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Welcome to episode 216 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 1 of a discussion with Kristen Carder, talking through her early life and education, her ADHD diagnosis and impact, and lessons learned in starting and stopping a successful business as a person with ADHD.
Original Recording Date: 01-16-2023
Topics – Meet Kristen Carder, The Early Years, ADHD in the Family, Detecting and Diagnosing ADHD, More than Just Personality Traits, Something to Prove, Accountable for Maintaining the Culture, Transition to CEO
4:21 – Meet Kristen Carder
- Kristen Carder is a complete ADHD nerd and says she is obsessed with ADHD and how it affects adults. Kristen has been studying ADHD for about 10 years and has worked exclusively with adults with ADHD for the last 4 years.
- Kristen hosts a weekly podcast (called the I Have ADHD Podcast) and also has a coaching program through which she supports adults with ADHD around the world. Both of these bring Kristen a great deal of joy.
5:12 – The Early Years
- School was challenging for Kristen as a kid who never could seem to live up to her potential (often a hallmark trait of those folks with ADHD).
- Kristen also had a hard time thinking about the future and picturing what it might be like. It was hard for her to create a picture of what she wanted to do.
- This is something ADHDers struggle with across the board due to challenges with nonverbal working memory (the "mind’s eye"), a very deficient executive function for this population of individuals.
- As a result, Kristen went to the same college her father and grandmother attended (thinking that was something she should do). She studied music because she was good at it, beginning with music education.
- She never pictured herself teaching in a classroom, nor did she visit a classroom outside of the one she attended.
- She struggled to see herself doing anything but knew she was good at music and that generations of family members had attended this college. Kristen ended her time in college with a vocal performance degree.
- Rather than build her self esteem by focusing the study in an area of strength, Kristen thinks having to perform in front of critical people constantly may have wrecked her self-esteem in a lot of ways. Kristen says you’re always getting negative feedback on what to improve.
- Unless you’re the star of the music program (which Kristen was not, claiming to be merely a competent singer), it became a constant need for Kristen to prove herself.
- The college experience did help Kristen start her entrepreneurial journey. She knew coming out of college that she wanted to teach voice and piano lessons.
- This laid the foundation of entrepreneurship and helping people one on one (including teaching them how to get from point A to point B).
- It was important for Kristen to start with something she was good at and layer in things she didn’t know she was good at like teaching, communicating, encouraging, and helping people to realize who they wanted to be.
- In college Kristen had been working 1-1 with students in a tutoring capacity. She knew she was good at that. Then she built up the music skills, so she knew she was good at that too. Kristen then put the two together and created her own business in that way.
- Looking back, Kristen says she is not sure how the 23-year-old version of herself was able to do that. At the time she was very low functioning.
- Kristen came out of college depressed, a little bit traumatized from the program, and had just planned a wedding. As a person with ADHD herself and parents with ADHD, she came out of college very low functioning and started watching a lot of daytime television.
- She was still able to get a couple of students on her own. She is very good at teaching, encouraging, and also good at music. Her students loved her.
- Organically this grew into a music studio and Kristen seeing 25 students per week within a year or two.
10:06 – ADHD in the Family
- Kristen’s dad was diagnosed with ADHD in his 40s (when she was in high school). Her dad began to nag her and say that he saw this present in her as well.
- Kristen was 16 years old around this time and didn’t put a lot of stock in what her dad said.
- It was not until Kristen was in college getting As and Fs (nothing in between), struggling with binge eating, struggling with depression, struggling with anxiety, struggling with maintaining life…that she finally called her mom stating she was ready to see if ADHD was a thing for her.
- Kristen was diagnosed right away and medicated right away.
- This was extremely helpful, and her grades immediately jumped to As and Bs exclusively. Previous to this Kristen was used to always having that one class in which she struggled or that she didn’t care about, feeling that the gap was now starting to be closed. This experience was validating and a confidence boost.
12:03 – Detecting and Diagnosing ADHD
- When people experience something similar to Kristen’s situation, what do they do?
- Kristen tells us it depends on the family and their own level of cognitive functioning.
- As a parent, if you have a child with ADHD it is very likely that you or your partner have ADHD. It can be a challenge as a parent to know what to do if you also have undiagnosed ADHD.
- ADHD impacts executive functioning, and there is a great deal of executive functioning in just figuring out what to do.
- You’ll have to do some Google searches and make some phone calls (which is very difficult for the person with ADHD).
- Luckily there is a great deal of information out there right now. It’s very trendy at present (as of this recording).
- Being trendy on one hand is a good thing (i.e. many people who never knew they had ADHD are looking at TikTok videos and thinking "this sounds like me"). On the other hand it may also be a little detrimental that ADHD is trendy. In general the availability of so much information is a good thing.
- For parents who suspect your child has ADHD, a great place to start is with your child’s pediatrician.
- If your child’s pediatrician dismisses it another place to go to is your child’s teacher.
- If both dismiss it, stick to your gut instinct because as the parent you know your kiddo the best. Kristen says at this point look for a psychologist who does independent educational evaluations.
- If you’re an adult who suspects you have ADHD, starting with your family doctor is a great place to go.
- If you have a good job, a good family, and a good life they will probably dismiss it.
- If you are a person of color they will likely dismiss it.
- If you are a woman they will likely dismiss it.
- It is very important to do some research on your own. Kristen says Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Russell Barkley, PhD.
- The author walks you through diagnostic criteria, what to say to your doctor / how to talk to someone, etc.
- There is a list of symptoms and also a list of characteristics (i.e. things people with ADHD struggle with).
- Kristen spent an afternoon one time going through this book and marking the things she struggled with in childhood, as an adult, and what she struggles with now.
- Going into your doctor’s appointment with some information can be very helpful. Kristen has a list of symptoms she compiled from Dr. Barkley, Dr. Tuckman, Dr. Ramsey, and many others in ADHD psychology on her website.
- For example, Kristen shares things like you may struggle with impulsivity and explains what it means (i.e. you make rash decisions, jump to conclusions, are very impatient, hate waiting in line, etc.).
- Being able to see how a symptom / characteristic plays out in your life can be really helpful.
- Nick says this jives with what Jon Towles shared in Episode 129 and Episode 130 regarding Jon’s diagnosis and journey.
- Jon was diagnosed as a kid, and as an adult he has become quite the advocate for people with ADHD.
16:29 – Reacting to a Diagnosis
- For Kristen, an ADHD was very validating. All of the things she hated about herself were looked at in a new light (i.e. reasons for things being so hard are because of ADHD).
- As she coaches clients of different ages and races all over the world, Kristen notices many people experience the diagnosis with grief:
- "If I had only known sooner…"
- "If I had only figured this out earlier…"
- "Why didn’t anyone pursue this? Why didn’t my parents or my teachers notice?"
- "Why has it taken until my 30s / 40s / 50s / 60s / 70s to be diagnosed?" Yes, Kristen has worked with people who were diagnosed in their 70s.
- Imagine getting the diagnosis and going through all of the different memories of job loss, relationships severed, debt accumulated, etc. that come up. You might start to think if you had been diagnosed sooner maybe those things would not have happened.
- Much of the work Kristen does with people having ADHD is related to helping them process whatever may have come up for them upon diagnosis.
- She teaches people to honor whatever comes up for them (grief, etc.) to help that person move forward. One person may experience validation and grief. Another may experience grief and regret. We each get to have a different reaction and experience.
- If you are tethered to anger, resentment, regret, and grief it will be difficult to move forward with any type of change. Some time must be spent honoring and healing.
- Nick can see how someone could get the diagnosis and then do a "loss inventory" (almost like the flip side of seeing your wins after a big achievement.
19:49 – More than Just Personality Traits
- "When I was medicated, it was very helpful, but pills don’t teach skills." – Kristen Carder on receiving medication for ADHD shortly after her diagnosis
- Kristen had grown up in what she would call a very chaotic, ADHD family.
- She was never taught how to arrive somewhere on time.
- She was never taught how to gather everything needed before leaving the house.
- She was never taught how to keep a planner.
- Her parents may have attempted to teach Kristen some of these skills, but she definitely had not mastered them. That help came when she married a very neurotypical, gentle, safe man.
- Kristen’s husband taught her to always put her keys in the same spot when she got home, for example. Previous to this she had been guilty of constantly losing basic things and never really feeling like she was prepared.
- Kristen says in the first couple years of their marriage her husband helped her regulate her nervous system and taught her some very basic things (i.e. getting places 10 minutes early to account for time needed to walk inside instead of getting there right when things start).
- The basic skills were taught to Kristen by her husband, and years later she found coaching. As a result she was able to take ownership of her own thoughts and emotions and begin to set goals and make changes. That along with medication has allowed Kristen to evolve into a fully formed adult:
- Somoene who can set goals and reach them
- Someone who can prioritize and plan, spending time on the things that are truly important instead of dividing her time across a million things and not really being present anywhere.
- Coaching got Kristen to that next level.
- Kristen’s husband didn’t have any kind of ADHD specialization. In fact, neither she nor her husband attributed some of the things they saw in Kristen to ADHD.
- At the time Kristen knew so little about ADHD she attributed much of this to her personality.
- She graduated from college in May as a 23-year-old, and was married in August of the same year.
- The ADHD brain’s frontal lobe is about 30% behind developmentally and can take until someone is in their 30s to function at the same level as everyone else. The frontal lobe is your "adulting" zone (i.e. making decisions, plan, prioritize, set goals and achieve them, etc.).
- The characteristics Kristen was exhibiting were NOT her personality after all.
- Now that Kristen is "the real me" as she calls it, she is still fun but likes to be places on time, get things accomplished, have things in proper order, etc. During the time we’re discussing here her nervous system was built for chaos.
- Kristen’s husband taught her how to clean, that dishes should be done right after dinner, and other basic things.
- "Later on when I was researching ADHD in my early 30s, I learned, oh, this isn’t my personality. These are all symptoms of ADHD. But nobody ever told me that." – Kristen Carder
- Kristen says there is no pamphlet you get when diagnosed with ADHD that tells you all this. Most clinicians don’t even know that much about ADHD (i.e. maybe have only taken a course on it). It’s not something people know much about.
- When Kristen was diagnosed and handed a stimulant medication she was very grateful but did not know ADHD affected so many areas of her life. It affects all areas of your life from the boardroom to the bedroom and everything in between. She wishes clinicians would tell people this information but feels they made not know it themselves.
- Nick says this is analagous to the primary care physician we visit who didn’t specialize in nutrition. There’s only so much guidance they can provide in certain areas.
- On her podcast, Kristen had her husband Greg guest to talk about what it was like being married to someone with ADHD. You can find them here:
27:25 – Something to Prove
- Kristen for the most part is very conscious about work. When she did tutoring, she worked very hard to arrive on time and to have it together.
- By this time she knew herself pretty well and that she would have to work pretty hard to get places on time.
- Work is the one place she would arrive on time probably 9 out of 10 times, even as a college kid.
- Kristen says there’s a hierarchy in her brain where she can get to work on time but won’t be to church on time.
- If someone is paying Kristen to show up (like she would do for her FOCUSED coaching program clients), she will show up on time. If she is paying someone to show up on time she is always late.
- Kristen is notoriously late for meetings with her assistant and her team.
- Kristen says her brain knows what is important and will only consent to arriving on time for things in that top tier bracket and embraces this. She doesn’t care as much about things in the lower tiers almost like capacity is full.
- Kristen felt like she had a lot to prove with the tutoring business and that she needed to prove herself.
- It was a brick and mortar business in her town with online delivery not really being an option for the service she intended to deliver.
- Kristen would dress up (i.e. get fancy and wear a blazer perhaps) and arrive on time.
- Kristen feels she did prove herself and is grateful for this time in her life when she could start something from the ground up and run a successful company.
- Previous to this Kristen had not taken any courses on entrepreneurship. She learned by doing. Any time Kristen hit a wall or ran into a new problem, she would get what she needed to solve it.
- This experience also taught her how to lead a team. By the time she left she had 6-7 part time employees.
- Looking back it seems like the right move not to have taken courses. Kristen moved through the problems systematically and figured things out along the way, seeking out help and more information as needed.
- Did asking her mom for help and getting the diagnosis of ADHD make it easier for Kristen to ask for help when / after starting a business?
- There was a family characteristic passed down of "how hard can it be" that Kristen adopted going into this. "I’ll figure it out. It’s fine."
- Kristen has learned to temper this mindset a little over time, but back then she had been taught that she could figure it out and didn’t even consider asking for help (which may have been a little egotistical).
- Kristen had an accountant and a lawyer at the time and would always hire and surround herself with people smarter than her.
- Kristen mentions hiring people with education degrees and psychology degrees, for example.
- The attitude / mindset above has served Kristen well and only causes challenges once in a while.
- Nick says you need confidence to excel of course, but it’s not like Kristen quit her job and decided to start a business without investing in the right kind of help (lawyer, accountant, etc.). It wasn’t a blind hope without research behind it.
- A strong value of Kristen’s in grounding herself with people who know more than her.
- Kristen has a good sense and can get a lot accomplished but always wants to be surrounded by people who are experts and who make up for Kristen’s weaknesses.
- Kristen knows where her weaknesses are and is not ashamed of it. She solves for it by surrounding herself with people who make up for that.
- Nick says many people do not want their weaknesses exposed because it puts them in an uncomfortable spot.
- One of Kristen’s strengths is being very in tune with who she is and where she is weak, and she is not ashamed of it.
- Kristen coaches so many people who are ashamed of their weaknesses. She tries to look at the situation for herself logically.
- "I have some really amazing strengths and some very stark obvious weaknesses, and I am both. That’s what makes me a human." – Kristen Carder
- In light of running a successful business, Kristen thinks about how to solve for the weaknesses. One of the ways Kristen gives as an illustration of this is paying people to hold her accountable for things she does not like doing but needs to do. Listen to her story about it.
35:26 – Accountable for Maintaining the Culture
- Kristen’s tutoring business was profitable enough to be able to rent without a loan.
- When she got the lease for the space, Kristen was very insecure and nervous. She made her lawyer, accountant, and realtor all read over the agreement (which was a commitment of 2-3 years).
- As an adult with ADHD, committing to the future that you can barely picture is very difficult.
- "I don’t have a beautiful vision for that future, but I’m going to make a 2 year commitment to it? Is that really what we’re asking ourselves to do right now?" – Kristen Carder
- Kristen went through this process with people who were experts in the field because she was scared of signing the lease.
- Kristen had to learn how to hire the right people and how to manage them.
- The most important skill Kristen had to learn was direct, assertive communication and immediate feedback.
- Give people feedback in real-time without letting it fester and lead to resentment.
- This is something Kristen learned and implemented right away. Her employees were working with young children and teenagers. The way employees spoke to the kids and interacted with the kids was important.
- Kristen knew the culture she wanted to create. Kristen knew that people loved working with her, and she was kind and encouraging but also firm in pushing people to their limits in a safe way.
- She wanted to teach her employees the same thing, and it turns out this was more of an art than a science.
- Kristen tried to teach it and eventually learned how to hire for it.
- Instead of hiring a nice person with an education degree, she began to hire people who had more of a coach-like personality who could be encouraging but firm.
- Hiring and firing was something Kristen learned and hated. She still hates it.
- While not fun, learning how to fire quickly without letting things go on really helped Kristen to create a healthy culture and a healthy business.
- If the person was consistently not meeting goals, it was not a good fit.
- "When you make your first hire, when you interview people for the first time, that’s on the job training. You can read about it in a book, but really just doing it and figuring out as you’re going has been the way that I learn best in every aspect of my life." – Kristen Carder
- This includes how to hire, how to fire, how to give someone feedback in a review, and how to make sure you’re paying well enough that people feel valued (all things important to Kristen).
- Looking back on it, Kristen realizes she learned a lot from this experience.
- Nick says if you’re not a culture fit, you can’t force it.
- When we’re building companies and there is a hole which needs filling, Kristen says there can be a desperation to fill the hole (i.e. a warm body who can do the work).
- Kristen found herself hiring too fast just to fill the gap quickly and later realized it was a mistake.
- In the long run the quick fix is not the best solution. Waiting for the culture fit serves the overall company so much better.
- Thinking back to when she closed out her end of the business and sold it, her team was the cream of the crop. The team was kind, were amazing with the students, and they really got the job done in a beautiful way. Kristen says reflecting on this is really encouraging.
- Kristen hated the conversations with the team about closing. She had to inform them that she would be transitioning out of Beyond Tutoring and into full time coaching. The team loved working for Kristen and was very sad to heat the news.
- They had a great, great culture by the time Beyond Tutoring was ready to close (6-7 part time employees). Kristen had also been a part time employee.
- It was a great team, a great culture, and a great location. That’s what made it so hard to close.
- Does the ADHD brain handle this closing of a business different than a neurotypical brain might?
- "So hard…it’s so hard to end something that’s working…to do something that you think might be a better fit for you. But you’re not sure…." – Kristen Carter
- The ADHD brain really loves novelty (the new), and there is a huge amount of dopamine involved In starting something new.
- This actually held Kristen back from going full on into coaching. She didn’t want it to just be an ADHD decision. Kristen wanted it to be logical, sensible, well thought out, and to not do it on some kind of whim.
- "We’re great problem solvers. We’re great at getting things started. We struggle to maintain." – Kristen Carder, speaking to challenges and struggles for the ADHD brain
- Many ADHers want to start, start, start. It’s the long term follow through where they struggle.
44:32 – Transition to CEO
Around the time she was pregnant with her 3rd kiddo, Kristen realized it was not sustainable for her to be the one working with students at Beyond Tutoring.
Kristen had other people working with students during this time. It was not just her, but she was still heavily involved with student sessions.
Kristen felt a lot of pressure to grow her family’s financial future as a mom of 3 boys and being married to a pastor and help carry that load. She felt the financial future of her family rested on her shoulders.
- Kristen knew this was not sustainable and decided to work her way out of seeing students and transition into more of a CEO role. Kristen did managing, marketing (ensuring high demand for the services offered), and the hiring / firing / leading of the team.
- Kristen feels she transitioned during this time to team leader. Rather than still being a member of the team, she communicated it was no longer her job to work with students but to…
- Make sure they were getting a lot of business in the door
- Make sure the team was doing their jobs well
- Make sure she was talking with parents and writing reports
- Make sure everyone was happy
- "Why am I sitting here working with this student when there’s so much admin that needs to be done? The efficiency of it no longer made sense." – Kristen Carder
- When the thought became pervasive Kristen realized she needed to be paying someone to work with students so she could go do the administrative work and get clients in the door.
- Getting clients in the door is not easy.
- If Kristen could go back she feels she would do a lot of things differently, including pricing. Kristen feels she was priced too high.
Mentioned in the outro
- John mentioned that hyperactivity and hyperfocus are coping mechanisms for ADHD and that we often overemphasize the hyperactivity portion.
- Nick is reminded of coping mechanisms from our discussions of burnout with Cait Donovan from Episode 214 and Episode 215.
Contact us if you need help on the journey, and be sure to check out the Nerd Journey Podcast Knowledge Graph.
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