One of the common challenges of ADHD is the paradox of lacking energy when you need to activate, and being too energetic when you need to be still. This can spell failure for many as they find ways to balance their energies. While this challenge can result in over-enthusiasm or a total lack of motivation, it can also result in a laser focus when these people lock onto something they’re passionate about. For these who learn to accept and harness their ADHD-ness, it can be a catalyst for great, competition-crushing success.
There are many creatives, intellectuals, philosophers and entrepreneurs who are challenged by ADHD, and (either in spite of it or because if it) have become leaders in their field, have contributed greatness, and are some of the most successful and influential people of our time.
This Top 10 list represents the who’s who of ADHD success stories.
1. Michael Phelps, Olympian
With a total of 28 medals to date, Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time. His incredible success between the Olympics of 2004 to 2016 made him made him the most successful athlete of the Games for four Olympics in a row and one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen.
Michael began swimming at the age of seven, partly because of the influence of his sisters and partly to provide him with an outlet for his energy. At the age of 9, he was diagnosed with ADHD. He channeled his energy and passion into swimming, and with “continuous praise and positive reinforcement,” and a dogged determination he learned from his mother to prove his doubters wrong, Phelps fought to achieve victory after victory.
2. Justin Timberlake, Singer-Songwriter/Actor/Producer/Businessman
Justin started out on TV as a child and rose to prominence in his teens as one of the two lead vocalists and youngest member of NSYNC, which eventually became one of the best-selling boy bands of all time. When he established himself as a solo artist, his first two albums both exceeded sales of 10 million copies. His single “Cry Me a River”, is considered by Rolling Stone to be one of the 500 greatest songs of all time. On top of his success in music, Justin has also built a successful acting career, starring in a number of major films.
Across this impressive portfolio of artistic success, Justin has won an array of awards, including 10 Grammy’s, 9 Billboard Music Awards, for Emmy’s and 3 Brit Awards. In 2007 and again in 2013, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Successful in business and as a music producer as well, his other ventures include a record label, fashion label and two restaurants, all by the age of 36.
In an interview with Collider.com, Justin openly stated that he has “ADD mixed with OCD.” Like many kids with ADHD, Timberlake says, “My earliest memories as a kid was I would always try to make my mom and my stepdad laugh at dinner. Or make my friends laugh in class.” He credits his sense of humour and parents as keeping him grounded and balanced through all of his ventures and success.
3. Michael Jordan, Basketball Player/Entrepreneur
Michael Jordan played 15 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards. He was one of the most effectively marketed athletes of his generation and was considered instrumental in popularizing the NBA around the world in the 1980s and 1990s. Among his numerous accomplishments, Michael holds the NBA records for highest career regular season scoring average and highest career playoff scoring average. Jordan is rated as the greatest basketball player of all time. He has also succeeded off the court with lucrative product endorsements, team ownership and other investments. In 2010, Forbes magazine ranked Jordan among the top 20 most powerful celebrities in the world. In 2015, he became the first billionaire NBA player in history as a result of the increase in value of NBA franchises. Today, he is the third-richest African-American, behind Oprah Winfrey and Robert F. Smith.
Like many ADHD-ers, Michael has his hands in a lot of pies and is always looking for his next move. He has been incredibly successful at channeling his energy into becoming a champion.
4. Jim Carrey, Actor/Comedian/Screenwriter/Producer
Jim Carrey was born with a severe case of ADHD. From a young age, he was energetic and creative and it seems he always knew he was funny. He coped with the condition by being the class clown. At the age of ten, he wrote a letter to Carol Burnett of the Carol Burnett Show pointing out that he was already a master of impressions and should be considered for a role on the show.
Beginning as a stand-up comic, Jim embraced his personality and used it to his advantage. Turning his attention to the film and television industry, he quickly became known for his highly energetic slapstick performances and went on to create some of the best comedic movies of all time. He has starred in more than 30 films and earned numerous awards, including 7 MTV Movie Awards, 4 Blockbuster Entertainment awards and 2 Golden Globes.
Carrey has said that it’s “hard for me to come down from what I do.”, but his endless energy and self-belief have produced such success, why would he want to?
5. Jamie Oliver, Celebrity Chef/Restaurateur
Jamie Oliver is known around the world for his typically English cuisine that has spurned numerous successful television shows and restaurants. He has starred in more than 20 television series and published more than 20 cookbooks. He is also a globally successful restaurateur with a successful chain of more than 35 restaurants worldwide. A range of lucrative product endorsements and major advertising deals are also part of his successful business portfolio.
In June 2003, Jamie was honored with an MBE for his services to the hospitality industry. He has also been instrumental in creating political changes around school-based nutrition and, as a result, was voted “Most Inspiring Political Figure of 2005″ in a Channel 4 News annual viewer poll. His success was also financial, and in 2005 he was listed on The Sunday Times list of richest Britons under 30.
Jamie Oliver was diagnosed with ADHD in childhood. He also has severe dyslexia, and only read his first novel in 2013, at the age of 38. He hated school, claims he was terrible at it and was always being pulled out of classes to go to special needs lessons. He manages his ADHD symptoms with a healthy diet and advises ADHD children to focus on what they love and are good at – to ‘find their thing.”- as he has some brilliantly done.
6. Will Smith, Actor/Producer/Rapper
Will Smith is an American actor, producer, rapper, comedian, and songwriter. In April 2007, Newsweek called him “the most powerful actor in Hollywood”. He has been nominated for 5 Golden Globe Awards and 2 Academy Awards, and has won 4 Grammy’s.
Smith has been ranked as the most bankable star worldwide by Forbes. He is the only actor to have 8 consecutive films gross over $100 million in the domestic box office, 11 consecutive films gross over $150 million internationally, and 8 consecutive films in which he starred, open at the number one spot in the domestic box office tally.
In school, Will was the “fun one who could never pay attention” but he didn’t let that get in the way of working hard to achieve good grades, but admits he could have done even better. In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, he credited his inability to sit still as the very reason that his career, in both the music and film industry, has been so successful – He built on his ADHD by never focusing on one single lane. He still has trouble today getting through movie scripts, so he just wings it.
7. John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States
JFK was an American statesman who served as the 35th President of the United States from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. He served at the height of the Cold War, and much of his presidency focused on managing relations with the Soviet Union.
Despite a long history of health problems, Kennedy graduated from Harvard College at the age of 23 with a Bachelor of Arts in government, concentrating on international affairs. His thesis, about British participation in the Munich Agreement, became a bestseller. He served in the US Navy Reserve during which time he earned a number of Military awards, including the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, Purple Heart Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three 3⁄16″ bronze stars; and the World War II Victory Medal. HIs career in teh US Congress, then the Senate and ultimately as President was marked by many milestones and achievements and created many legacies.
Today, Kennedy continues to rank highly in historians’ polls of U.S. presidents and with the general public. His average approval rating of 70% is the highest of any president in Gallup’s history of systematically measuring job approval.
During his school years, Kennedy is reported to have had problems with reading as well as maintaining mental and physical focus. One of the qualities that people who met him used to describe him was his vibrant energy.
8. Walt Disney, Founder Of Disneyland
Walt Disney remains today one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time. He built his name into a business, a brand and an entertainment empire. Decades after his death, his corporate success continues worldwide and is unparalleled.
As a child, Walt preferred to spend all of his time drawing. He was a poor student, had to repeat a grade and finally dropped out of school at the age of 16. He attempted to enlist in the army but was rejected for being underage and, being a risk-taker by nature, he decided to join the Red Cross instead and was sent to France for a year to drive an ambulance. After returning from France, he pursued a career as a newspaper artist. He began to experiment with a camera and hand drawn animation and decided to open his own animation business. Disney grew from there into an animation icon, entertainment industry leader and globally successful entrepreneur.
9. Sir Richard Branson, Business Mogul/Investor/Philanthropist
For his work in retail, music and transport (with interests in land, air, sea and space travel), his taste for adventure, and for his humanitarian work, Richard Branson has become a prominent business figure and international celebrity.
At the age of just sixteen, Richard launched his first business venture – a magazine called Student. In the 1970s he set up a mail-order record business and then opened a chain of record stores, Virgin Records, later known as Virgin Megastores. Branson’s Virgin brand grew rapidly during the 1980s, as he set up Virgin Atlantic airline and expanded the Virgin Records music label. Today, the Virgin Group controls more than 400 companies worldwide.
In March 2000, Branson was knighted at Buckingham Palace for “services to entrepreneurship”. In 2002, he was named in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. In March 2017, Forbes listed Branson’s estimated net worth at $5 billion.
Richard admits he was terrible at school, “just didn’t get it”, and wasn’t interested. As a result, he left school at the age of 15. But it was his natural leadership style, maverick nature, creativity in problem-solving, high and risk-taking personality that made him destined to be an entrepreneur, and one of the most successful of our time.
10. Albert Einstein, Theoretical Physicist
Albert Einstein is one of the most ‘prolific intellects’ of all time. He is a Nobel Prize winning physicist, acclaimed for developing the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics) and for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect. He is also famous for his influence on the philosophy of science.
During his life, Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers along with over 150 non-scientific works. More recently, Professor Einstein was posthumously named Time Magazine’s “Man of the 20th Century”. His intellectual achievements and originality have made the word “Einstein” synonymous with “genius”.
At school, Einstein rebelled against the constraints of the system. He clashed with authorities and resented the school regimen and teaching methods. He later wrote that the spirit of learning and creative thought was lost in strict rote learning. He was not a terrible student as some suggest; he just excelled in those disciplines that interested him most.
Albert Einstein was a classic case of ADHD as he was forgetful, could never find his keys and often seemed oblivious to his surroundings. It’s safe to say he didn’t fit in with the majority. He was a maverick, and he lived by his own rules.
Add to this outstanding list such names as: Beethoven, Bill Gates, Ryan Gosling, Dustin Hoffman, “Magic” Johnson, Robert Kennedy, John Lennon, Adam Levine, Carl Lewis, Abraham Lincoln, Greg Louganis, Steve McQueen, Mozart, Louis Pasteur, Gen. George Patton, Joan Rivers, Nelson Rockefeller, Rodin, George C. Scott, George Bernard Shaw, Sylvester Stallone, Jackie Stewart,Thomas Thoreau, Jules Verne,Leonardo da Vinci, Robin Williams, Woodrow Wilson, Henry Winkler, will.i.am
Apart from having ADHD, what it would also appear all of these people have in common, is a deep belief in themselves – something it can be hard for ADHD-ers to develop and indeed hold onto, especially in the face of failure and criticism that often becomes part of their everyday life.
Yet also in everyday life, there are many everyday people living with ADHD who have greatness within them. Their gifts should be recognized, nurtured and cultivated. Because it begs the question: Should ADHD be viewed as a disability or a difference to be cultivated – a weakness or a potential strength – a disadvantage or an advantage? Perhaps these great examples provide the answer.