He might never have known he had ADHD if not for pandemic-inspired time on YouTube. Here, Bryan shares his diagnosis story and talks about ADHD within his Vietnamese-American culture.
Lindsay Guentzel: (00:00)
Welcome to Refocused Together.
Brian Le: (00:20)
My name is Brian and I am a food scientist. I also am a food industry consultant and the author of a book on food science, 150 Food Science Questions Answered. And yeah, right now currently I’m just consulting for food companies, and a lot of them are startups, a lot of them are new to the space, but I’m trying to help them get to where they need to go.
Lindsay Guentzel: (00:47)
I’m your host, Lindsay Guentzel, and this is a special ADHD Awareness Month series of my podcast, Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel. If you’re a regular listener, you know that the Refocused podcast is where we change the narrative around ADHD and share the tips and tools we need to refocus and live our best lives. If you’re new here and found us because it’s ADHD Awareness Month, welcome. We are so glad you’re here and I truly hope you’ll stick around long after October ends. Now, there are parts of this ADHD journey that some of us have figured out, and there are parts that we still need help cracking. And so for ADHD Awareness Month, I’m collaborating, as always, with my partner, ADHD Online, to interview 31 people. That’s one interview for every day of the month about their own ADHD experience. We’ll hear from people who were diagnosed as kids and those diagnosed well into adulthood. We’ll talk about hyperfocus and distraction, stigma and shame, grief and acceptance and so much more.
Lindsay Guentzel: (01:58)
And we’ll see that ADHD can affect anyone, all genders, orientations, backgrounds, nationalities and cultures. And while there are differences in how we live this truth, there are also so many similarities that bring us together in community. This special project is very near and dear to my heart, and although talking to 31 different people has been a lot of talking, I’m so grateful for each person who shared their story and I’m truly forever changed by these conversations and I cannot wait for you to meet my guests and get to know them. Be sure to subscribe to Refocus with Lindsay Guentzel so that you don’t miss a single story this month.
Lindsay Guentzel: (02:49)
Today’s guest, Brian Le, was clued into a potential ADHD diagnosis after his wife, a psychotherapist gave him an ADHD questionnaire after seeing how he struggled to stay on task during the pandemic. He filled it out as honestly as possible and scored very high for ADHD tendencies. So the food scientist and author took the proper steps to make that diagnosis official. For Brian finding out he has ADHD explained so many of the frustrating work and social tendencies he’s experienced all his life. He’s struggled with deadlines, motivation, and forgetfulness and had to develop sophisticated strategies to stay on track with his academic work. Like many people with ADHD, Brian knew a normal nine to five job just wasn’t for him. So he created a consulting business where he helps companies in the food industry design, develop and market their products. It has allowed him to control his own schedule and now allows him the space he needs as he learns the ins and outs of how his brain works to optimize energy and focus.
Lindsay Guentzel: (03:58)
Today’s episode is a great conversation for anyone who has ever wanted to work for themselves, neurodivergent or not, because Brian with the help of his wife, has created a structure and boundaries that help him thrive in his work.
Lindsay Guentzel: (04:18)
I was so excited when your information came through my email because a food scientist is someone, one I’ve never spoken to even outside of this project. And so it was just so exciting to find somebody who’s like, “Yeah, I do this thing that’s completely kind of new,” and kind of very, I want to say niche. It’s a very specific realm that you work in and you do it with also having ADHD. And so I would love if you could just start by going back to the beginning, telling us a little bit about your own diagnosis and what led up to it.
Brian Le: (04:57)
Yeah, definitely. So basically pandemic hit. I was actually just graduating from my PhD and so I actually did my PhD defense, which is normally in person over Zoom. And that was a trip, but after that had a hard time finding a job, so I had been doing consulting on the side during graduate school anyway, and I thought, I told my wife like, “Hey, maybe I should just kind of jump into it and figure things out.” So I did. But then I started seeing how there was some symptoms coming up of fogginess, forgetfulness. I had a really hard time multitasking. I sometimes even forget clients. That was really bad. There were definitely some moments where I was like, “Wow, can I really do this?” Even though I was getting some traction to success. So I think out of a whim, my wife just gave me this questionnaire and she was like, “Fill out this questionnaire.”
Brian Le: (06:01)
She didn’t tell me what it was. She just was asking me the questions and I was like, “Yeah, five, five.” And then it was questions like, “How’s your attention span over time? Are you going to be able to focus on things? Are you overwhelmed? Do you feel like you have too much energy [inaudible 00:06:21]?” There’s these very specific questions and I didn’t think too much about. I thought she just pulled a questionnaire off of Buzzfeed or something. And then after she was done, she was like, “Hey, I think you have ADHD.” And she showed me what the questionnaire was and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I scored really highly on all these.” And it was so funny to me because I never in 100 years thought I had ADHD never, right? And so I was like, “Okay, this is just a questionnaire.” I probably am biased, I’m a scientist. So I just felt like I needed more evidence.
Brian Le: (06:58)
So I went to the primary care. They also gave me a questionnaire. I also scored very highly on it and they’re like, “Maybe we should take you to a psychiatrist. Let me refer you to one.” And low and behold sat, with her and she was like, “Yep, you probably have adult ADHD.” And I’m like, “Great.” And it seems like I’m of the inattentive form, which really presents itself as someone that’s very, just… That I don’t, in school I could sit down and I could do all my work, but I was all like, if you were inside my brain, I was just all these different thoughts, but you wouldn’t tell you. You wouldn’t even know. So I presented as someone that was fairly intelligent in the regular school system, but probably wasn’t paying that much attention.
Brian Le: (07:55)
So no, no one caught it. No one. And it’s not like I never went to the school counselor or anything like that, but they just thought I was really prone to interrupting the teacher or the professors even, right? I was always like, I just say what was ever in my head, I just loud it out. Many times I was… I remember being reprimanded for talking in class or saying things that are inappropriate, but I don’t know if it’s something because growing up as… So my background is Vietnamese and even though I was born here in the United States, my English wasn’t so good. It struggled a little bit because my parents spoke Vietnamese to me growing up. And so I don’t know if it was just this perception that maybe, “Oh there’s a cultural element to it,” or maybe he’s got something else going on in the family, but there’s this assumption that yeah, we’re not going to touch that with a 10 foot pole.
Brian Le: (09:01)
But it was great because I was always a good student so I passed very well. But then after I got that diagnosis I was like, “Oh my gosh, all those times. All these different events and experiences in my life, it was so easy to explain versus for a long time I had depression for a little bit and I struggled with socializing. And there was one time I got accepted to graduate school at Stanford and I was so overwhelmed that I dropped out and I was reading about some of the… Not that everyone has their own personal life and story, but people with ADHD tend to, it appears that they struggle with certain levels of academia and that sometimes it just becomes overwhelming and then there tends to be a high dropout rate.
Brian Le: (10:01)
I was reading research about ADHD and correlations between career and education goals and so on so forth. I just felt like a failure at that time. But I got back on the education pathway and luckily I met my wife who has very high executive functioning skills and so she helps me so much on all the other things that just fly by my head.
Lindsay Guentzel: (10:31)
It’s very funny that you mentioned that and how amazing for you guys to balance each other out, because I was talking with somebody else about men who are missed who fall into the inattentive type and it crosses so many different generations because we just didn’t know how it presented in so many different ways. But they talk about these men who use school as their body doubling as their structure. And then they went to college and then they met their wives and then their wives became the executive function and then they’d go into jobs where they would have secretaries who, for the most part, it’s a very predominantly female heavy “stereotype “industry. And so then they’d have these women who even if they did have ADHD, were masking it and had great coping mechanisms. And so you’re just this entire structure of life and it’s not until they retire and that system’s gone that they go, “Oh, what was holding this up all the time?”
Brian Le: (11:33)
Right. No, absolutely. I look back and I think about all the people that supported me in a lot of ways and I didn’t realize they were basically, they’ve shielded me from the sort of problems I was having with this way of thinking. And now that I know it and I understand it, my wife is like, “Oh okay, that explains a lot.” We’re working together to help me develop my own system so that I’m not always relying on her. And I think that’s the key bit is that no one wants to spend the rest of their lives supporting someone’s weaknesses. So for me, I’m learning to… It’s really nice that I’m working as a consultant because I don’t think I would do very well in a normal or it would have to be very niche specific way of doing things because I love the fact that I can do so many different things with so many different companies because I can’t do a project for more than three months.
Brian Le: (12:39)
I get so bored, I get so tired of it and it just feels so routine. And right now I can work between six to 10 clients and I’m always switching gears and it helps me. It creates its own kind of structure. It’s one that I don’t think a lot of people would be comfortable with because it’s very chaotic and it’s very hard to keep track of. But I love it because it allows me to switch parts of my brain off and then turn other ones on. I’ll either, I’ll do some writing or I’ll do research or I’ll talk to people or I’ll run a lecture and it just allows me to keep productive without necessarily, if I was doing something that was more routine. I did an internship once for three months and it was the same thing over and over again. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t work. I don’t know how to work. This is awful. Is this what people do?”
Lindsay Guentzel: (13:36)
I’ve been there. I feel that very much. And I’m curious, the food science, is there a part of it that’s really fascinating to you because it is always changing? It’s like it’s this thing that started small and it just keeps growing and growing and growing?
Brian Le: (13:50)
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, to your point, food science is a young field. I mean it got started back in the ’40s and ’50s because after World War II there was this need for understanding food and there’re some problems that people needed solving and scientists started gravitating towards that. So for me, what I really love about it is one, it pulls from so many different fields of science. There’s biology, a lot of microbiology, so my microorganisms, food safety and so forth. There’s also chemistry, which is what I’m really good at. But I never wanted to just go down one path. I got stuck there and I was like… In the beginning of college I was like, “Oh cool, this is a lot of fun, this is really interesting.” But towards the end I got really burnt out because I was like, “Oh my gosh, it’s the same thing over and over again, but really niche, really narrow.” I was like, “No thanks.”
Brian Le: (14:45)
So I really like the fact that I can pick up from both of those and there’s also a lot of engineering and then it’s just the social aspect and the human aspect. I love talking to people. I have some issues with socialization, like with relationships, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like people. It’s just that I don’t have the attention span to keep track of everyone. But I love talking to people and I love understanding the human condition and I think food is one of those things that touches all of our lives and there’re emotions involved, there’s psychology involved, there’s understanding all of those flavor’s impact on my memories and how touched it me when grandma was cooking. That to me is just a whole different aspect that I love. And I get to use science to actually get involved in that, which I don’t know if you know this, but chemists don’t really have a whole lot of industry tracks.
Brian Le: (15:45)
A lot of them either end up in pharmaceuticals or in petrochemicals, those great fields. But I was like, “Oh geez, those are very dry,” and there’s a long… You don’t get to the person until you go through a lot of different avenues through there. So for me it’s like I directly can talk to people and work with people and it’s so fascinating and a lot of fun.
Lindsay Guentzel: (16:14)
That’s awesome. And it’s how amazing for you to be so passionate about it but also know exactly what you want and what you don’t want, because I think that that’s probably something that a lot of people with ADHD struggle with is how do you pick a hyperfocus that is broad enough to satisfy you?
Brian Le: (16:32)
Oh 100%. In our society you need a little bit of focus. You can’t just do everything. It was so funny that I got to be a generalist within a niche, which really saved me.
Lindsay Guentzel: (16:47)
I’m wondering if we can talk a little bit about your life as a Vietnamese American and how culturally the conversations around ADHD, whether they’re happening now or if they ever happened, or even just talking about feelings and talking about how your brain was working? I think it’s very much across all different cultures, but I love hearing from people outside of my own little bubble about what was going on in their houses and how we talked about life. We are very much like, “Oh my stomach hurts,” or, “I fell down and I hurt myself in this way.” But we aren’t so great at communicating what’s going on in our heads and I think that’s a lot of the reasons why so many of us were diagnosed later in life because we just assumed everyone was this way.
Brian Le: (17:43)
Yeah, that’s an interesting point and perspective because for my household, Vietnamese diaspora really came out of the Vietnam War. So there’s a lot of trauma there and there’s not a lot in our culture already, there’s not a lot of talk about emotions, which is very family oriented. It’s definitely there, but our interactions are very much trying to get by. And I think one of the things that happened when I was growing up is, there’s this assumption that I was just a sensitive kid. But there was no investigation on that, like what is actually happening there? And it’s understandable. I think my parents were very much focused on work and they’re very much striving to make it here in the United States. And so my mom was working tons and tons of hours. My dad was a doctor and my mom ran the medical clinic. They were so hyper-focused on that and that’s probably the one thing I learned from them is the ability to succeed in arduous situations.
Brian Le: (18:56)
But on the emotional front, I sometimes suspect that my dad was possibly on the spectrum. He didn’t talk at all, right. And that’s also a cultural aspect. Men didn’t really talk about emotions and my mom is also not very warm in that way. And so I was also just growing up and not really understanding how emotions worked and making these assumptions that, “Okay, well this is how things are going to be,” until I met my wife, whose family is very warm and a lot of transparency, a lot of honesty, a lot of emotional talk. And that blew my mind. I was like, “Wow, families are like this?” And I think that it became more apparent. At first, I think their assumption was also like, “Oh, he’s sensitive and he’s got these cultural elements to his life.” And then as soon as they started to learn more about my family and actually my extended family who, I don’t know if anyone does have an ADHD diagnosis, so I don’t know if I map out to anyone else, but they’re like, “Oh, he’s very different from even his family.”
Brian Le: (20:13)
So they could at least exclude the cultural elements and then some of the stuff that came from my parents and they’re like, “Oh he’s got something else happening.” And then my wife finally was like, “Hmm,” because she’s a psychotherapist. So she’s learning about all that. She understands all that and she’s wondering, especially as she sees more and more clients in her work who do present with ADHD. I think that’s what really… We finally connected the dots. And it took a lot to get to that point because you never know. You don’t want to offend anyone and you don’t want to make assumptions. But then you realize once you understand everything about a person, you’re like, “Oh wait, there’s something else happening in her brain and we need to investigate that.”
Lindsay Guentzel: (21:02)
I love that your wife is a psychotherapist and that she’s learning about this and seeing things in you, because I actually have spoken to so many people who work in that field who then realized it about themselves and you mentioned food science is so new. Well so is psychology. We think it’s this deep dive, go back to the philosophers. But really when we look at actual documentation and facts and understanding, it’s really new. And so it’s so wonderful to know that this next generation of people who are going to be working in the mental health field are people who are like, “No, we need to understand this better and we need to have a better understanding of how it’s presenting.” And we’re in this realm right now of people who, because of the pandemic, are realizing what was working in life and what wasn’t and I think there are a lot of people who are like, “Oh, everyone has ADHD.”
Lindsay Guentzel: (22:03)
And it’s like maybe everyone does. Maybe it’s a lot bigger than we thought it was. And we just, we’ve never dealt with this. We’ve never had this moment where we go, “Oh, we didn’t know about this,” or, “We’re learning new things.” And so it’s just so eye opening to me, had the pandemic not happened, maybe someday you would’ve been diagnosed. Maybe someday your wife would’ve come home and been like, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about this.” Or maybe I would’ve seen, there would’ve been one meme five years down the line that I would’ve been like, “Oh yeah, hmm. But it’s just so interesting, this one moment in time and all the things that have to happen for us to get to this point.
Brian Le: (22:49)
A 100%, 100%. I think what’s funny, and I think even to that point with the pandemic there’s also, there was so much online conversation and discussion that normally wouldn’t happen. You were seeing YouTube videos where we’re making fun of the pandemic and then I think my wife and I started going down the road of… Because we don’t usually just watch YouTube videos together. It’s just because of the pandemic we were like, “Oh, we got to do something.” We started going down this line of watching people with ADHD do YouTube videos and talking and making fun of like, “Oh, this is how ADHD presents.” And then we were like, “Oh my gosh, that’s what you do, Brian.” It was like meeting a new group of friends for the first time. These are people I can hang out with. They totally understand exactly what’s going on here and I think that’s the other piece of it is that now we have the internet and now we have all these conversations that we wouldn’t have had 10, 20 years ago. And it’s just mind blowing.
Brian Le: (23:56)
There’s so many different groups and people. It would’ve been impossible for everyone to come together, even in a large city. We wouldn’t have known. Who are these people? It’s also, you go out and tell people, right? “Oh yeah, I forget stuff a lot and I don’t know how to regulate.” Like what is that, right?
Lindsay Guentzel: (24:20)
Yeah, the emotional regulation. Once I realized that, I was like, “Oh yes, yes.” A lot of things start to make sense. I’d love to know after your diagnosis, was there anything you changed immediately? And what have you been doing? And I say treatment plan wise, and I don’t necessarily mean just medicine if you are taking medicine, but what have you changed in life to address some of the things that you now know are actual struggles for you? And I say actual meaning, if someone were to hand you a list of symptoms, they’d be on the list and you’d go, “Oh, okay, I want to help alleviate that.”
Brian Le: (25:06)
Yeah, I think the biggest one that came out of all this was being very kind to myself in terms of my productivity, knowing that I probably will never work nine to five, and that’s okay. Basically, I’ve optimized my work schedule to work for me and my energy levels. So when I get into those moments where I’m hyper-focused and I’m prepared to literally just dive into something for three to four hours because I know that I start to feel it, now I’m starting to notice the triggers of, “Oh, I’m in that state, I can go into that. Let’s do it.” And then I’ll do all my work. I’ll probably be two or three times more productive than any other time in the week. And then I go, “Okay, good, that got finished and then now I’m going to switch gears. Tomorrow I’ll just do finance stuff,” or it’s these sort of realizing that it’s not about time and it’s not about schedules, but it’s actually about what’s happening in here and how to optimize that.
Brian Le: (26:13)
And it’s been really, for me, I’ve really impressed because I can get so much done now that I never thought I could because I always assumed like, “Oh my gosh, how can I get through 40 hours or 20 hours or whatever it is?” And now I just work however I can and will because of the fact that I’m consulting. It’s very flexible and I’m really grateful for that because then I can get a sense of what’s triggering these things. Do I need to go for a run? Do I need to eat something? Do I need to hydrate? And then it gets a lot simpler versus, “Oh my gosh, I cannot focus right now. I’m going to beat my head over this wall because I’m so unproductive and being really hard on myself.” Now, it’s just like, “I could just do it. This is great.” It’s been a blast.
Brian Le: (27:11)
I’ve actually had a lot more fun with work because of that and understanding how the rhythms work and that I’m doubling down on a lot of things I did before anyway, but realizing those were helping me even more. I’ll meditate more, I’ll go for walks more, I’ll talk to people when I need to, or even better is, realizing that I just need to schedule all my meetings in one day. So that’s what I do now is I go, “Well, that day is over.” As soon as I talk to anyone, I’m like, “Ooh, we’re going to go down all these paths and nothing’s really going to get done in a [inaudible 00:27:51],” but it’s realizing that certain things or certain people bring certain things out of me and I can use that to my advantage versus before I used to be like, “Well I can’t talk to anyone. It’s going to be too much and then I’m not going to get anything done.”
Lindsay Guentzel: (28:09)
I have to tell you, I’m right now trying so hard not to think about how I’m going to change my own schedule because of what you said. I was like, “Oh gosh, that makes a lot of sense,” and that’s why you have some [inaudible 00:28:21]. And it’s so interesting that that’s what you said, because I was beating myself up a couple of weeks ago. I had worked an entire weekend producing a podcast and I mean I don’t even take into account how many hours that go into editing or trying to fine tune things. And I found myself on a Monday afternoon relaxing and then beating myself up because everyone else that I know who works “normal hours” was working.
Lindsay Guentzel: (28:51)
And a friend thankfully said to me, “You don’t work a normal schedule. How many hours did you put in over the weekend? What time…” If I can’t sleep, what I do is I get up and I start working. It’s different for us because there’s a very gray area. Our job’s never ending. It’s like you may be wrapping up a project, but you’re always looking at the next one or what is exciting me now or who do I want to work with and how am I going to pursue that? Whereas my boyfriend, who’s a boat mechanic, he’s not bringing boats back to our house. I’m very grateful for that. He’s not rolling in this massive boat to keep working on it after hours. Whereas me, I’m like, “Oh, let me just send this email, let me do this.”
Lindsay Guentzel: (29:36)
And I was so grateful for her saying that because it was just like, “Ah, we work in a different way.” And so I love that you know now… You said, “What energy do people bring out of me and how do I utilize that?” And in my head I’m like, “Okay, reevaluating how I schedule everything.” But I also feel like we are people pleasers and so I would always say, “Oh my schedule’s open. What works for you?” And I love the idea of being like, “Yeah, Tuesdays my meeting days, this is when I’m available.”
Brian Le: (30:10)
Yeah, exactly. Just hard no, and I’ve set it up where I don’t even get in my own way of my people pleasing. I just have a calendar that’s automated and I’m like, “Oh, I can’t do anything about it.”
Lindsay Guentzel: (30:26)
I’m so busy every other day.
Brian Le: (30:29)
Lindsay Guentzel: (30:32)
When you look at your ADHD diagnosis and the way it’s shown up in your life and you mentioned what happened with graduate school and feeling overwhelmed, are there things that you look back and you’re like, “Oh man, it was there and that’s why this happened.” And maybe you view some of those things in a negative light?
Brian Le: (30:51)
Yeah, I think PhDs are weird. The whole graduate school route is probably… Can be really trying in the sense that you’re talking about a topic, you choose a topic and then there’s an even smaller topic underneath that and then no one knows anything about it. And you have to be so hyper-focused about achieving your research goals and ends. And there’s all this bureaucracy that’s involved as well, which I wasn’t aware of until I got in. And then you realize like, “Oh wow, this is actually a lot about managing expectations.” And as much as I’d like to say, “Oh, it’s straight forward and you go and you do your research and then you leave,” it was never like that. It was just, there’s too much chaos even in… It was so narrow. And I looked at it, I was like, “Wow.” I used to beat myself up saying, “I was a terrible graduate student. I was just playing not good at this and I’m not smart enough to…” Even though I got my PhD, I was like, “Oh well, I kind of just barely passed.”
Brian Le: (32:04)
And now I look back and I’m like, “Oh, I just didn’t optimize it to my own way of thinking,” because here I am as a consultant and I’m having a blast. I’m talking to people and getting projects and it’s a lot of fun because it’s feeding that dopamine hit of like, “Oh, what’s the next thing? What’s the next thing? What’s the next thing?” And I get really good at it. I got really good at it and I don’t know if I could have done it without this way of thinking because at some point, I was given the option to take medication and I sat down with myself and I was like, “If for some reason this changes how I operate and work, is that going to be to my benefit or is that going to be a detriment?” I was like, “No, I love this. I love randomly waking up at 2:00 AM and working until seven or eight and then I have my whole day.”
Brian Le: (33:00)
That’s just there. I’m allowed to do that because of the way that I’ve fixed it up. And if I lost that and I said, “Oh well, I have to normalize this,” it would be very hard to say I’d feel like myself, right? I’ve started to accept and understand it as there’s definitely the benefits and there’s also the weaknesses and I just have to learn how to optimize for those.
Lindsay Guentzel: (33:24)
That’s really a great way to look at it and it is so important to be having those conversations about what is important to you in life and how do you want to protect it and figuring out then, “Okay, well what are the other options for me?” And then I’m curious because you mentioned with the inattentive type that relationships have been hard and I think that that is something that a lot of us struggle with, whether it’s imposter syndrome or rejection sensitivity, dysphoria, all of these things where it’s obvious you’re incredibly outgoing and incredibly charismatic and you know can just jump into a conversation and you love talking to people, but it’s like then how do you take that to the next level? And so I’m curious if when you look back at graduate school and some of the relationships that you were expected to develop in order to be successful, do you see some of those moments of like, “Oh yes, that was holding me back?”
Brian Le: (34:24)
Yeah, I mean I was really good at it in college where I could manage relationships with people who are basically had authority over me because I didn’t have to interact with them very much. In graduate school you have this one professor that’s kind of dictates your entire academic career. And I was terrible at managing that because sometimes I just blurt things out and I didn’t ever really have that shield where I was like, “Okay, this is professional and this is personal and,” yada, yada, yada. That was just how I functioned and for a long time I just assumed like, “Oh there’s something wrong with me and I’m never really going to fit in into this whole experience where you have to say the right thing and there’s politics involved.” And I was like, “Oh boy, this is too much to even manage right now.” And so I look back and I’m like, “Huh, that’s an interesting situation I had.”
Brian Le: (35:27)
And I always felt like, “Gosh, I’m never going to get any references.” No one’s going to write a reference for me,” in order to move forward in my career. So I’m really grateful with consulting because I don’t ever need references. I just go, “This is who I worked with,” and it’s fine. And everyone’s like, “Cool, that’s awesome.” And I think having the ability to have a short term relationship with people allows me to not have to necessarily manage my own way of being. And I think that’s what makes friendship and family a little harder because those things never really go away. So you just hope that people accept you for who you are. And I just gravitate towards people who are not neurotypical so they kind of understand maybe unconsciously or from their upbringing that things don’t work out for them in terms of social setting and it’s a lot easier.
Brian Le: (36:27)
I have a friend that I’ve known forever. He’s probably my only high school friend and I suspect that he’s on the spectrum, but he’s a lot of fun. He’s really smart and I really have a blast talking with him because we both come at our relationship understanding that if there’s anything that in a conventional relationship there’d be like some established rules, but we don’t have that because we don’t have any assumptions and it’s a lot easier.
Lindsay Guentzel: (36:58)
I have a friend like that too. And one of the things that we both love about each other is that we’ll have plans on the books for a month and the morning of, it’s like we check back in with each other like, “How are you feeling about today? Do you want to do it? Are we doing this?” And I would say 50-50 we reschedule or we change what we are going to do to fit the moment. And I know I have friends who that would just never fly. Like, “You’ve made plans, you have to stick to it.” And I think that’s why our relationship… We were talking about it the other day. It’s like we have never had a fight, ever. And I think I’m actually just realizing and having this conversation with you because of that is because there’s these undefined rules about what we both need in that moment.
Lindsay Guentzel: (37:44)
And my friends who are a little bit more on the stickler side, I’m so afraid to be like, “Hey, I’m not there today and I don’t want to do this. It’s going to bug you so I’m going to do it anyway.”
Brian Le: (37:59)
Yeah. Oh my gosh. And I think that because there’re those expectations, I think that’s when the relationship matures, because you hold back, you hold back that part of yourself where you’re like, “Wow, I really needed that day,” or, “I didn’t feel like 100% but you’re kind of just going along with what’s expected of you and then it becomes an obligation. And I feel that a lot. And over time, over the years I’ve learned to move past that and accept the fact that I don’t need to feel guilty if I forget something. The nice thing is that with my wife, she’s the complete other side of the spectrum. She’s on time, 100% sticks to things, communicates. And so I’ve actually just started growing into her network. I’m like, “Oh good, she can do all that stuff and sustain these long term relationships,” and together are good we come as a package, because otherwise this is not going to work. You have to talk to her. She’s the relationship coordinator.
Lindsay Guentzel: (39:14)
I also have one of those in my life. So that’s very interesting and they’re always on time. I’m just like-
Brian Le: (39:20)
Oh my gosh.
Lindsay Guentzel: (39:21)
… spot on.
Brian Le: (39:23)
Lindsay Guentzel: (39:24)
I’m curious with consulting, from my understanding is so you have clients and you set parameters on what you’re going to do for them and there’re different projects and different dates for delivery, but you’re also kind of setting that workload and how you’re going to do it on your own. And I know a lot of people with ADHD, they really need that management. The idea of working for themselves is exciting. I know I love it, but it’s also hard when you are the one who’s like being the stickler, has to get yourself to do it. So what have you found is working for you, because it amazes me how just you are so confident in this role as a consultant and you love it so much. And in my head I’m like, “Okay, but are you delivering things on time?” Because that would be the hardest thing for me.
Brian Le: (40:12)
Yeah, yeah. No, definitely. In the beginning it was a big question mark where I was like, “Oh, can I really deal with deadlines? What if I pick up a really giant project and I dropped the ball or something like that?” And over time, I think what ended up happening was I over delivered a lot and I really focus on those times where I was hyper productive. And it’s not like I always get things done, but I think what has happened is I’ve chosen clients that actually understand how I work. And that came out of a lot of trial and error. I mean, I had some really rough times where people just didn’t like what I delivered and I was like, “Ooh, I took that really personally.” And at some point I was with the relationship thing, I was like, “Okay, well I’m just not going to have clients like that anymore. I might have a trial period where I’m actually evaluating how they operate.”
Brian Le: (41:22)
I’ve switched the script a little bit and said, “Yo, if you’re going to work with me, I need to know can you follow where I’m going?” Because I started to realize my own worth. And when I really delivered and I saw how surprised some my clients were, I was like, “There is a superpower there and maybe one that they haven’t seen before.” And I was like, “Wow, I can really create something that…” And I realize that it’s not the amount of time that I spend on something, it’s actually the creativity that I bring to it and the ability to connect a lot of different dots. And so I position myself as that person. I’m not going to be the person that… I tell everyone front, “I’m the worst employee, Don’t ever hire me.”
Brian Le: (42:11)
I’m not an employee, but I am someone that can come in and if I see something, I’ll tell you. I have no filter. I tell clients all the time, “Don’t even expect me to be nice because I’m just going to tell you how it is.” And I basically just worked in my own personality and the clients that I lose, I’m like, “Okay, those are not the people that I need to work with.” I need to find people who love what I do, are willing to pay what I do and really understand that I’m delivering something different. It hasn’t been easy. Definitely there’s been dry periods in my work, but I make up for it for really, really excellent clients and people who are willing to say, “Yeah, this guy’s amazing.” And the testimonials have been through the roof.
Brian Le: (43:05)
So it’s a lot of filtering and it’s really understanding that I’m not a deadline person. Don’t give me deadlines, I won’t. Or if you give me deadlines, understand that they’re soft deadlines. So I put those expectations up front so they’re very much driven by my own way of thinking and perceiving and the experiences that I’ve had in the past.
Lindsay Guentzel: (43:31)
I love that. I had a similar realization very recently, but I love how you, like you said, you flipped the script and that you changed things because you could have gone down the path that was expected that you are supposed to grovel for your clients and just bend over backwards. And I love that you’re like, “No, that’s not going to work for me and it’s not going to work for you in the way that you need me to work for you.” And I think realizing that, I’ve struggled so much with… I don’t love social media. I don’t want to create TikToks, I don’t want to create Reels, but I think I’m supposed to because that’s what’s holding this market right now and it’s like, “Nah, I’m good. I don’t need to do that.” But getting to that point and realizing, “Okay, so maybe I’m not going to build it the way I’m expected to. I’m going to build it the way I want to, which means that it’s going to be more sustainable in the end. It just might take a little bit longer.”
Brian Le: (44:37)
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I had the same realization myself. For a while, and I was actually running social media for a nonprofit back in graduate school and I was thinking like, “Oh gosh, you have to pivot to my own social media and do I have to do all this?” And I tried it for a little bit. I was like, “No, not for me.” I don’t know how anyone does this. This is chaos, like complete chaos. But somehow I landed on running this little subgroup on Reddit where I don’t do anything, but somehow because of the random conversation I have when I just feel like it, it’s like this self sustaining community where people could pitch in on their own. And that’s really worked out really well, where I don’t have to do a whole lot, but people are so excited about the topic or they’re willing to come in and do the work of managing that that I can just come in and do my thing and then leave. And that works really well. That’s worked perfectly for me.
Lindsay Guentzel: (45:46)
That’s awesome. And it’s a great reminder. You come in when you’re passionate about it and you’re putting yourself in there and in that moment you are so yourself and that’s what people are connecting with. And then you’re like, “Peace, okay, I’ll be back next time I’m inspired.” But you’re not coming in there just to say you did or put stuff out there. That’s not something you’re really connected to.
Brian Le: (46:08)
Lindsay Guentzel: (46:10)
I want to know, where do you see yourself thriving when you look at your life and your ADHD diagnosis and the things that you do know now, come in with that?
Brian Le: (46:23)
Yeah, I think just honoring it, right? Just honoring that that’s me. And there’s a story of my life that has that as part of it and not saying it as something that I need to reject or manage or, but actually it’s part of the color that is being a human. I have a background in Buddhism, so for me it’s understanding that I think that we all suffer from our own little idiosyncrasies and this is just another flavor of that.
Lindsay Guentzel: (47:05)
Brian, thank you so much for sharing your story with us and joining us for ADHD Awareness Month. And I really appreciate you coming on and being so open and honest and funny. I laughed so much. So just thank you so much for your time.
Brian Le: (47:21)
Thanks so much, Lindsay. I really appreciate your time and it’s been a blast talking about this and thanks for having this platform to discuss the personal nitty gritty of ADHD and I hope this helps someone in the future.
Lindsay Guentzel: (47:54)
A big thanks to Brian Le for sharing his story with us on Refocus Together. To find more information on the work he’s doing, as well as where to find his book, head to the show description for all of the links. The thanks continue in a big way to the entire ADHD online team, Zach Booker, Dr. Randall Duthler, Tim Gutwal, Keith Brophy, my teammates, Keith Boswell, Susanne Spirit, Claudia Gatti, Melanie Meyrl, Paul Owen, Kirsten Pipp, Sissy Ye, Trisha Merchant-Dunny, Lauren Radley, Corey Kearney, and Mason Nelly, and the team at Dexia, Cameron Sterling and Candace Leke, Camilla Eden, Lauren Terry, Sarah Gelbar, Phil Rodman, and Sarah Platenitis.
Lindsay Guentzel: (48:40)
Our theme music was created by Lewis English, a songwriter and composer based in Perth, Australia, who was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 at the age of 39. To find out more about Refocus Together or to share your story with me, head over to ADHDonline.com and check out the ADHD Awareness Month page, which highlights this project as well as each day’s episode after they’ve been released. You can also find out more by following along on social @LindsayGuentzel and @RefocusPod.