The Valuation of Identity and Purpose with ADHD

Episode 124

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Shelly and Cam continue exploring the significance and process of creating value and dig into creating value around purpose and identity this week. They refine their Sense, Access, Value model through deeper discussion, new client examples and sharing practices for listeners. Value lives between attention and motivation, and ADHD disrupts the valuation process by limiting accessibility and awareness (Barriers I and II from episodes 94 and 104). Getting clear on what you need or what really matters is key to determining agency and is also highly dependent on timing. We need this information to be accessible at the times we need it most. Unfortunately with ADHD, when swept up in a dramatic moment the things that are valuable to us like identities, practices and purpose can fade into the background.

Shelly shares a story about how a client thought they needed to be more like a gregarious but abrupt co-worker. In exploring this, Shelly and her client soon realized that the client was creating false value around the attributes of this “Politician” individual. Further exploration revealed a desire for more connectedness to the client’s own sense of self – a desire to collaborate. Shelly shares how at first she didn’t see herself in the picture when considering a really important relationship decision, but when she circled back to consider what truly matters she got crystal clear on her next steps. Cam and Shelly discuss the importance of a positive feedback loop and that with incomplete information we can create a false picture of success. Finally, they share how listeners can use Pause, Disrupt, Pivot in the larger Sense, Access, Value framework.

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Episode Transcript:

Shelly: Hi, I’m Shelly. 

Cam: I’m Cam.

Shelly: And this is translating ADHD. Just FYI: We talked about this last week – Our resilience group coaching offering has changed times. It is now at our normal class time of 8:30 PM Eastern on Wednesdays and begins June 22nd. To learn more about the resilience offering, visit the website,, click on the group coaching tab and all of the information about the course itself, pricing and how to apply can be found there.

So Cam, we’re going to continue pulling on this really cool thread that we started last week in this model that you’ve come up with, but we’re going to look at it from a different angle. And that angle is one of identity and purpose. Some interesting research out there that says that ADHD people don’t form a strong sense of identity and in my work with my clients, I find that that’s true and not true. Meaning I think that sense of identity is there, but it’s often not there when it’s important. What matters to us is not necessarily in the picture. And so what we’re talking about today is really relevant to this concept of putting yourself in the picture.

Because to put yourself in the picture, you have to know what matters to you. What’s important is where you’re heading, et cetera. And that’s what we’re going to dive into today.

Cam: Yeah. And last week we talked about destination thinking and journey thinking. And as we were talking before the episode today, you said we’re talking about getting clear moments, right? That it’s a journey process that we get these glimpses of our unique value. And we build this aggregate picture over a period of time.

I think that a lot of people think, oh, it’s just going to like hit me like this Moses moment. I mean, Just here it is the answer. And so it’s more of a process and it’s really fascinating that the process we shared last week is very much applicable here. And that process was this Shelly. We can go back for a moment just to capture where we were last week and bring it forward into this really cool area of discussion. So it was sense access value. I started that with, we can’t value something. If we can’t access it regularly, we can’t access something if we can’t sense it. And this is the same with whether it’s something like we were talking about last week with emotion and time, or these common ADHD challenges or our unique value, our purpose our idea. That it’s hard to value that if we’re not getting regular snapshots of that and a positive feedback loop of that, because ADHD with his executive function, breakdowns disrupt that process.

Shelly: Cam, I’ll take it one step further and say that positive feedback might even be present, but it’s not as strong of a signal. As the big negative signals. So oftentimes when we are having conversations of the who with my clients, we’re finding that they’re already receiving positive feedback. Other people are already seeing their unique value, but they are not because it’s being drowned out by the big negative signals.

Cam: Yeah And 

Shelly: So. 

Cam: We were talking about all this metaphor stuff last week. And if you’re new to the podcast, your head may have been spinning a bit of like what’s the lunch counter and why are you putting an amusement park on Mount Rainier? it’s just a metaphor or analogy for the primary dilemma with ADHD, which is this breakdown between causation and manifestation.

We tend to live at effect. We tend to live in down in the dark valley areas of our experience and our trauma. And when we’re there, we don’t see the whole picture and we often don’t see ourselves. So when you have ADHD you’re, given these tools that actually. Elevate the big signal, right?

It puts us down in the valley. It has us chasing the shiny object, the big signal hunting for rejection. And so part of what we do with our clients is help them discover these levers and switches and practices to access what is actually there, right? Like again, that feedback. A sense of who they are. We do whole-person coaching.

In addition to the ADHD, I like to say that since we have an active brain, we may have to be a little more active in the management of that brain. And so it’s not that we’re just going up this icy slope to some amusement park and we’re all kicking back with margaritas. We’re actively doing work.

We’re working all the time and this process of discovery. And as I said last week, that value is this thing we want to get to because it lives between attention and motivation. And with ADHD, it’s hard to get devalued because it’s an accessibility issue. It’s an accessibility dilemma, right? Executive functions disrupt our ability to access these things on a consistent and a regular basis, but with practice, we can make this happen. So I love this topic today. Shelly, let’s go move in this direction of purpose and identity and finding our unique value.

Shelly: So I’ve got a really great client story to bring in here when this client and I first started working together, it was clear that our coaching work was going to be centered mostly on work. And largely on how he was showing up at work. Interestingly enough, in our early conversations, he described this personality type of the politician. Now I want to tell you how he described the politician, because I think in today’s day and age, we all maybe have our own views of what a politician might be that are different than what this client meant.

So for him, the politician is self-assured and confident and articulates. And one of this client’s struggles is I don’t feel like I articulate well at work. So as we dig more into this, we discover that for him, the model of the politician is a particular person at work and a person with whom he often struggles in part because this person, if you ask him questions, this politician person, he’s the kind of person that thinks he should already know the answer, that seems maybe a little annoyed that you’re asking. And conversely is a person that often already knows the answer himself and has that expectation for everyone else around him. The more we dug into this, the more this seems very unlike my client. I was curious, why are we striving for this personality type? So we had a really interesting conversation where we first looked at the politician and this example of the politician in this client’s workplace. And we broke down, not just the strengths that my client sees, but we started to look at the challenges, the things that I was already hearing in the stories, my client told me things like while this guy is great on the knowledge side of things and speaking with authority about his knowledge, not so good on the people side of things, not great at collaboration, not great at mentorship.

Guess where my client excels on the people side of things? He’s excellent with people. He’s excellent at mentoring and team building. And just by virtue of who he is showing up naturally as he is, has this way of building authentic trust with people in order to cultivate that. And once we painted this whole picture of these two people, the politician and my client’s, it suddenly became clear to my client – I don’t want to be the politician. I don’t want to be somebody I’m not, and I certainly don’t want to walk away from my own strength and value. What this is really about is how the politician makes me feel. When I have a question or I’m stuck and I go to this person and they treat me as if I should already know, that’s a big negative signal. And it puts me right in one down. It makes me feel like I don’t know anything. It makes me feel less than because sometimes even if I do know a thing. I need a moment to refresh my memory and to recall, and there’s this expectation that I should be able to call it up right away.

So our work pivoted from, I want to be this person to hey, I want to tap more into my own unique strength and value at work. And he has since changed positions. So in this new place, I want to lean more into what I now see I’m good at and what I bring to a workplace and a team. And I also want to learn how to interact with and navigate other politician relationships in the workplace so that they’re not sending me to this one down place because what happens is my client, we’ve discovered, works best in collaboration. So when he’s stuck, the very best thing he can do is grab a coworker, grab a teammate and talk out the problem. And not even necessarily, because he’s looking for them to have the answer. There’s something about that creative process of dialogue and communication that can take a large problem and a vague problem and clarify it for him.

But you go to a politician with that sort of dilemma and you get shut down. And so what happens with my client in those situations is he just doesn’t ask. for the collaboration instead, stay stuck with the problem with this mounting sense of urgency. So now he’s in this urgent, yucky place where he’s telling himself, I have to hurry up and solve this big problem or this big dilemma, technical job, by the way. So those types of problems and he’s not accessing his best way to do that, which is in collaboration because he’s telling himself the story of, I can’t ask the question. I can’t ask for help because this certain personality type makes me feel like I’m less than, and I’m being judged for asking for help.

Cam: And you know, what’s getting my attention here is what you were talking about last week with the interplay of emotion and time, right? The sense of urgency and how it made him feel. I have a question though. I want to go back to, this feeling or this sense that I need to be more like this guy Right. We sort of identify a need and it sounds like it was a should, right. It’s “I should be more like this guy.” And I guess I’m curious about what was that initial motivation for to be more like. Politician who was actually turned out? No, I don’t want to be more like them, but because, and the reason why I bring this up Shelly is because I think we’re driven by these urges and these like, should, if we see something we’re like, oh, need to be more like that. And it’s almost like we place false value on it. And we follow it down some rabbit hole, but what was that initial ‘should’ around being that politician?

Shelly: Great question. And you’re exactly right. There was false valuation. There, there was this story of, if I could be like that. Then I could have what I want in my career, what he wants in his career, the direction he’s heading is into leadership. He’s very interested in leading teams and this person was in a leadership position. So he’s looking at this guy saying if I was just more authoritative, if I could just recall things more quickly and speak with authority on what I know and be more eloquent in my speech and not lose my words, then I could have what I want in my career. And again, we step back and we follow the actual thread of how did you get where you are now?

And we discover that it’s his strengths. They’re very different from the politician’s strengths that have gotten him this far. And not just that it’s not an absence of the politician’s strengths keeping him from going further still, but rather this limitation that he’s putting on himself that I have to be someone else.

And this failure to name and understand and work with his own unique strengths because prior to our coaching work, he didn’t have any of this language. His first articulation was incredibly simple. Here’s who I want to be. I want to be the politician because the politician is confident and articulate, and I am neither of those things.

He didn’t have any language around his own value, nor did he have a sense of the complete picture? Of the politician and the challenges that existed there. So it was this valuation based on incomplete information that said the politician is way more valuable than I am, which when you’re stacking up one person’s strengths against another person’s challenges is going to be true but isn’t actually true.

Cam: This is brilliant because it’s revealing this process of how things get in the way of creating real value. Right. So he’s your client. I can’t guess his motivation, cause I don’t know him, but here’s the thing that I would suggest that what he’s trying to do is. Wanting to move away from this one down position. And it’s like, oh, this is the way I do it. I just become like this person.

Shelly: Exactly. 

Cam: Because they’re showing up as not one down. And so there’s that initial motivation, but then it’s the method. And so often this is this thing that happens for us. We’re driving down the highway and we’re seeing these billboards, right? There’s the politician and it’s this two dimensional picture of something. Ooh, look at that guy. That looks pretty good. And we go by and so we get these sort of two-dimensional snapshots or pictures of something we think we need. And so you just said it it’s like didn’t have the full picture. And so through the coaching, it was really kind of stopping kind of going up to that billboard and walking around it, looking on the backside, it reminds me of your client with building facades and not realizing oh wait, I’m putting all my effort and energy into this two-dimensional fabrication on the outside versus what does that structural foundational stuff that I want to do that really matters. So it’s this combination of, again, a little introspection, some reflection. What do I want and separating what you want from the difficulty we have in getting it. Because that’s where ADHD comes into play. For so long, I had a sense of what I wanted and I wondered why well, it truly was to be, it should just happen. Right. But that’s the nuance. That’s the subtle ways that ADHD kind of infiltrates is that it’s hard to sense and access first.

Shelly: Absolutely. And listeners, I want you to know that this still happens to me. I’m going to tell a story about it happening really recently. a few weeks ago. I almost broke up with my boyfriend. And the crazy thing is I wasn’t entirely sure why, but what I did know is I wanted to write this book. I have some professional goals that matter to me and I don’t have the time to attend to those things.

And here my brain is painting this picture of if Shelly has time, then all of the sudden, I’m going to be this writer that writes on a schedule and I’m going to attend to, and I’m going to pursue these goals more vigorously. And the thing is, I’ve never been that person. When this book finally comes out, I can guarantee you, it was not written on a schedule. It will be written here, there, and everywhere when inspiration strikes, because that’s always how I’ve worked best. I’m never going to sit down and write on a schedule. That’s not going to happen, but the bigger piece is the other parts of my purpose and identity that I was not attending to as I’m going through this story. And that is professional success is not a primary driver for me. I want to have enough money and enough time and enough bandwidth to adventure, to go on Phish tour, to go see live music in the summer, to have really big fun. And for me, it’s a balance. Too much of one or too much of the other is unhealthy for me.

And that’s true for me in a number of ways. I don’t consider myself an introvert or an extrovert. I consider myself an ambivert. Too much of one can be really draining for me too much socialization, but too much of the other, I can become a bit of a hermit. So I start to take the bigger picture into account and realize, what am I doing? Because my current partner is just a wonderful adventuring partner. He is on board to do these adventures with me in the summer, and he has as much fun doing them as I do. And when I put that piece into the puzzle, it’s like, oh, okay. I don’t want to break up with this person.

What was I thinking? I do need some things to shift and change. I do need to solve the dilemma of how do I find those spontaneous chunks of time to write and make time for those things and have that be okay with my partner. But that doesn’t mean I have to leave this relationship. So this is a whole story here of I was going to be somebody else, and I was going to be somebody else that completely discounted and forgot about a big part of what matters to me because a life that fits for me is not just writing a book and being professionally successful.

That’s part of it, but the bigger part is having this space for adventure, having this freedom that I feel when I’m on a trip. And my life doesn’t work without that part, period. I could be wildly professionally successful and absolutely miserable if there’s not room for that part. And on the flip side, so long as I’m successful enough to keep a roof over my head and have a little leftover to adventure, that’s all the more professional success I need. I don’t do this work beyond this point of taking care of my needs for the financial rewards. I do it because it’s interesting and because I enjoy it and I don’t have to work as hard as some of my peers are working.

And that was a piece of it too, is I’m looking at some of my peers in this ADHD space and saying, I’m falling behind. I need to catch up. They’re working harder than me. They’re doing more than me. Well, You know what, Cam, that’s okay. Let them work harder than me and do more than me because that’s them, and that’s not me. And I don’t want to work that hard. Again, stepping back and seeing the whole picture and connecting back to that ‘who.’ It’s something I needed to do in this situation to answer the question of why am I considering breaking off this relationship? I don’t want to understand it.

Cam: I love that example and listeners, do you see how Shelly inserted pause, disrupt, pivot in there? You can see how these different processes that we have kind of interplay with each other. And it started with this again, creating false value around a picture. And it started with, if I right, if I had more time, right. to create this picture that she thought she needed, just like the example of her client of, oh, I need to be more like that guy. Right. And so taking that initial urge or desire and like, oh, hang on a sec. Let’s pause. Disrupt. On this and really think about this. The other thing you said about how we discount and forget, we don’t just forget our keys.

We forget what matters. We discount ourselves. It’s like gravity, right? It just is there as a constant pull. And if we’re not actively working to keep the things that matter. In front of us, so we can sense an access on a regular basis. Then we can’t have that feedback loop of that valuation. Right. That’s the thing that I’m noticing in my work is I try to keep the things that matter to me right now.

I have a 13-year-old daughter, and she’s an amazing, amazing individual. And I love being her dad, and it’s like that presence because she won’t be 13 forever. So again, this attending to, and being present to the opportunity, the dilemma that you have in front of you to kind of take a step back from it to consider.

Am I creating a picture here? What really matters?

Shelly: The last thing I’ll toss in, Cam, is this so often intersects with how our society moralizes certain things. For my client’s society, moralizing is being authoritative and well-spoken and confident. When interestingly enough, the research actually shows that people who are softer and slower spoken are generally more intelligent by measures of IQ. Yet, that’s not how society perceives those two people standing next to one another

And with me, and it was shocking to me when I realized how caught up I had gotten in some amalgam of other people’s versions of success because I know what success looks like for me. I simply don’t want to work that hard. I want to do my good work and enjoy it. And I want to have plenty of bandwidth leftover to play hard as well for as long as I’m able. And not that I’m not capable of hard work, but I don’t have to choose hard work at this point. I can choose to let it be a little easier. I can choose to let my schedule be a little lighter.

I don’t have to pack myself to the gills, and I don’t want to because therein lies the road to burnout for me. It’s not a good picture. And I’m in a very fortunate position where I can have both, I can do my good work and support myself doing it without having to kill myself doing it. And that’s what it would be for.

But in those moments where I was very seriously considering making this major life decision, here I am caught up in what society says, success looks like I got to get the book out. I got to do this. I got to get this moving. Well. No, I actually don’t. My why for writing the book has never had anything to do with money and had everything to do with the message I want to convey. And while money’s nice. I don’t necessarily need it to be about the money, which is a very fortunate position to be in too. But I lost sight of that and got wrapped up in everybody else’s picture of success. You gotta be working. You gotta be working hard. You gotta be hustling. You gotta be doing two or three or four or five things at once. And you gotta be growing, gotta be growing well, no, I don’t have to be growing. I can stay here and that’s not stagnation it’s comfortable and it works for me. And it is wild to me that it, this stage of my career doing this work every day, that even I temporarily lost sight of that, I lost sight of my own, who my own purpose and was attaching to someone else’s vision of success and what society memorializes as better as successful as good. But in reality, I don’t care about those things at all.

Cam: And you’re also redefining the term or the definition of growth, right? Sort of again, this societal definition of growth of expanding and growing and building and getting more and accumulating more in this accumulation and consumption versus growth in the sense that. I’m here watching you doing a lot of growth, attending to personal growth and developing more and more awareness. This isn’t heavy lifting. I think that a lot of people are focused on, ah, it just seems like so much efforting, right? This is tough and it can be challenging. But there’s real value here You tell me if I’m wrong here, Shelly, bits reinforcing. And again, what matters to you? That’s invigorating. That is motivating.

Shelly: Absolutely Cam. That’s my why, and it doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s why. It’s okay if someone else wants to work harder and hustle more, that doesn’t mean I have to. And you’re right. I am redefining growth yet again, because on the heels of a divorce a couple of years ago, being in another serious relationship guests, but huge opportunity for personal growth, And this relationship in particular has been massive for me in those areas. And I appreciate you saying that, noticing that, because again, growth is about more than what society says the right type of growth is, or what is valued by others. It starts with, what do you value? What matters to you? And these are not easy questions for my clients to answer.

Don’t expect to go from zero to aha. My stories are a little zero to aha, but I’ve been doing this work a long time. So I know myself when I can finally put that puzzle together. I told you, Cam, it often feels like when I’m grappling with a dilemma, this big, like I have the pieces to a hundred different puzzles in my brain, and I’m pulling them out one at a time and examining them and going, Nope. Nope. Conversely getting upset about this one and upset about that one. And it’s not until I figure out which puzzle I’m trying to put together that I know which pieces matter and which pieces don’t, and that’s work I am able to do because I’ve been doing it for so long.

But listeners, for you, just start by asking what matters to you at a very base level, what’s important to you. And if you’re not sure, think about what you value in other people, what are the traits that you value the most? And then turn that question around what to others value in you. And for that one, it’s really important that you’re in that curious place, but when you are. You know, my clients who will say they’ll start and say well, nothing.

But if we can get to curiosity there, we start to get a really nice picture of who that client is, what their strengths are and what their unique value is. And that’s amazing. So, listeners three big ways you can help us out. If you like what we’re doing here on the show, the first is to leave a review wherever you listen. It’s been a while since the last one. We’d really appreciate it if those of you who have some bandwidth can leave one, please.

Second is don’t keep us a secret. Share us on social, share us in the ADHD or neurodivergent support groups at work. Share with the other neurodivergents in your life. And again, we said this last week, we’ll say it again, thank you in particular to those in professional settings, working with ADHD clients, who trust us enough to include us in your set of resources for your clients and patients. That’s really amazing.

And finally, you can become a patron, which helps Cam and I pay for all of the costs of running this show and allows us to engage the support that we need to let it be easy for us. And you gain access to our discord community, where our listeners are working together to do their own, understand, own, and translate work. To do this, visit the website,, click on the Patreon link in the upper right-hand corner and for five bucks a month, you’re in. So until next week, I’m Shelly,

Cam: And I’m Cam.

Shelly: And this was the translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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