I’ve just wrapped up my doctorate. That’s right. I am finally Dr. Goad. This realization that I have completed my higher education (in the formal sense of course) is one revelation that got me thinking about where I am and how I got here. I wanted to take a moment to encourage others who have attention deficit. You too CAN do this. And if you want to do this, you SHOULD go for it!
Part of the reason for the completion of my doctorate was of course a need for a sense of accomplishment or to finish what I started. The grown up Chester has experienced some successes, but I felt I owed it to that awkward Chester kid who attended elementary and high school in the mountains of Tennessee to finish my doctorate and earn a title other than “clown” or “smart alec”. In some ways, completion of my doctorate was a way to prove a point to many people who never quite understood me, but more importantly to prove to myself, that regardless what that “Chester kid” thought of himself growing up, he had the ability to succeed all along, and he never needed a title to be respected. He just earned one anyway,…because he could.
While I love organization today and could not get by without it, as a young person, organization was not my thing. I was one of the kids whose desk was crammed full of papers, broken or chewed up pencils, and dried up apples or banana peels. My notebooks would eventually become tightly bound mounds of scribbled classwork and unfinished homework that could explode any moment. My favorite was a green trapper keeper with an extra expandable pocket. It too eventually gave way.
At one point in elementary school I even became a duffel bag carrier. Anyone who is an educator or parent of a kid with attention deficit knows what that means. The duffel bag becomes a surrogate storage unit once the desk and the locker are filled to capacity—For the record, backpacks are wholly impractical to duffel bag carriers. I stopped carrying duffel bags however when I realized one could in fact LOSE a whole duffel bag filled with ALL of one’s belongings, textbooks etc. not to mention one’s reputation for merely carrying a duffel bag.
My childhood knack for oversight and forgetting is well-documented in years of class photos beginning with kindergarten. In almost every group shot, I am the one standing somewhere toward the middle as each year I jockeyed for a center position for maximum attention. I am most noticeable because I’m the kid in the middle with my zipper down. There, I said it. I even specifically remember my mom yelling to me as I boarded the bus to please be sure and check my zipper before the picture!
Every single one of my report cards from my early grades included, “Talks too much!” “Fidgets,” “Cannot sit still.” I remember becoming so frustrated and overwhelmed once that I actually turned my desk over. That was the last time I would ever do that. The mere shock and awe expressed by my classmates forever sealed such behavior as an unacceptable coping mechanism. You see, I had sought any opportunity to gain attention as a means to deflect my distraction and learning difficulties, and I quickly realized that a desperate move like turning my desk over would send me down the wrong path and quickly evaporate the friendship pool I had worked too hard to compile.
Even as an adolescent, my teachers would say, “Chester’s great…but he seems to stay distracted”. I painfully remember a teacher in the sixth grade proclaiming that I had become a bit of a “smart alec”. I had learned to deal with my attention deficit by becoming the funny guy and had mastered a level of sarcasm many true smart alecs could only ever wish to achieve. I never made stellar grades; they were almost always just average (except math which could dip below average or worse at times). The title of “Class Clown” was officially bestowed on me by my peers my senior year in high school. And while I enjoyed the notoriety at the time, I’ve come to realize that my antics back then, were often the result of a mass cover-up of a kid who had an intrinsic desire to succeed academically but often found it incredibly difficult to show others that I could. The confines of the traditional classroom were not ideal for me, but I made it work as best I could and managed to enjoy plenty of friendships with classmates and teachers.
Fast forward to 2013, I was recently honored with the title “Outstanding Alumnus”. Last year, I was selected for the highest award in my profession by my peers in Tennessee. And just two weeks ago, I finally earned my doctorate. ANY person with attention deficit can do these things and more. As a professional in the field of education, with a background in special education, and as someone who serves students with disabilities, I am telling you, YOU CAN DO THIS! I’ve come to realize that what I thought was “wrong” with me back then, has only served to benefit me now. My habit of talking a lot (and to anyone who would listen) has made me a better conversationalist and has helped me appreciate diversity. I still deal with conflicts with a healthy dose of humor, but others now refer to that as “mastering negotiation and people skills” and “the ability to diffuse conflict”. I have also retained my natural tendencies toward sarcasm but I’ve refined (and restrained) that and my sarcasm is often referred to as “refreshingly honest”, “professionally direct” and “not afraid to address problems”.
The coolest thing about all that is I am no longer called, “clown” or “smart-alec”, I’m called, “Doctor”. –And if you read that with a touch of sarcasm, it’s ok!
I write all of this is to say, if you are a student with attention deficit, you possess a “brightness”, and a creativity that many other people have never tapped into. Use that “never-ending motor” your teachers, doctors, and counselors often talk or complain about and drive yourself to succeed, whether it’s for your doctorate, a career in professional sports, an Olympic medal or the Pulitzer prize or just finding a good job doing something you love! Oh, and by the way, people are people, you do not need a title to be special or to be loved or accepted. You are amazing. Learn to appreciate everything about yourself, and learn to appreciate others.
Dr. Chester Goad
(Dr. Chester Goad is founder of The Edventurist blog, an adult living with ADD, a university administrator, writer, speaker, and disability advocate, who is committed to making life better and more fun for people with attention deficit and dyslexia. He is a licensed teacher, and former school principal. He also likes pistachios. These opinions are his own, and he has a lot of them. Followers of the Edventurist Blog, should always read with tongue in cheek.)