Back to Basics IV – Succeeding with ADHD?

We’re going to finish this month of ADHD Awareness by talking about success. What is success? Why do some people seem to achieve success while others struggle constantly? Is success really possible with ADHD?

In order, my short answers are: that depends; it’s all about support; and yes, but.

So let’s get into it.

What is success?

suc*cess noun 1 the accomplishment of an aim; a favourable outcome (their efforts met with success). 2 the attainment of wealth, fame, or position (spoiled by success). 3 a thing or person that turns out well. [Latin successus (as succeed)]

The Canadian Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.

Society tends to consider the second definition the only type of success that matters; I would say that the third is the most important, because it is about a person’s character rather than their material gains.

But the reason I say that success doesn’t have a single answer (that’s what I mean by “that depends”) is that first definition. “The accomplishment of an aim” is individual. You decide on what you want to accomplish, and you put in the effort to achieve that goal. Which means you get to define your own success.

I encourage you to think about what kinds of things you truly care about. What does success really look like for you? Maybe it is that second definition, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe “success” for you is having lots of good friends who know they can depend on you and who you can depend on in times of need. Maybe it’s being a good parent and raising children that meet that third definition. Maybe it’s much smaller than any of that and it’s simply about living each day the best you can and treating others with kindness and understanding. That’s the point: success is subjective, and you get to decide what it is for you and your life.

Why do some people achieve success while others struggle?

You know that old saying, “Behind every successful man is a woman?” Well, that’s what I mean when I say that it’s all about support. Not that women need to support men to succeed; rather, I mean that all people require support from others in order to succeed. That’s why we stan rags to riches stories: people who rise above their starting place, especially without lots of support, are our heroes.

The fact that everyone needs support for something is an important one to remember, though. It’s not wrong or bad to need support, it’s human. It’s just that some people need more support than others for specific things, and unfortunately the stuff ADHDers struggle with—executive functions—tend to be things that contribute to success, particularly as the world defines it.

It’s also totally possible that people the world considers to be unsuccessful have actually achieved the success they wanted. You don’t know if you don’t ask.

Can ADHDers succeed?

Yes, ADHDers can be successful in business, in life, in love, etc.


ADHD means we’ll probably have to define success to mean something specific and personal to us, that takes our particular flavour of ADHD into account.

ADHD means we’ll need to adapt our road to success based on our particular interests, skills, challenges, and strengths.

ADHD means we’ll probably need people to support us in our less-than-stellar executive functions.

If you look at the ADHDers touted as successes, you’ll see a few commonalities, and if you really dig you’ll probably realize the following:

  1. They’re successful in a field they reliably hyperfocus on; and
  2. They have people around them who handle the stuff they aren’t good at, from Executive and Personal Assistants to manage schedules and tasks, to cooks and cleaning staff (or a spouse who is good at those things).

So define success for yourself, and then think about ways you might get there. Your path doesn’t need to be linear. It doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s path. Your success also doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s success. Figure out what matters most to you, and make it happen.

This week’s printable has been around for a couple of years at this point; it’s a worksheet designed to help you work on this very thing. It actually goes with a couple of YouTube videos I did on the topic of ADHD and life dreams, so go watch those, too.

I look forward to learning about your definition of success and how you’re going to achieve it!