I was diagnosed with ADHD at four years old and for nearly five decades it defined who I was. The label became a crutch, an excuse and a reason for how I showed up in life.
It kept me disconnected from people and perpetuated the stories that I was broken and flawed, a poor listener and unable to form strong bonds with others. I coped with life by throwing myself into creative entrepreneurial pursuits and causes because, even though I felt lonely and largely misunderstood, at least that way I could feel valuable to the world.
All that changed a few years ago when I discovered that I could break free from the label and what has followed has completely transformed who I am in the world.
At 9 years old, I walked into a shop filled wall to wall with handmade calico dolls. The owner smiled and said, “would you like some felt? If you make something I could sell it in my shop.” I took the felt and started what became a lucrative enterprise making bookmarks, small dolls and teddy bears. Sometimes I’d make $20 in a week! That was the start of my journey as an entrepreneur.
In my adult life, I’ve always been drawn to entrepreneurship and innovation. I’ve built 4 micro-enterprises and one tech startup. I’ve enjoyed a measure of success in everything I’ve done but ultimately, felt like something was missing. The experience was like banging into an invisible barrier and I didn’t know how to break through it.
So I went searching. My quest led me down rabbit hole after rabbit hole of talking to life coaches, attending entrepreneurial think tanks with all the big names in lifestyle entrepreneurship and digital marketing. I participated in prestigious accelerator programs and countless online courses.
While these were all awesome and impactful, none of them made a fundamental difference. I still couldn’t understand why I failed, why I felt like I could never shift what was getting in my way, why I struggled to connect with others, why I felt alone in my experience. I feared I was stuck that way. And those experiences took a toll on my health. I was overweight and had chronic anxiety.
Then in 2017, a friend introduced me to a personal and professional development program that was unlike anything I'd done before and from that point on, everything started to shift.
That experience sparked a new journey where I went from feeling fundamentally flawed to recreating my entire life. For the first time, I got why my life turned out the way it did and why the rabbit holes led me nowhere.
What was missing was right in front of me the whole time.
I discovered that being fulfilled in life had nothing to do with my desires, talents, abilities, winning formulas and strategies and this was a massive shock to me. I had built my entire identity around being smart, being creative, being admired and talented. But I had to let it all go and be open to the unknown.
I stopped creating, strategising and seeking approval, the strategies I used to cope in life, and took on life in a new way. I started talking to random strangers about what mattered to them everywhere I went and interviewed over 100 people in 3 different countries. I picked up the phone every day and called someone from my contacts list. I visited people I hadn't seen in years and I listened. And the experience was transformative.
I started to see how I wasn't alone in feeling alone. Listening and deeply getting others' experiences of life showed me that what was in the way was the deeply embedded prejudices, opinions and negative thoughts, all the blame and shame, all the stories and memories of hurt feelings, wounded pride and rejection. It was all me and it was time to get out of the way. It was time to drop the label.
Now, many of the things I once thought were immovable have shifted. I now have deep caring friendships, an epic relationship, dramatically improved health and vitality, work I love doing every day that makes a difference to humanity, and tools to pick myself up when I fall down. And this is just the start.
Labels don't have to define our lives. We can be whoever we want to be in life and that's what I want to pass on to my own children, two of which are on the Autism spectrum. It's your life. You get to choose. Who do you want to be?