He's famous: From social media to TV, Peter Shankman has really made a name for himself. Yet, there's something that has driven this accomplishment that we most commonly define as an obstacle. It's ADHD.
He wasn't diagnosed with ADHD until his mid-30s and his journey was both typical and atypical. As Peter puts it:
ADHA didn't exist when I was in school in the 70s and 80s. For me, it was more like "sit down, you're disrupting the class" disease. It wasn't until I got diagnosed that I realized that everything I'd been doing all my life that everyone else thought "weird" or "strange" was actually helping me use my different (faster) brain to the best of my abilities, and actually live better!
The more I talked with Peter, the more I began to understand that for him, this condition was an engine—a real driver of his success. He made it clear that his brain was operating in a different way and this was truly a benefit for him. And this "brain speed" was put into action when he realized that is was less about rationalizing his "condition" to others and more about fostering his personal achievement.
It's an interesting lesson and often articulated as turning a weakness into a strength. So, I asked Peter a few questions to get a closer look.
John Nosta: How did ADHD become an engine for your success? Was there a "a ha" moment or was it more gradual?
Peter Shankman: For me, I realized that if I wanted to succeed and use my brain to the best of its ability, I needed to live my life a certain way, both personally and professionally. I needed to eliminate choice as much as possible. I have two uniforms. When I'm speaking or on TV, it's a button down shirt, blazer, and jeans. When I'm in the office, it's a t-shirt and jeans. That's it. That's all I keep in my closet.
Exercise is also key. I workout every single morning, because I need to. It gives me the brain chemistry I need to attack my day and thrive.I don't drink. I have two speeds: Namaste, and "I'll cut a bitch." I don't do moderation. As such, I need to know what works for me, what's important, what I can and can't do. It's mandatory for me. So I live by a certain code that keeps me "on track."
Nosta: Specifically, how do you leverage some of the typical signs and symptoms ADHD to your advantage?
Shankman:The ability to "deep work" - where I can sit down and write for hours and hours - I do that by avoiding distractions. So when I need to work, (like how I wrote my last two books,) I book a round trip flight to Asia. I write the entire flight out and entire flight back. It works for me. Seems crazy, but it works. I skydive. I run Ironman Triathlons. All these things I do because they give me what I need - whether that's adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, or just the ability to deep work for hours on end. It's what works for me.
I eat healthy - When I eat like shit, I feel like shit. I drink tons and tons of water.
I avoid triggers. It's in my speaking contract that if I'm in Vegas, I won't spend more than eight hours on the ground from wheels down to wheels up. Avoid triggers, avoid little things potentially becoming bigger things
Nosta: Have you had success with Rx therapy?
I have a prescription for Concerta. I call it my expense report medication. When my assistant tells me that I have to do three hours of expense reporting or I won't get paid, I take a small dosage of Concerta and it lets me get through it. I don't take it every day. I rarely take it, in fact. It's very much "as needed," and it's rarely needed.
Nosta: While these solutions might not be right for everyone, can you suggest how your insights might be applies to others?
Shankman: Know yourself. Focus on making yourself the best you can be, first and foremost. You can't help other people until you've worked on improving yourself.
Nosta: Where would Peter Shankman be today if he didn't have this condition?
Shankman: Probably in a 9-5 job, not knowing any better.
My guess is that the world's a better place with the ADHD version of Peter Shankman. But don't just take my word for it. He's a bestselling author, entrepreneur, and speaker, Peter is recognized worldwide for radically new ways of thinking about the Customer Economy, Entrepreneurship, Social Media, PR, marketing, advertising. And ADD/ADHD. Peter is best known for founding Help A Reporter Out, (HARO) which in under a year became the de-facto standard for thousands of journalists looking for sources on deadline, offering them more than 200,000 sources around the world looking to be quoted in the media. HARO is currently the largest free source repository in the world, sending out over 1,500 queries from worldwide media each week. HARO’s tagline, “Everyone is an Expert at Something”, proves over and over again to be true, as thousands of new members join at helpareporter.com each week. In June of 2010, less than two years after Peter started HARO in his apartment, it was acquired by Vocus, Inc. Peter also has a new book—Faster Than Normal—from Random House publishing that is due out in October.
Yep, it's ADHD. But in Peter's case it's Accomplished, Driven, Helpful and Directed!