Self-Actualization ADHD Needs: Creative Expression

Episode 153

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Asher and Cam finish their exploration of important ADHD distinctions around basic needs as they delve into self-actualization needs from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow argued that people have a need for fulfillment at this highest level. ADHD disrupts this desire in a number of ways. Never short in the creativity department, ADHD people are prone to a scattershot approach when it comes to creative expression. Distractibility, activation and sustaining effort all conspire to thwart creative expression to meaningful completion points. We can also be hampered by our contextual wiring, cherry picking data to reinforce a limiting belief.

Cam shares his own example of how he used to use contextual Why Me? questions to avoid taking action in areas that really mattered to him. Yet self-actualization is possible with ADHD. Asher shares how exploration of a client’s Big Agenda is a part of the coaching process and is key to a sense of fulfillment. The hosts use the metaphor of a house foundation to illustrate how strong foundational elements – discovering one’s Who, operating from strengths and building one’s ADHD knowledge – contribute to self-actualization and a life that fits.

Asher and Cam share numerous client examples of the path to creative expression and having a bigger positive impact. They discuss the significance of choice, priority and journey thinking as one becomes more clear in their purpose. Finally, they discuss how having a bigger impact can become a big signal to the detriment of other important needs and priorities.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ash: Hi, I’m Ash,

[00:00:01] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:02] Ash: and this is Translating ADHD. A couple of group coaching notes – two classes beginning in the new year. Agency begins Tuesday, January 17th. And Purpose, which is of course just with me, begins Monday, January 30th. Pricing information and applications for both courses are available on the website Click on the group coaching tab.

Cam, we’ve made it. We are at the top of the ADHD hierarchy of needs pyramid. We’re here.

[00:00:36] Cam: We’re here. 

[00:00:37] Ash: So Cam, where do you want to dive in here today?

[00:00:41] Cam: So there’s so many different places we could dive in. There’s two specific dilemmas when it comes to self-actualization and ADHD, right? And then our deep dive into this hierarchy of needs And point out these subtle distinctions of where we can get tripped up. So last week we talked about self-compassion around efforting because esteem is about being recognized for our efforts.

And we talked about how we are faced with this universal question of why is it that we do not do what we know we ought to. this week. It’s really about, in a lot of respects, your class that you’re teaching in January around purpose. What is that higher calling? What is that bigger thing that we are doing involved in making happen?

So last week we talked about the significance of creative. This is really more about creative expression, and being a part of something bigger than ourselves. So I can just jump right into the dilemmas here and the dilemmas that I faced early on in my professional career. The first I’ll just address around creative expression. I’ve always been creative, and yet that creativity would often be displayed in some scattershot form. I’d be creative in one area and then another sort of dabbling and often a jack of all trades, right? Master of none. And so that’s what we can do is we can sort of follow our interests and dive, but maybe not have a lot to show for it. Malcolm Gladwell talks about his 10,000 hours of mastery, and so staying with something over a period of time can be difficult with ADHD.

Secondly, and I think this is the one we address in coaching with our clients, is around this whole concept of context. You hear Ash and I talk about being wired for context. We say it so often on this podcast, and yet this is where context can work against us. So when I didn’t have answers, Ash, I didn’t understand why I didn’t do what I knew I ought to do, I would start to fill in the. And I would use this little bit of a victim perspective, starting with why and why me feeling like the world’s against me. This environment is against me. This work this project, it’s an uphill battle all the time.

So it’s very much of a human thing to be selective of data, to reinforce a belief. And those of us with ADHD are really prone to this because those beliefs can be so believable. And so I’m selecting data to reinforce this belief that somehow I’m unlucky that, The cards are not in my favor, and so I’m taking the data and reinforcing basically what I’m gonna do next, which is maybe not to take that risk. Right. I’m gonna sit this one. Right. What I did was then avoid and not participate. So it was when I started to really question that and look at how context could be a positive thing. And this goes to coaching, is looking at the big agenda and what we often talk about the North Star and think about what’s that bigger positive thing that we can connect to bring in to help our clients move forward with purpose.

[00:04:20] Ash: When I take on a new client, I tell them exactly where I want them to be by the end of our coaching relationship. And not that I get there with every client, but I get there with most of them. And here’s what I say. If your big agenda is like building a house – there’s a metaphor we haven’t revisited in a while, but it’s one that we have talked about in our work together – is laying a really solid, strong foundation on which you can build that big agenda house. And how do we do that? How do we know that we’re there, that the foundation is laid?

Well, there’s a couple of things I look for. The first is strength and challenge. Now exist on equal planes. with ADHD, we play up the challenge, as you were just saying, and we can accumulate this evidence to support that and we downplay our strengths. With ADHD, it’s also really difficult to know our who. So another thing I look for is my client really tapping into their own who.

There’s actually some interesting research out there about ADHD and development of identity says that ADHD adolescents don’t develop the same sense of identity as neurotypical adolescents, and it makes a lot of sense. You know, if we’re one down making up for our whole lives, we can not know who we are. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a unique identity. It just means we need to figure out what that identity is and how to tap into it. So there’s this strength and challenge. There’s this knowing the who, and then there’s this ownership of ADHD, really understanding and owning one’s ADHD, understanding how and when it shows up and impacts and accessing resources and support from a place of strength.

[00:06:25] Cam: So what I really like about that is that you’re not saying to your client, We’re gonna get to this specific outcome, right? You’re really focused on that is just central to big C coaching that we’ve talked about in the past, is that you have strengths. If we operate out of our strengths and we really look. I love the house metaphor by the way. We start to look at developing a strong foundation to look at the basic building blocks that contribute to the house. What makes it strong that there is a big agenda.

You’re not saying, here’s your big agenda and we’re gonna go toward it. It’s this belief that they have this big agenda and then if we’re on this and we embrace journey thinking, we can move in that direction. So there’s all kinds of elements of the podcast in there. You talk about identity and knowing about ADHD, that’s understand, own, translate. There’s also the pause, disrupt, pivot too, of being aware and curious. and developing practices to move us in that direction.

[00:07:39] Ash: And here’s the thing, is self-actualization. Is about creative expression and a bigger positive impact. And where that lives in my coaching opinion, is at that intersection of operating from strength and having a strong sense of your who. And by the way, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re big agenda will be crystal clear. I end coaching relationships all the time where my clients are still figuring out their big agenda. But having that foundation laid makes way to be on that journey and to keep discovering along the way while having the type of positive impact that you wanna be having along the way.

[00:08:27] Cam: And it also points to needs below self-actualization, right? That as we address the foundations, we’re looking at those physiological ADHD needs. We’re looking at what’s gonna create safety for our clients that often they’re moving from crisis to crisis, from fire to. putting them out and they’re not able to stop and assess the things that really matter to them. Right? We are so good at responding to the crisis of the day, but with coaching, it’s starting to look at, this like a journey and what is starting to address. What is measurement for success for you?

So often that I see people talk about this is what you have to do. I was just talking to someone about this, another coach. This is about lived experience. Your lived experience is different from everybody else’s lived experience. So it comes back to this knowing of your own presentation as a human and as a human with ADHD and how it informs and impacts as you move through your day.

[00:09:45] Ash: Cam, I think an important thing to note when we get this far in a coaching relationship is, it opens up choice. Several times in the course of this show, I’ve talked about clients who were in a contentious work situation where they were taking on all of the blame. where they thought their ADHD was the primary reason they were unhappy and unsuccessful at work.

Funnily enough, I have a client who still talks about this one question I asked him, which was, okay, you’ve listed out all of the things that are going poorly at work. He was in a social work type, very paperwork intense, very little time to do the actual good work that he got into this field to do. And when he was listing out everything that needed to change at work in order for him to meet the measures that were expected of him, I said, okay, so let me ask you this: If we can do that and if we can solve those ADHD challenges, and you are now performing the way that your job wants you to perform. Do you enjoy your job? And the answer was no. It blew his mind, but it also created a choice point that wasn’t there before and that couldn’t have been there if we hadn’t done the work of addressing some of these other things, of doing some work in these other areas, and particularly creating a lot of safety for him to explore this scary new realization that, oh man, maybe this career that I’ve set out to be in my whole life, isn’t it?

And by the way, it wasn’t it. And that client is happier and healthier for it. But that was a choice that he simply couldn’t see until we could get some of the other ADHD stuff managed until he could start to tap into his own, who put himself in the picture and appreciate that he was bringing a lot of strengths to his clients.

His employer maybe didn’t see it that way. But he did have strengths in that role. They just unfortunately weren’t the strengths that were going to ever make that job or that career work because of the way it’s designed.

[00:12:02] Cam: That’s a great example. And it reminds me of one of my own clients in a very similar situation. And so, Ash, I appreciate how you say that we start with getting some of those basic ADHD challenges under control, managed in some way so that we can get a clear picture of what is possible.

Many people come and they’re sort of thinking, you know, I just need to try harder. we often have this trait of tenacity or stubbornness. If I just put my head down and push harder, I can create change. And that’s where I think that as we’re pushing, we lose that ability to see what is possible and what is not.

And as I was working with this client, he was realizing that it really wasn’t his ADHD that was the primary dilemma. It was that he was in an untenable work situation. He’s in a situation where he is in IT service. And not enough network engineers to address this wave of tickets and requests for action around servicing this whole, you know, multinational organization.

As you said, it’s like coming to this choice point of recognizing I want to be successful, but I don’t have to be successful here. We’ve said this recently, we can collapse that. It’s sort of like success means success period, versus there are certain environments that are conducive to creating change and others just are not so part of. Building that framework is who else is helping us build out this structure, right? The supportive individuals and in supportive environments, they’re gonna help us create the change that we want to create.

[00:13:54] Ash: Cam, I wanna toss in another example that’s not work. The client that I talked about several episodes back when we talked about relationships, the one that didn’t trust her brain because of ADHD enough to know what was really going on in her marriage our coaching. She decided to leave that marriage.

Same work of putting herself in the picture of tapping into her who, and to put it in her own words of trusting my brain. I think so often with ADHD the causation can be invisible to us because there are so many ADHD-related symptoms going on at any given time that, as you said, we don’t see the bigger dilemma until we do that.

The client and I were working together for a couple months before her marriage even came into the coaching as a barrier, but it came into the coaching because it needed to, because we couldn’t continue to move up this pyramid without turning our attention toward that massive dilemma and the impacts it was having on her.

[00:15:04] Cam: It’s so interesting as we were talking about this, I keep thinking about other client examples as you share. I’m thinking about others and the significance of this highest level of self-actualization. I think that there, there’s gonna be some listeners out there thinking, I feel very strongly about certain issues. We’ve just gotta be careful about where that issue becomes the biggest signal. You’ve heard us talk about big signals and how we’re drawn in, but are you getting drawn into something to the detriment of other areas of your life.

[00:15:40] Ash: Cam, I have a really relevant example of that for myself, and that’s coming out as trans. Transgender identities are highly political right now and in another time and place in my life, getting involved in a way that was harmful to me. Listening to that negative big signal, like I have to do something. I have to be involved here and here and here and here, and everywhere else.

And I’ve still teetered on that at times, by the way. You know, spending time and effort in places where it’s not going to do any good. It’s not going to have that positive impact I want it to have, and it’s not coming from my own creative expression. The difference is having done the work that I’ve done over the years, I could recognize that happening and I’ve employed a strategy that works for me often.

When I start to get too hyper focused on the broader problems of the world, when my empathy starts to drive my attention and my action, and that is I take a political and news breather. Y’all notice I’m not very active on social media, and that’s by design because social media is harmful for me in a lot of ways or can be harmful for me. 

And I’m able to employ that strategy from a place of strength. because I know enough what my big agenda is that when I take a step back, I can look and say, okay, am I on that path or am I veering somewhere else? Am I veering somewhere where it’s not my circus, not my monkeys? And that’s such a challenge with ADHD.

Cam, you remember we had a client in the group coaching who brought almost exactly that topic. The world is such a mess. She’s highly concerned about environment and environmental problems. And she said, but I’m one person with one bucket. And so getting to self-actualization is about, again, knowing that who, and knowing enough what your big agenda is. you are uniquely positioned to have a positive impact. 

[00:17:53] Cam: So as I’m sitting here, Ash, I’m thinking about just how self-actualization is this culmination of all these other pieces, right? You talk about choice point. We talk about change. We haven’t even mentioned the word values, but this is values work, right around that. What is your who and what is your why? I, just wanna say your example right there about your own transition, this recognition of the bigger opportunity and the bigger work, but recognizing limitations, there is only one of you and you could get, again, pulled in so many different directions, and yet you’re coming back to your own house, your own foundation of what’s gonna be sustainable here. You’re on this journey of change. It is demanding. It takes energy, effort, and time.

And so this is about priority. Utilizing that big agenda we often refer to as the North Star to inform to tether to. I used to say so often, Ash, what is my why? What’s the compelling why? I gotta find my why and not sure what that is. And kind of feeling like I’m spinning my wheels and.

Just navigating in a dark room, going around and around for us, orienting to our sense of self, our resources, and our why is so important. And so listeners, as we exit today, to have a soft hold on this concept of bigger agenda to see where does it live for you? How can it manifest in a way that is manageable, that you’re still addressing all those other needs, but able to honor that or, again, to be curious about what that.

[00:19:43] Ash: Cam, the reason I love being a coach is because it is absolutely incredible to watch someone discover the powerful person they always were. We talk about creating change as coaches, but we’re not changing anybody’s who. I think of it like archeology. We’re excavating it a little at a time, revealing it a little at a time. And man, it is the coolest thing when you start to notice that your client is seeing it. Because that’s a big job for us as coaches, is we see it first and we notice those strengths. We hear them, we call them out, we poke at them, see what’s there. But wow, when a client starts to have a strong sense of their who, and they’re operating from strength and managing challenge.

They’re on the journey. They’re on the journey, and our role as coaches is less and less important because they’ve got what they need. And that is the point in my own coaching practice when I start hearing that I’ll call it out. We’re here. Now what? And that doesn’t necessarily mean that a client’s ready to move on. There might be more coaching work to do, but it is worth stopping and acknowledging this new place that this client is in. And here’s what I tell them: Nobody can take that from you, even if you lose sight of it, even if you need to come back so that we can help you remember what you already know. What we don’t have to do is we don’t have to excavate this all over again. It’s there and we know it, and that can never be taken from you. It’s just like I said, it’s the place I want every client I work with to be at the point that we conclude coaching.

Okay, listeners. Our new Keep it simple outro this week: Don’t keep us a secret. Tell somebody else you know about the show. And by the way, happy holidays. We hope you’re all surviving the holiday season well enough with ADHD. And until next week, I’m Ash.

[00:21:44] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:21:45] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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