a myriad of reasons that I couldn’t have even comprehended at 17.

What have I been doing these past four years?

I’ve lived with passion, reverence, and awe: embraced this life and what it gives me, discovering myself and what I love doing – discovering the world and what it holds for me, and what I can give back.

When we are passionately pursuing life, we are successful.  We can do this with or without college: it is up to you whether you go now, later, or never.

“Success: To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson