The Purpose of the Curious but Unfocused Life  


Synopsis: You may not know what your passion is, but living a curious, unfocused life may just be your purpose in this world. 

Some time ago, my mom emailed me a link to an Elizabeth Gilbert video. At that time, I’d been feeling disheartened about my creative work, or rather – lack of it. Even though she didn’t know it, the message was EXACTLY what I needed to hear, at that EXACT moment. How do moms do that?

Whenever you have half an hour, watch the video (linked above). If you don’t have time now – make sure you come back to it. I promise, it will free your wandering soul from psychological entrapment. Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t name the ADD mind specifically in her talk, but she was definitely talking about US!

Free the Curious “Hummingbirds”

As Elizabeth described, a “hummingbird” is someone who has many curiosities, but no defined passion. This kind of person takes up many interests, and gives up just as many. They float from one hobby to the next, jump from job to job, or even from one country to another – never quite settling on any one thing, or any one place.

Know any hummingbirds?

The hummingbird analogy she used resonated with me. For long, I have been frustrated with myself for not being able to settle on one “passion”. I’m interested in a little bit of this and that, but never fully, wholly absorbed in one thing – not to the extent that a highly-focused and driven person with complete, obsessive passion would.

I wonder how much more successful I could have been with my creative ventures if I’d been really serious about one thing. I grieve for a lack of focus and determination towards a single pursuit.

“I could have been something! I could have done more! If only I knew what the heck it was I really, truly wanted to do”. Essentially, it’s what I was talking about in this post.

I’m not alone. Many of my ADD clients have the same regret.

We want to know why we can’t find that one thing that lights up our entire world, keeps us hooked and committed to living out our purpose.

Why can’t I settle on one thing? Why don’t I finish anything? What’s the point in trying, when I’ll only get bored and quit?”

There is a point, a really beautiful point. I can’t say it any more eloquently than an esteemed author could so I’ll quote Elizabeth directly:

Hummingbirds spends their lives doing it very differently. They move from tree to tree, from flower to flower, from field to field, trying this, trying that. Two things happen. They create incredibly rich, complex lives for themselves. And they also end up cross-pollinating the world. That is the service that you do if you are a hummingbird person … you’re perspective ends up keeping the entire culture aerated, mixed up, open to the new and fresh. And if that is how you are constructed by your Divine Maker then that is how we need you to be. You just keep doing that. That is what the path is that you’re supposed to lead.

Isn’t that a stunning way of looking at it?

We tend to think that our life’s purpose is mapped out by a single path. If we don’t find that path, or we’re never really sure that the road we travel is the one we’re meant to be on, or even want to be on – then we’re truly lost.

But for some of us, our purpose is not a single path but many interweaving paths, going in all sorts of directions. We seldom end up where we intended to go, but the journey is breath-taking when you allow yourself to really enjoy it.

Free your hummingbird. Floating around from one thing to another, then to another and another… IS its purpose.   


Curiosity, Creativity & Having a Kick Ass Day


creativity-impulsivityYou remember (last post) when we talked about curiosity being one of your biggest assets? I have more to say about that.

I forgot to mention that you have another big asset at your disposal: creativity. Before you shush me with a modest “But I’m not creative!”, let me pre-empt you. You most certainly ARE creative (infinity, no return!).

We all have the capacity for creativity. It’s not an innate skill blessed on an auspicious few. It’s a seed implanted at birth, but one you must cultivate in order to experience its rewards.

Our Best Assets are Already at Our Disposal

ADDers tend to be a highly creative bunch. As we already know, we are also incredibly curious. Lucky for us, creativity and curiosity go really well together, like fried fish and tartar sauce. When you use them together deliberately – the results can be transformative (like… fried fish with tartar sauce!).

I’m really intrigued by the way ADD can actually benefit you and, at the same time, benefit itself. Creativity and curiosity can help you do amazing things in life (see: Richard Branson or Diana Gabaldon). They can also help you do amazing things with your ADHD challenges. It’s like using a sneeze to cure the sniffles.

Getting curious about your ADHD mind and your ADHD life helps you unravel the mysteries of those two things and make them infinitely better. Add an ounce or two of creativity and voila! You have concocted a recipe for an extraordinary life.

Which of These Two Worlds Do You Like Better?

Let me whisk you away for a moment, to a land not-so-far-away – the land of the Ordinary Life. In this place, you get up and go to work, keep your nose to the grind, then come home to the same old thing – whatever that thing is for you. Most days are okay, perhaps even fun once in a while, but on the whole they are rather ordinary. Other days are not so okay. You’re late, you forget your mother’s birthday or argue with your spouse then make up (or out – depending on how serious the argument was). The particulars may change from day to day, but like most human genomes, you approach those particulars the same way every time.

Now imagine, if you will, an entirely different land: one much like the other, but different. It’s called the land of the Kick Ass Day. In this place you engage with your life, and whatever happens in it, with curiosity. You approach life with wonder and awe, keeping your eyes open for new details or different lenses through which to view it. You become a detective in your own life – with a widened perspective that sees old situations with fresh eyes and acute inquisitiveness.

And then seeing your life from this novel vantage point, you allow the messiness of your creative mind to seep through and shine “in a good way”. Curiosity lends to experimentation, the ultimate playground of creativity. You try out a new way of being or interacting with your life, not because you want fix things, but because you are truly curious about seeing what happens. Will it work? Will it not? I don’t know, but let’s see!

Curious & Creative Parenting

Here’s an example. My kids arguing drives me crazy. Usually, I end up telling them off or making idle threats about early bedtimes or sanctioning their technology. But then I started to get curious.

What is it that makes them argue? How do they argue? I wonder, what is each one thinking and feeling as they are arguing? What does their arguing-style say about each of their personalities? When do they tend to argue? When they’re tired? When they’re hungry? When they’re breathing? What is the benefit of arguing? Is it safe practice for real-world skills – to argue with a sibling rather than a friend or a teacher?

Then I got curious about my role in their arguing.

Do I intervene? At what point? What happens if I wait a bit longer before I intervene? What happens if I don’t get involved at all? How do they react? What if I react to their fighting in a completely different way – how does that affect them? How does it change their arguing?

Even if I never figured out the answers to those questions, do you know what I did do? I stopped the cycle of knee-jerk reacting. Instead of reacting to their fighting, only to result in pleads to each’s defense, ensuing in me telling them off some more and everybody being ticked off…

I took a step back. I diffused my emotion. I chose my reaction. And then I got creative. If the fighting doesn’t stop on its own, I get serious. Ten minutes on the couch for each of them watching… the Legislature Channel. A bunch of politicians, arguing over their agenda like overgrown children. Boring suits, using big words, acting like imbeciles. If they keep arguing, that’s what they’ll grow up to be – at least that’s what I want them to think.

My brother-in-law has an even more creative solution to sibling rivalry. It’s called The Love Shirt. One of his old t-shirts with a giant heart painted on it, that both kids must wear in tandem while they hold hands and recite love declarations to each other (they’re 7 and 10). The shirt does not come off until they’ve done it.

Do any of these children stop arguing from then-on-in? Of course not! But it disrupts the cycle and lightens the mood. And it’s funny – there’s something to be said for that. We get to walk away from the situation feeling pretty good about how we handled it, because we didn’t do the same old thing: the shouting-empty threat-crying cycle. It makes you feel like a creative parent.

Curious mindsets open the door to creative solutions.

Curious & Creative Relationships

What happens if you DON’T argue about “that thing” you always argue about? What happens if you do something completely unexpected, like admit to being wrong, or bringing home flowers, or picking up your underwear off the floor?

What if you acted curiously and creatively even without an impasse? What if you joined your spouse watching football on TV or made her breakfast in bed? What if… the possibilities were endless when we get curious and creative?

Curious & Creative Life

Imagine you approached everything in life with curiosity and creativity? How could you make house cleaning more fun? Relationships more interesting? Your drive to work more inspiring?

I’m not saying that you can solve every dilemma this way. But I am saying this:

You can certainly make most things in your life better by changing the stance you take when you deal with them.

It’s certainly an experiment worth trying. Remember: the ADHD brain is built on curiosity, expressed through creativity, and is driven towards fun and novelty. You have the power to put yourself into that mindset – any time you choose.

Life can never be perfect, but it can be better.

Indulging your creativity and curiosity will go a lot further towards giving you a Kick Ass Day then doing the same old thing will.


The Curiosity Prescription for ADHD


It may have killed the cat, but for your ADD – curiosity might just be your biggest asset.

ADDers are highly distractible and we consider this a bad thing. It’s not. Not totally, anyway. Ned Hallowell illuminates the positive side of distractibility: it’s just a manifestation of “turbocharged curiosity”.

“Turbocharged curiosity” is the thing that makes us creative. It fuels innovation. It’s a pre-cursor to effective problem-solving. Improvements in products, services or systems only come about because somebody got curious about how things could be better. Curiosity, in many ways, makes the world a better place.

At the same time, it lends to distractions. We get distracted because we are curious – about more things than we can possibly pay attention to at one time. So we vacillate from one thing to another, satiating inquisitiveness but sabotaging productivity and efficiency in the process.

We can’t filter or shut off our curiosity just because it’s not productive. But curiosity can actually be productive, if you use it to your advantage. ADD is unlike most other disorders in this respect. Its traits can actually help you when you employ them deliberately, with awareness and intention.

Think about it. Much of our dysfunction exists only because we were not aware ADD in action until it was too late. We didn’t see ourselves getting distracted when we were supposed to be working. We failed to notice we were talking too much when we should have been listening. We didn’t see ourselves get sucked into the maelstrom of doing “just-one-more-thing”, when we should have been heading out the door – like, ten minutes ago!

How do these things happen right beneath our noses? How is it that we are always off-task, inattentive or late? And more importantly, how do we change these patterns? Curiosity discovers solutions, and not always the obvious ones.

Reverse-engineering the problem, it asks:

  • What made me do x, y, or z?
  • What was going through my mind when I said/did/felt that?
  • What was my intention? What got in between my intention and my actions?

The best thing you can do for your ADD mind is to get curious about how your ADD mind works. You experience the world, in fact – your entire life – through your mind. That makes your mind the most fascinating place in this universe.

The more you ask yourself curious questions, the more apparent solutions will become.

Olivia was someone who, despite her best intentions, could not get her workspace organized. Every once in a while she would blitz it, doing a massive clear-out of the collected debris and carefully organizing the rest into piles categorized by urgency and priority.

It never lasted more than a week. Truth be told, there was nothing wrong with the systems she developed to get herself organized, except for one thing: she never used them.

Then, she got curious. She asked herself some pretty investigative questions. Like – why did she think she needed to get organized in the first place? What were her magical beliefs about organization and what it might do for her? What was her pursuit of getting organized “costing” her, compared the costs of things staying just as they were? And if organization really was so important, why didn’t she use the systems she created?

In the end, it turned out that organization wasn’t as big of a priority as she initially thought. Olivia was good at what she did (graphic design) and the state of her workspace, while inconvenient and sometimes inefficient, did not stop her from doing her job well. She thought she should be better-organized because it was an obscure ideal she held, rather than an integral part of her job. Curiosity helped her let it go.

Adam had the exact same problem. However, when Adam got curious, he noticed something completely different. Adam had the ability to keep his workspace organized and efficient at times, apart from when he was interrupted in the middle of a task. Being the Managing Director of a small organization – these interruptions tended to happen a lot, which meant his desktop would frequently be in a disarray of half-completed tasks. If he had not got curious about this dilemma, he would have continued to assert new strategies for “filing and filtering” his workspace, rather than dealing with the real issue at hand – the constant interruptions.

Same problem, but different people with different solutions. Common sense says “This is the best way to do it”. Curiosity asks “What’s my best way of doing it?”

Distractibility may be caused by insatiable curiosity, but if you use that insatiable curiosity to manage your distractions, you have effectively turned your ADD inside out and used its strengths against its own deficits.

And while it may have killed the cat, curiosity just might have saved it too.