The ADHD Maverick: An Interview with Jennifer Koretsky

Interview with the author of Odd One Out: The Maverick's Guide to Adult ADD.

Posted May 31, 2012

Jennifer Koretsky is the managing partner and chief executive officer of ADD Management Group, LLC. She is the author of Odd One Out: The Maverick's Guide to Adult ADD, and is the director of the Virtual AD/HD Conference®. She is also a Senior Certified AD/HD Coach.  Her website is

1.  In your book Odd One Out: The Maverick's Guide to Adult ADD, you are very open about having ADHD. Could you describe how being overwhelmed can take over someone's life when they have ADHD? 

Adults with ADHD often find themselves caught up in what I call “The Cycle of Overwhelm.” You wake up in the morning feeling completely overwhelmed by all the things you have to do. You spend your entire day thinking about all those things, and trying to get them all done. Your stress builds throughout the day as more and more gets added to your to-do list and little, if any, gets crossed off. You go to bed feeling even more stressed out, and then you wake up the next day and do it all over again.

Eventually, the stress gets to you and you burn out. Then you find yourself spending your entire day thinking about all those things you have to do, but feeling paralyzed and unable to even get started. You may withdraw from life a little, feeling like you’re unable to deal with anything. The burnout can last for a couple of hours, a couple of days, or even longer, but it will give way to the overwhelm again. And therein lies the cycle. Overwhelm leads to burnout, and burnout leads to overwhelm, and the cycle just keeps repeating itself until you learn how to stop it.

2.  Your book elaborates on "5 Essential Skills that adults with ADHD have mastered" (p. 31). Could you give a brief overview of these five skills? 

Sure, the skills are:

1. Break the Cycle of Overwhelm: This is the most important skill and this is where you’ve got to start. First, you have to learn how to slow down and recharge. Slowing down may seem counterintuitive when you feel like you’re running behind on life, but it’s the only way to de-stress and reset. Next, you have to make self-care a priority. Sleep, nutrition, and exercise are great places to start. Even small changes in these areas will result in a vast improvement. When you’re taking really good care of yourself, it’s much easier to manage your ADHD.

2.  Work With Your ADHD, Not Against It: You’ve got to stop worrying about doing things the way that others do them. It doesn’t matter if your desk is as neat as your coworkers’. Who cares if you have to fidget while you’re paying attention? If your system works for you, go with it. What works for others may not work for you, and that’s more than okay. The worst thing you can do is try to force other people’s systems on yourself. When you do that, you’re working against your ADHD and making your life harder than it needs to be.

3. ADDjust Your Attitude: No one ever gets ahead in life by trying to turn their weaknesses into strengths. You get ahead in life by developing the strengths that you already have! No one is perfect, and our differences make the world go ‘round. Stop worrying about those things that you’re not so good at, and spend your time getting really good at the things that you’re already good at. Also, adopt a positive attitude. Try to see challenges as opportunities. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes because they are really learning opportunities. Surround yourself with positive, happy people. All these things will make a real difference in your life.

4. Take Control of Your Space and Time: Organization and time management are two of the biggest challenges faced by adults with ADHD. It’s important to remember that you will probably never be an expert in these areas, but small improvements will greatly reduce your stress levels and have you feeling a lot better about yourself. And both time management and organization boil down to planning. This is the missing element for many of us. Learning how to step back to plan that project or plan your day will make your life so much easier!

5. Live Out Loud: So many people think that having ADHD means they are broken or tainted, but this simply isn’t true! It’s actually very important to identify what you want out of your life, and set the goals you want to achieve. I always tell clients, never let fear stop you from going after what you want. You can get there, even with ADHD!

3. Tell me more about the concept of the "Maverick" and how it relates to ADHD. What are some of the Maverick's beliefs? 

A “maverick” is someone who does things their own way, and on their own terms. They don’t waste too much time worrying about what others might think of them. They do what works for them, and they embrace who they are—strengths, talents, skills, flaws, weaknesses, and all.

The maverick ADHDer doesn’t let their challenges stop them from pursuing their goals. They understand that they are often going to have to do things differently from other people and they are okay with that.

4.  In Chapter 1, "Break the Cycle of Overwhelm", you write about the importance of having a well-balanced diet. What foods should an adult with ADHD be cautious about, and why?

Adults with ADHD often find their energy and focus levels dipping throughout the day, and as a result tend to “self-medicate” with foods and drinks. Namely, caffeine and sugar. These things can give us a quick energy and focus boost, but it’s short lived, and followed by an intense drop. And how does one “fix” that drop? Another soda/coffee/candy bar/bagel, etc… This is a dangerous cycle that has your energy lifting and dropping all day long. It wears you down and it’s not food for your health or your mood. It’s much better to eat protein with every meal and snack, keep hydrated, and consider medication. These things can help keep your energy consistent throughout the day.

5.  In Chapter 2, "Work with Your ADHD, Not Against It", you write how adults with ADHD can be really tough on themselves - holding themselves to unrealistic expectations and being judgmental towards themselves.  What suggestions would you give someone who is trying to break out of that cycle? 

One great suggestion is to treat yourself like you would treat a friend. Ask yourself, “Would I be this hard on a friend who had this problem? Would I hold him/her to the same standards that I’m holding myself to?” I can almost guarantee that the answer will be no. This is a powerful exercise that can help you build awareness of these judgments and unrealistic expectations.

6.  What are some symptoms of ADHD that tend to be overlooked, and possibly discounted as not being part of ADHD?

I think the feeling of chronic overwhelm is often overlooked, or at least not talked about very much. But as far as I’m concerned, this is the hallmark of un-managed ADHD. Every ADHD client I’ve ever coached has come to me saying something along the lines of “I’m just so overwhelmed and I don’t even know where to begin to get my act together.”

7.  In the book you mention that people with ADHD may have difficulty getting to sleep and getting up on time.  What would you suggest to someone with ADHD that tends to be a nightowl, yet works a 9 to 5 job? 

It’s so important to allow time to wind down at night! Often times, our bodies are tired but our minds are still going. You have to give your mind the opportunity to slow down. I highly recommend cutting out stimulation about an hour before bed. And that means shutting down the computer (including your cell phone). That suggestion makes me very unpopular sometimes, but the Internet is highly stimulating and hard to break away from. It will keep your mind engaged and keep you from going to or falling asleep. Shutting it down an hour before bed really will make a difference!

8.  You mention that it is especially important for adults with ADHD to surround themselves with positive people.  How should a person respond when someone that is close to him or her makes negative comments about ADHD?

This is where the maverick attitude can really help. First, recognize that even if you love this person, their opinion of your ADHD is irrelevant. Second, you can plan to have a canned, neutral response to shut down those comments, like a simple “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Then end it. Try not to engage. Realize that those negative comments are coming from a person who either A) is unhappy in their own life and feels the need to spread the misery or B) doesn’t have the skills to communicate in a way that is respectful or C) a little bit of both. Remember that those comments are more about the person making them than they are about you.

9. In Chapter 4, "Take Control of Your Space and Time", you discuss methods of achieving time management and organization.  What would you recommend to an adult with ADHD who feels she doesn't even know where to start? 

The best place to start is with a plan. I know that sounds overly simple, but planning is a skill that many of us with ADHD have to learn as adults. We often jump right into a project without taking the time to plan out what we have to do or the steps we have to take. But once you have the plan, it eliminates the stress. Then you have a system to follow, and life is much easier. I recommend taking 15 minutes to make a plan before starting any project. I also recommend taking 15 minutes a day – every day – to plan your day and review your to-do list.

10.  From your experiences as a coach and as a person living with ADHD, what are three things you've learned that you would like other adults with ADHD to know? 

Great question!

1.  You can learn to manage your ADHD. It won’t happen overnight. But with time, patience, persistence, and dedication, it will happen.

2.  Adult ADHD doesn’t have to be a bad thing. When you manage it properly, you can use it to your advantage.

3.  You absolutely, positively can live happily and successfully with ADHD.

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