Ever since childhood I've had ADHD. Continually acting out, I was constantly chastised by my parents for my impulsivity and inability to focus. At the time I simultaneously was known as "that weirdo kid" and "the smart kid." As I've learned that many ADHD kids face, I was repeatedly told how much potential I had (inferring that I’m wasting it). Throughout middle and high school I was able to tame my inner spirit of acting out, as I became aware how much I was screwing up my own life by never paying attention, so I was able to force myself to get it together. The main remnant of my ADHD (which, I'll note, I was never diagnosed with for a very long time) was lack of focus.
It seems pretty straightforward. You can do concentration practice, and you can meditate. You can find your passion and do things that really excite you. One of these things is sure to tame your inner beast. It's just focus, right?
Unfortunately, it was never so easy for me.
I really don't like being the victim and relinquishing all hope over my life, so as a precursor to the rest of this, I haven't given up hope. I just need some input. Back to the story.
Throughout taking some pretty difficult classes (for an undiagnosed ADHD kid), I found myself studying more than my peers for many assignments and taking school seriously. Doing work was so infuriating, and it still can be. Because even on medication now, I have trouble focusing. It only alleviates the issue. In school, no class would go by where I didn't look at the clock at least 5 times.
If you're not familiar with the brain chemistry component of ADHD, people are not hyperactive and unfocused because there is a chemical that causes them to be distracted. Rather, it's a lack of dopamine, which leads to a lack of sustained focus and interest. I've heard theories that this is because back in hunter-gatherer societies, humans couldn't be focused on one thing for too long, otherwise they could be killed by a wild animal. Whatever the cause may be, it makes it so that you don't find an interest in so many things. I can’t “lose yourself" in many activities as many neurotypical people can. Simply "find your passion" is *not* enough to ignite me. I've taken Leo's life purpose course and read books on mastery + LP. I've done meditation and concentration practice, as well as breathing work. I still meditate on a daily basis. I've watched countless videos on YT for how to "find your passion," and I have probably more than 100 google docs journals writing in pure frustration and confusion, not to mention I've tried probably around 10 - 15 activities/hobbies in search of finding that *one* I really enjoyed.
I can only imagine the ease with which a neurotypical person can "find their purpose" and just be done. I would do anything to wake up in the morning out of love of one's craft. I've had periods where I would be willing to trade an arm and a leg for a deep passion. I'm so jealous of people who can immerse themselves in activities. When I see someone who goes "I can work for 12+ hours at a time in full immersion because I love what I do." all I can think of is what hells I can put myself through to get there. It's excruciating.
Most people probably know the general idea of the concepts presented in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's "Flow" by now. This is where you become a master in your craft of choice, and get to points where you can just focus for extended periods of bliss. Although I find certain things can be enjoyable, I don’t really have a passion that can get focus/flow states, (sadly) with the exception of videogames: For me, the main thing I've really been able to achieve a flow state in is videogames. It's all I really want to do a lot of the time. Before I even had my personal computer, my parents told me I would try playing some rudimentary games on the ancient preschool computer/device. I don’t know what it is, but I just lose touch with my body, the world, and can lose myself for hours. This is what's known as "hyperfocus" in ADHDers. We can't control what we hyperfocus on. We just do. For me, it's videogames. I become immersed. Apart from that and some really beautiful shows I've seen, nothing can grasp and pull me in the same way. After a long day of confusion, I just want to load up my game and fight against other people. It’s just me and my mouse at that point, and it feels great, except for that nagging feeling in the back of my head that I’m wasting my life and that I’m being lazy again.
As for some other things I (sort of) enjoy, there’s story building and creating fictional, intricate worlds, fine visual arts - specifically drawing people and detailed machinery. I always liked the line-making aspect of drawing over the creative aspects of it, though. The repetitive motion and the pursuit of perfection was nice. I’m not super creative. Ever since a young age, I was much more logically inclined (left brain) and I always gravitated toward more puzzle-type logical things. Everyone knew me as being really good at math and a fast thinker. I remember also getting really into deck-building games and I would pore over different combinations for cards for hours. Adding onto that, I also really liked strategy and I remember getting lost in my head with different strategies for the games I played. I liked the aspect of tinkering with arranging different parts into something unique with deckbuilding in particular. Putting things together like that was always fun. That might be the closest I got to enjoying something creative, but I don’t really know how to transfer something like that to an LP.
Pure creativity without a purpose to make something of value/something useful (I intellectually know all of this is still subjective) like abstract art or art in general turned me off, and it still does. A reason I was never really able to get into writing/world creation was because no matter how many hard magic systems I built, nothing felt like it had inherent meaning (Again, subjective opinion). I liked making really intricate, detailed things through art, but never really the actual artistic part. There are a few artistic works I've seen that have just really struck me like lightning, but other than that, I haven't really been able to appreciate much art throughout my life. More so than creative, I also enjoyed any sort of competitive activity - I was fiercely competitive and it would engulf me. I liked the skill ladder for any pursuit that I could climb and improve against others.
As for my skills, I’m very intuitive. When I was very good at math as a kid, it would be because I knew how all the cogs of the metaphorical machine worked, and I could just intuit the answer. I didn’t really think in words by saying (seven times four means I add seven.. one, two, three, four times), but instead my mind would just jump to the answer. I wouldn’t think in pictures, but I would just feel the way of doing the problem. I’ve pondered the idea of being like a hands-on-craftsman, or, more generally, I like the idea of going into a field where I can tinker and feel my way through things. As I grew up, though, I was taught to solve all problems in words via deductive reasoning, and given the complexity of many problems in school, I often made silly mistakes and, to this day, take longer than most to understand most concepts.
Also, I can read people’s emotional states very well. Sometimes I find myself responding to people based on the “vibe” they’re giving off, rather than the words that are coming out of their mouth. I can be very socially attuned to how people react to certain things. I also really enjoy being able to give presentations/talks and teaching information. I remember teaching concepts would always light me up. I can’t really see myself being a teacher, or therapist though.
It’s very frustrating because I feel like I have all these strands, yet asked “what do you really want?”, the strands don’t come together to form any cohesive piece. I’m incredibly mercurial, switching from one thing to the next. Nothing really sticks. As for my impact on the world, I care more about quality of impact on more individual scales, rather than widespread, thinned impact. Apart from this, I’m still searching, as I have been for as long as I can remember.
Unfortunately for me, I can’t really "hyperfocus" on much of anything else besides games, including many of the activities I listed above. When I have to do something, I can do the activity, and often I do. I force myself, though. I’ve gotten good at doing chores, and unfortunately 95%+ of life feels like one to me. This had led to a lot of neuroses, such as constantly, constantly thinking about the future. I can stay in the present for short periods of time, but there’s little attraction to the present moment for me. I’m an excessive overthinker and I tend to live in my head and doubt myself a lot. I'm a big worrier and perfectionist too, although I'm working on not feeding these thoughts.
One skill I’ve obtained from suffering with ADHD for so long is the ability to “just get through it”. Especially on medication, I can force myself through the day, but I rarely enjoy most of the activities. I “get through” this activity, then “get through” this work, and then I “get through” this other thing. It’s not purely a mindset thing, either. I just don’t enjoy so much of life. Always living for the future.
The first approach to this problem : Reading a lot about the creative freedoms of mastery and the fulfillment that masters get from improving their craft, I’ve always wanted to master a skill.
I read “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport and "Mastery" by Robert Greene, and I’m starting to think that maybe I need to force and grind my way to mastery. My dad always commented that “You only seem to really like the things that you’re good at.” Perhaps when I’ve reached the top of skill mountain, I can see things from a different vantage point and do what I really enjoy. With implementing strong habits and having friends keeping me accountable, I could pick a domain I’m willing to put in the time for, and grind out the skills necessary. I’m super competitive, so that could help in this quest for developing skill. I know this doesn’t seem too healthy, putting grind over passion, and putting competition over creativity. At this point though, it’s the best strategy I can think of for myself.
I have a habit of switching my focuses right away (because again, I find so little things interesting), so perhaps if I could just stay stuck like glue to one skill and put in 2k-5k-10k hours, I’ll be able to enjoy life more. If I make a plan and force myself to stick to it, maybe I would begin to enjoy it along the way. I don’t think keeping the habit or laziness would be the issue if I really decided to go down this road, it’s more so whether I would genuinely want to make this time commitment.
The second approach I could take is to just keep looking. To find something that really gets me on fire, that one thing I can laser-focus on and I can keep coming back to by being pulled, rather than pushing myself. (everything right now is me pushing myself). This would be nice. It feels like I’ve exhausted so many options, though.
Is it a pitfall to make a synthetic LP through just getting skilled at one thing until I can appreciate that thing at a deeper level and attain deeper levels of focus? Or should I keep searching for something that really draws me in?
I have bad ADHD and cannot find enjoyment in many activities the “normal” way.
Thank you for sticking with me through the long read. I’d be grateful for any advice.