Sometimes life makes us an expert in things we never expected. For Tracy Otsuka, it all began with her son’s ADHD diagnosis at 12 years old. When the psychologist advised Tracy to reduce her son’s expectations for his life, she fired the psychologist!
8 months later, Tracy herself was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. With this new understanding of her own brain, and her son’s, she committed to learning everything she could about what ADHD actually looks like in the real world. Now, with her podcast and master class, Tracy leads brilliant, driven, high-ability ADHD women to see their symptoms as more positive than negative.
Research shows that people with ADHD are more likely to become, and might make better entrepreneurs. I am so excited to learn more about this area, and I know Tracy is ready to share strategies and advice for leveraging ADHD as a positive in your entrepreneurial journey. Let’s dive into the neurodivergent brain with Tracy Otsuka.
Becoming an ADHD Expert
Tracy is not a doctor, but life made her an expert in ADHD when her son was diagnosed. As she started reading more and more about it, at first, Tracy didn’t see herself in her son. She explained, “I knew that I did have to work harder than everyone else in school, but I got through college. I got through law school, I got through graduate law school. I practiced for five years as an attorney.”
It took her eight months to figure out that what she was experiencing with her own life and brain was in fact ADHD. She learned that ADHD was genetic, and it was likely that her son got it from her.
As she read more about the diagnosis, Tracy was discouraged by all of the negative information surrounding ADHD. It was never presented as a strength. She always seeks the silver lining in life, and Tracy felt there had to be one for this diagnosis. That’s when she realized so many great minds, so many high-achieving individuals have ADHD. She remembers thinking, “I’m sorry, we’ve got this ADHD thing all wrong!”
Tracy began developing a community around her mission to recognize and celebrate ADHD as a strength. Now she is an ADHD coach and with her online programs she helps reduce shame around ADHD. Tracy is also the host of her podcast called ADHD for Badass Women. “It just kind of blew up and pretty darn quickly,” she said.
What is ADHD?
The National Institute of health, the American Medical Association, the U.S. Surgeons General, the American Association of Psychiatry, the U.S. Department of Education, they all state that ADHD is a neuro-biological condition, and it’s as heritable as height. Tracy told me that ADHD affects 5-10% of children and 4% of adults.
She explained that if you have ADHD, “You may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors, and/or you may be overly active. No one really knows exactly what causes ADHD for certain, but the belief is that our brains don’t get enough of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is what allows us to regulate emotions. It affects emotional motivation and it plays havoc with our executive functions and executive functions are things like our ability to plan, schedule, organize, and have a sense of time.”
Many individuals with ADHD function like a lightswitch. Tracy explained, “We are either utterly obsessed or completely uninterested. That said, every person with ADHD has an area of total brilliance and then other areas where they’re totally uninterested and they can’t even be bothered.”
Tracy broke down the acronym, ADHD — Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but explained that it’s often not a deficit of attention, it’s a surplus. Hyperactivity, especially in adult women, actually looks more like inattentiveness. Finally, Tracy said, “I don’t believe it’s a disorder at all. I call it a condition. What I often say is we’re basically Macs in a Windows driven world.”
ADHD and Adult Women
When many people think of ADHD, they picture a young child, usually a boy, with difficulty focusing in the classroom who is constantly distracted. That’s because most of the ADHD research is conducted on white prepubescent boys. Women are generally excluded from the research, simply, because it’s too hard. Hormones and menstruation present too many additional factors to effectively study ADHD in women.
Tracy shared what she’s learned from the studies that do exist, and from her own experience. She explained, “ADHD can look very different in women and girls. And so if you are inattentive, you have more of that spacy-dreamy quality. So you think of the girls sitting in the back of the classroom, kind of zoning out. These women can be shy. These girls, too, they can be forgetful.”
“ADHD women they’re twice as likely to have inattentive ADHD than men,” Tracy continued. “And what happens to a lot of these women and girls is that we’re diagnosed with anxiety or depression.”
Tracy stressed the importance of medical professionals learning to recognize ADHD in women and properly diagnose them, so they can receive the proper treatment — whether that be medication, workarounds and strategies, or other methods to better manage what’s actually presenting their challenges.
ADHD and Entrepreneurship
I’ve read that a person with ADHD is more likely to become an entrepreneur. So I asked Tracy about that pairing — Why are entrepreneurship and ADHD a great match. Before she answered, she told me she was about to say something controversial.
“I believe that all entrepreneurs fall somewhere on the ADHD spectrum,” Tracy began. Entrepreneurs, for Tracy’s example, include the people who started their own businesses that are completely unique and haven’t been done before, that require a high degree of creativity to get off the ground.
“That our biggest strength as ADHD-ers is ideation. We can take all these disparate ideas and we put them together in novel and brilliant ways,” Tracy explained. “The same in attention is what is responsible for creating businesses, inventions, new forms of thought. We are spontaneous out of the box thinkers, and we don’t give up, which when you combine that with our hyper-focus means that we can achieve more.”
Productivity Advice for ADHD
I recognize that some, or even a lot of what I teach on this show, may not work for everyone. Advice isn’t universal. So Tracy walked through some productivity strategies for ADHD-ers, and explained why they’re effective.
First up, batchworking. Now this is something I teach, and what Tracy explained was that this is actually a great strategy for anyone with a hyper-focus. She shared, “The reason why batching works for the ADHD brain is we often struggle to start, but once we start we’re off to the races, because we pop into hyper-focus, if we’re in an area of interest and we can’t stop. So batching is perfect.”
What about the timer method, like the Pomodoro method that recommends working for 25 minutes and then taking a 5 minute break? “Jenna, if I stopped after 25 minutes to rest. I wouldn’t get back to working,” Tracy laughed.
Instead, Tracy uses something called a Datexx Cube. Each side is a different length timer and she uses it for tasks that she doesn’t necessarily enjoy, like long form writing. Starting is the hardest part, especially for ADHD-ers, but once she turns that cube over, the timer starts counting down immediately. It’s time for action. It removes that anxiety around starting because she’s pushed into action as the time starts ticking.
Tracy also talked about planners, and how she created her own planner (that you can DIY yourself, too) that actually helps her focus on the most important things she needs to do. Tracy explained that the key to planners comes back to the ADHD need for dopamine hits, “Remember, we are always trying to spike our own dopamine and spiking our own dopamine is what makes us feel good. You know, it’s all about the positive emotion. And when we check things off of our lists, we are spiking our own dopamine.”
More from Tracy Otsuka
“I am not saying that ADHD is a superpower. I’m not saying that at all,” Tracy continued. “What I’m saying is for every weakness, there is an opposing strength. So rather than trying to shore up our weaknesses, screw that! Focus on your strengths because that is really where you’re going to shine.”
I learned so much from Tracy, and there’s so much more in the full interview. Just hit play on the player above or find our conversation on your favorite podcast app.
Want to learn more about your ADHD brain from Tracy? Follow her at @tracyotsuka on Instagram and learn more about her courses and podcast at tracyotsuka.com.