From hyperfocus to a late-in-life diagnosis and everything in between, Jay Miller is breaking down ADHD stereotypes in this episode of Refocused, Together with Lindsay Guentzel and ADHD Online.
Lindsay Guentzel (00:02):
Welcome back to Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel. What you’re listening to today, it’s a little bit different than the podcast episodes we’ve shared with you before. This episode, this person’s story, is a part of Refocused Together, a special series the team at ADHD Online and I have been working on for ADHD Awareness Month. Every day throughout the month of October, we’ll be sharing a different person’s ADHD story, which is fitting, because the theme for ADHD Awareness Month this year is understanding a shared experience, and I can’t think of a better way to really get a sense of that shared experience than by telling a different story every single day. To be clear, yes, that’s 31 stories in 31 days. Did I mention I’m a bit of an overachiever?
Lindsay Guentzel (00:50):
My name is Lindsay Guentzel, and along with the team at ADHD Online, I’m so excited to present Refocused Together, a collection of stories aimed at raising awareness on just how complex ADHD is, and the different ways it shows up in people’s lives. When we share stories, it’s easier to find the perspective, ideas, and tips that help us live our best lives. I’m interviewing people with varying backgrounds, diagnoses, experiences, and perspectives. We’ll hear from working parents, advocates, engineers, writers, PhD candidates, and more, to learn that while we may be different, we are all united by our own ADHD journeys.
Lindsay Guentzel (01:55):
I’m very excited to bring Jay Miller into the conversation. He was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 28, after having a somewhat public panic attack at work, and he has since turned that experience into advocacy work for developers. He recently spoke at REFACTR.TECH, on the topic of diversity and neurodiversity, and how people in tech tend to get diagnosed later in life. Jay grew up in the South, Tennessee and Georgia, and he loves the video game Tetris, thanks to his grandfather. He also is a United States Marine Corps veteran, and he describes himself as a multipotentialite, or a modern day Renaissance artist. He’s also the cohost of the podcast Conduit, which focuses on the connection between what we should be doing and what ultimately gets done.
Lindsay Guentzel (02:45):
Jay lives in sunny San Diego, California with his wife, daughter, two dogs, and a cat, and I have so many questions just from that introduction. Jay Miller, thank you so much for joining me on Refocused Together.
Jay Miller (03:01):
Happy to be here.
Lindsay Guentzel (03:03):
I’m going to start at the very beginning, because you mentioned your diagnosis came after what you called a somewhat public panic attack at work. Leading up to that moment, were there signs that something was amiss, that something was coming, that an ADHD diagnosis might be ahead for you? I mean, how were you functioning, and what kind of led up to that moment?
Jay Miller (03:28):
Well, I think the biggest challenge for me was realizing that ADHD didn’t have to come with this idea of like I can’t get anything done. Like, that was always I guess the stereotype that had been put before me. So I never really gave myself that label, because I was doing so much. You know, I had been podcasting for years. I had done blogs, YouTube videos, and now what we learn is hyperfocus. I would just pick something up, work on it, be successful with it, relatively successful with it, and then put it down, and pick up another thing, and do the same thing.
Jay Miller (04:11):
So while all of the warning signs were there, because they had never been classified as warning signs, I just kind of brushed them all off. And it didn’t really hit me until the inability to do all of those things. And that kind of even goes back to even as a child, like being a straight A student, being labeled as gifted and kind of all these other things. It’s like, everything is great until it’s not, and then when it’s not, it’s really bad. And that was kind of the moment that I was having for probably about the second time in my life, where going from a straight A student to a student that didn’t know how to study, and was struggling to barely pass his classes, to succeeding in my job day in and day out, automating most of it using like programming, and then once something broke, even though I knew the steps on how to do the thing, I couldn’t get myself to do them.
Jay Miller (05:12):
It was at that point where I knew something was wrong, but ultimately, it was my boss that kind of saw it and was like, “Hey, I’ve seen this before. You may want to… I can’t tell you to go talk to someone, but it’d be good if you did.”
Lindsay Guentzel (05:28):
That’s really interesting. It’s interesting to have that support and that advocacy come from someone who is essentially there to make sure you’re doing your job. But a lot of the times, we don’t hear those good stories. We hear the opposite.
Jay Miller (05:42):
Oh, yeah, and again, shout-out to my boss, Trent, at the time. He’s an amazing figure, still a role model in my career and in my life. I guess we share a similar, not rebellion against the man, we say as we both have big corporate jobs, but like we do our own little things of rebellion. For me, it’s the wild hair, and for him, it’s the giant sleeve tattoos and everything, and it was one of those moments of looking at the first person in my life that was, “Oh, he is visibly different, and yet still able to function and be successful.” That gave me kind of inspiration to do the same, of not sacrificing success for mental health or for my personality.
Lindsay Guentzel (06:33):
It’s interesting what you’re able to realize once you get out of your comfort zone and out of your own bubble. That’s one of the reasons why at the top of my list for this project, or 31 stories in 31 days, is as much diversity, and not just in the people, but in the stories themselves. So you have this very public moment, and you and your boss talk about it. He suggests talking to somebody. What were some of those initial moments like for you in seeking out a referral, and seeking out an assessment, trying to figure out, get to the bottom of what was going on? What do you remember from those moments?
Jay Miller (07:16):
The initial process wasn’t too bad. I mean, one of the nice things that has kind of changed recently is the amount of insurance-based assistance that you can get. At least to my knowledge, as a kid, my mom had health insurance, but I don’t know if that included like mental health. Luckily, every job that I’ve been in since the military has had some form of mental health assistance, be it like, “Oh, you get so many calls or so many scheduled appointments for free,” but ultimately, it was a matter of just kind of going through the insurance channels, and then I got assigned to a psychiatrist that was in my area.
Jay Miller (08:02):
When I went the first time, it was interesting, because there were so many different people in the waiting room. And kind of like you said, there was like a diversity of experiences and differences. It was interesting for me, because it was very much, again, starting to break down some of those stereotypes of like, “This is what a mental health diagnosis,” and I don’t want to call it a disorder necessarily, but like, it finally unraveled the idea of like, “Oh, wait. No, I don’t have to have these very physical symptoms for it to appear as a…” You know? You watch people getting out of a Tesla, and walking in, and being like, “Okay, cool. All right, people are just everyday people, and kind of going in.”
Jay Miller (08:58):
And the psychiatrist was like, “How long have you been…” And it’s probably like five minutes into the conversation. She was like, “How long have you been managing your ADHD?” And my joke is obviously, “Well…” The first thing I said was like, “What?” And then the second thing I said was, “Wait, what?”
Lindsay Guentzel (09:13):
That’s just a very ADHD response.
Jay Miller (09:16):
Yeah, so he was just very much like, “Oh, you’ve never been tested for ADHD?” And I was like, “No.” He was like, “Well, you need to test into it, but you have ADHD,” and I was like, “I mean, sure. Yeah. Ha ha, very funny.” And I did the little test thing, and I took it home. I asked my wife to take it first, so that with me in mind, like… And then I took it, just to make sure that I wasn’t in my head too much. And they were basically the same, and I brought back both of them. I said, “This is what my wife says about me, and this is what I say about me,” and he looked at both. He goes, “Both of these say you have ADHD.”
Lindsay Guentzel (10:04):
I love that, and I love the idea of you taking home this test, because in my mind, it’s kind of like taking home a COVID test or a pregnancy test, but we know that is just not how it works. It’d be amazing if you just swabbed the inside of your nose and you’ve got a diagnosis, but it’s so much more complex than that. I want to go back to your time in the military, because it’s so routine. When you look back at how your life was set up, you were very successful. You knew you liked to jump around to things. You had a ton of different interests, which is kind of a red flag. And I don’t say a red flag in the sense of it’s bad, but it’s something that professionals look for. But then you went into a line of work that is so set, and there are so many schedules and orders to follow. So when you look back at that time, was that a big part of kind of your coping?
Jay Miller (11:05):
I think so. I mean, the military had so much structure around it that I didn’t really have time to think outside of it, and also just the nature of the work that I did. I was on a team that deployed almost 10 months out of the year, and I did that for three years straight, and got to travel all over Southeast Asia and do a lot of amazing things. And I think that that kind of distracted me, because a lot of what I was doing was so fast-paced, of like bring new people in, train them, deploy with them, live life on ship, which comes with its own like you’re confined in a box with thousands of other people, and you can’t go anywhere. So you wind up picking up an exercising habit, or just working more. So hyperfocus was great in those moments, because there was nothing else to do.
Jay Miller (12:03):
It wasn’t until I got out of the Marine Corps that I realized that that structure being in place was so beneficial, because once it was gone, it was very much like, “Well, what do I do now?” Like, there’s no regular schedule. There’s no person. There’s no like horns blowing out across base or things to tell you all the things that are happening. You just are left to your own devices, and from there, I wound up just kind of struggling, you know? Again, maybe that was the… That was technically the second time where I went from knowing what I’m doing into failing miserably, but yeah.
Jay Miller (12:49):
The military itself, although my views on how the service operates, and a lot of things like that have changed in the last decade since I’ve gotten out of the military, I think at the time, it was probably the best thing for me as someone who hadn’t been diagnosed with ADHD, who hadn’t been… who hadn’t thought about how to start to regulate and create systems and processes around what I was doing.
Lindsay Guentzel (13:24):
Right. That makes sense, and it’s great that you’re able to go back and look at that, and also acknowledge like how you feel about the Marine Corps now, and the military. I mean, we’re all allowed to grow, but you can look back at that time and go, “Oh my goodness. This is what kept me in my lane.” So you get diagnosed. Did you make any immediate changes in your life? Because at that point, like you said, you were successful. You had a job you enjoyed. But obviously, there was this underlying stuff that was sitting there. So you walk out of the office. You know what’s happening in your brain, and what’s been happening in your brain. Did anything change immediately?
Jay Miller (14:09):
It was a little challenging. One, my daughter had just been born, so there was a lot of sleep deprivation already happening. But then, the other side of that was being on medication for the first time. That was something that honestly, I didn’t really have the best of reactions to. A lot of… The way that I’ve always said it is like being on Adderall made me feel like I could stop a bullet train with my chest, and not being on Adderall made me feel like I had just tried to stop a bullet train with my chest. So there was this moment of like, as a new parent trying to figure out what to do, having to grasp with the reality of like, “I don’t fully understand who I am or how I operate, because my life has been so fundamentally changed all of a sudden. I’m now…” Like, I struggled with it a lot, but I think in terms of did anything change? Apparently, my work got better. My boss wasn’t complaining, so that was good. But ultimately, it was a very tough adjustment, but I think over time, things improved a lot.
Lindsay Guentzel (15:41):
It sounds like a terrible time to be transitioning, in the sense that you are bringing this new life into the world, and you’re a first-time parent, and you’re trying to figure it out, and then you’re like, “Well, who am I? And what is happening here? And how do I balance all of it?” It sounds like an insane amount on your plate.
Jay Miller (16:03):
So at the same time, I had recently been diagnosed with a medical condition called vasovagal syncope. Which is like, it’s one of these things that sounds scarier than it is, but there are times where if I got overworked, or if I laughed too hard, I would just pass out. And the way that it would happen is like, my blood pressure would instantly just drop, and I would just fall, hit the ground, and then like three seconds later, I’d just pop back up like nothing happened, and people would be like, “Whoa, what just happened?”
Jay Miller (16:37):
I say that because we got home from the hospital to take my daughter home, and there’s a letter in the mail that’s saying, “Hey, because of your medical condition, we’re suspending your driver’s license, and you need to get it cleared through a cardiologist, and do all of this stuff,” and it took a year to get my license back, just going through all that process. And like imagine where everything is happening all at once, and you just have to kind of just deal with it as it’s happening. That was such a pain to deal with, but at the same time, a lot of me wanting to persevere through it was the fact that like, “Hey, I’m a parent now. I want to be around to watch my little one grow up, and to be there for her, and do all those things.”
Jay Miller (17:30):
So a lot of this was just taking it day by day, and that was a thing that honestly, I got from the military, is in boot camp, there’s this saying of, “Lights to lights, chow to chow.” Basically, you don’t think about it long term. You think about it in the moment, and you think about it from breakfast to lunch, lunch to dinner, and then you take it day by day, or “lights to lights,” because they say “lights” when the lights go on, they say “lights” when the lights go off. So yeah, I think it was very much a blur through that moment, but I think had I tried to stop and try to process all of it, I don’t know what I would have thought
Lindsay Guentzel (18:11):
That is heavy. I mean, I was already amazed at what you were dealing with, and then you add that on top of it, and isn’t there just something about getting something in the mail that’s official, and you just know, because you aren’t expecting it, that it’s bad? It’s just the dread of opening the mailbox, and you know that it’s just something you have to deal with. And a year. A year of dealing with it.
Jay Miller (18:39):
It was definitely the biggest challenge. Because I mean at the time, I… Now, working from home is normalized, but I had to start carpooling, and then like figuring out how my work schedule was going to change. Was I going to have to take the bus? Like, I worked 45 minutes from where I lived. That was all a big issue, and it wasn’t something that I could just go and get fixed. It was begin on a heart monitor, and going to a cardiologist once a month, and doing all these other things, and finally getting my license back and kind of having lived with all of these things around the same time, at the end of it, things were starting to normalize a bit.
Jay Miller (19:21):
But I think it also made me look at it… We all say we have those like, “Life is too short” moments, but that was definitely a moment where I started focusing more on development, and at the time, I was working in marketing. And this is where my career radically changed, and I started working in DevRel or developer advocacy, and kind of becoming more of an outspoken advocate for not just the programming side of things, but also the mental health side of things as well.
Lindsay Guentzel (19:55):
That’s incredible. It’s really interesting when you look back and you’re able to see what led you to where you are. Sometimes, it’s really hard stuff, and you have to kind of just accept that, and acknowledge that it happened, and sometimes be grateful, because it led to what you’re doing.
Jay Miller (20:15):
Lindsay Guentzel (20:15):
One of the things I want to ask about, because your story is interesting to me, because a lot of the people I’ve talked to who were diagnosed later in life, there’s some grief that comes with it. But for you, up until that point it sounds like everything was going pretty well. You talk about your experience in the Marine Corps, and getting to travel, and all of the great opportunities that came with that. And you know, you’re a new father, and you have a partner who is supportive of you, taking the tests, and all of those things. So when you were diagnosed, and in that time since then, have you dealt with any of those feelings of, “I wish it had come sooner”?
Jay Miller (20:55):
I definitely wish I had been diagnosed sooner. I think that we talk about my love of Tetris. Like, finding my own coping mechanisms and my own ways to kind of preoccupy my brain so that I can do things. I always tell people when I’m in meetings, it’s like, “Hey, I’m going to be working, but if I wasn’t working, I wouldn’t be listening,” so having the ability to understand that that was why. Because you know, you’re always told the same things, and it’s… I was just in a neurodiversity chat on Twitter yesterday, and someone with autism spectrum disorder came up, and they started describing what neurotypical people expect as the same way that we often get described to ourselves by other people. Like, “Oh, ADHD people do this. ADHD people do that.” It’s like, having someone go, “Oh, neurotypical people are really obsessed with eye contact,” and it’s just like, “Oh, that’s really interesting.” So like, to have, to understand there’s a reason why I struggle to do some of these things, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a thing. I think that would have helped me.
Jay Miller (22:19):
But I will also say that I think a lot of… Had I been diagnosed earlier, I don’t know if I would have done some of the things that I did that led me to where I am today, so I… You know, I don’t have any remorse, you know? I’m glad things happened when they happened. But I definitely think that maybe my teenage years would have been a lot easier, you know?
Lindsay Guentzel (22:47):
Right. Yeah. Knowledge is power, and the older you get, the more you really grasp onto that. So, when you think about your ADHD now, what is one of the biggest struggles that is something you deal with every day? Meaning like, every day you wake up, and you know that this is something you have to actively work towards managing, or overcoming, or just toning down a little bit.
Jay Miller (23:13):
I get really excited, and I like… I mean, not excited to the point where I pass out, but like-
Lindsay Guentzel (23:19):
Jay Miller (23:19):
Yeah. But I am 10 steps into an idea before the idea has ever been fully thought about. And that tends for me to take on more work than is probably healthy. You know, my wife and I have a running joke that I take three days off a year to just sleep for 24 hours, because I’m doing so many things until one day, I’m just like, “I am exhausted.” And then I take a day off. I sleep longer than anyone should, and then a day or two later, the cycle just repeats itself.
Jay Miller (24:02):
And even in that moment of like… You know, we have regular conversations where it’s like, “Hey, if we’re going to be sitting here, or if everybody else is going to be watching a movie, I’m just going to have my laptop here, and I’m going to be working on this project that I’m really excited about.” So I think the idea of probably being more in the moment would be nice, instead of being like hyper-fixated on whatever project I’m working on at that time. But at the same time, I mean, I told my boss this. I really enjoy what I do, and that makes it really hard for me not to want to do my job. But I also understand that, like, I have a colleague in Australia, and the time zone difference is so uncanny, because I’m ending my day when he’s about to start lunch, so if I’m still working by the time he’s ending his day, I can expect to get a message from him that’s like, “Mate, what are you doing? Like, come on.”
Lindsay Guentzel (25:02):
I love that you added “Mate,” because I’m just envisioning a work chat, and it’s like, “Ugh, Jay is on again.”
Jay Miller (25:11):
Lindsay Guentzel (25:12):
It’s very interesting. I relate to a lot of that, even just the wanting to be working on things while I’m doing other things that I enjoy, because I also enjoy my work. I think I have a really hard time sometimes, the gray area of what is work and what is life, because mine is very messy. Oh, there’s a lot of crossover. But your excitement, I bet, is probably what makes you really good at your job, so to be able to say to yourself like, “Hey, slow down. Take a step back,” because you’ve had it in the past where you’ve just done so much extra work. You look back, and you’re like, “Oh, that was a lot harder than it needed to be.”
Jay Miller (26:00):
Yeah. There’s definitely been… And I’ve gotten better, of kind of putting a framework in place that forces me not to just dive in headfirst. But I definitely agree that as I’ve gone and done things over time… And of course you know, we just learn over time, but I’ve dove in, started doing a thing, and said, “Oh, that’s not the right way to do it,” only to work on it for another three or four months, only to realize that no, I was right the first time, and then feel like, “Oh, if I would have actually sat down and planned this out, it would have been so much better.”
Jay Miller (26:37):
But you’re totally right about the enthusiasm. That’s something that I think… Developer relations has become a really popular industry in tech, and the thing that, for the few people that I’ve mentored in this space, I tell them it’s like, “You have to actually believe what you’re telling people. Like, you have to feel as if it is as important as you are pretending that it is that moment when you’re on stage.” So for me, I’ve always tried to make my work as meaningful or as fun as I want to sound like it is. So that makes my job a lot easier, because it’s like, “Oh, I’m really passionate about doing this thing. Therefore, when I get on stage, you’re going to see that passion come out. You’re going to see how excited that I am to share this information with you.”
Lindsay Guentzel (27:38):
And how amazing that you get to take that enthusiasm and add it into the conversations that you’re having, not only about diversity, but about mental health, because that energy, that feeling, the passion comes off of you. I mean, instantly. But you also, because you are so passionate, and welcoming, and warm, people feel included. I can only imagine that you start talking about stuff that’s incredibly personal, and probably something that most people would shy away from, and it’s just kind of like a safe space.
Jay Miller (28:14):
It definitely feels that way at times. There have been a few moments where just thinking about the path that I took and saying like, “Okay, while it wasn’t that bad, I understand…” I grew up in a space where therapy wasn’t really considered a thing that you do. Now, I tell everybody, like even if you feel like nothing is wrong, have someone to talk to. Like, just as a check-in. And I love some of the barriers that are starting to break down now. You know, one of the things I love is even on things like TikTok, there are creators who are advocating for mental health in black men, which is just traditionally a thing that we’re so obsessed with all these other things that we don’t stop and ask someone, “Hey, how are you doing? Like really, how are you doing? How’s your mental health? How’s that going for you?”
Jay Miller (29:19):
And the more that I vocalize that, the more times people email me and say, “Hey, I heard you on this thing. Do you have time to talk about this? Because I’ve felt like this for years and never had the words to express it,” or, “I didn’t even know where to start, because that just isn’t a thing that we do.” And I mean, even before this call, someone had emailed me and said like, “I’m in a position where if I open up about having ADHD, I might lose my job. What should I do?” And I’m like, “I’m not a therapist. I am not a career planner. Like, I can’t…” It becomes overwhelming at times. I don’t want you to do anything that’s outside of your comfort level, but it is heartwarming to see that people get courage, and excitement, and maybe a little extra push from me just being open about all the things that I’ve done, and the biggest part of that is I’ve lived a moderately successful life.
Jay Miller (30:32):
I tell people that I enjoy all the privilege of all the things that I’ve done, and having that diagnosis doesn’t have to come at the cost of success. You can have those things, and I think that there aren’t enough people saying that part, of like, “Hey, sure, it’s going to be a challenge. Sure, it’s going to be a little different. You’re going to have to adjust. You can be moderately successful.” In fact, there are entire industries where folks with ADHD strive, you know? They really do. Or they thrive. They do really well, because of just the nature of the industry, and I’m starting to see that more and more, as colleagues and peers are like, “I just got diagnosed for the first time. Wow, this is… Like, my entire world has changed now.”
Jay Miller (31:30):
And it’s like, “Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it?” It’s that moment, and just being able to be there with them during that period, and say like, “Hey, look. Here’s the things that I’ve learned just in the times of learning this on my own, and asking a bunch of people what they would do,” and creating kind of the talk that you mentioned for REFACTR.TECH. That talk has evolved over the last year-and-a-half, where I’ve literally just went around asking people that are neurodivergent like, “What advice would you give someone getting diagnosed for the first time? What would you tell them? If you could sit there with them as they’re in that psychiatrist’s or therapist’s office, what would you tell them?” And just sharing that with people, and it’s just opened up so many people to the idea of, “Maybe I should go talk to someone about it.”
Lindsay Guentzel (32:24):
I feel like this is something we’ve touched on a lot without even asking it, but when you look at your life and your ADHD, where do you feel like you’re thriving?
Jay Miller (32:39):
It’s so hard to use the term “thriving.” Again, if I look in my career, I found the career that is for me. I was podcasting for like seven years as an independent creator, and not making any money from that, and doing YouTube videos, writing blog posts, and doing all of those things. Now, I can attribute that to ADHD and having a bunch of different passions, and trying to put them all out into the world and do stuff. And finding a career that allowed me to keep doing that thing, but not also have to worry about like, “Okay, how do I feed my family as well?”
Jay Miller (33:21):
So I do think that in my career, having ADHD and being in developer relations, because the nature of the industry is to pick things up, work on them, put them down, and be working on three or four things all at one time, and also having wonderful project managers that will help me say, “Okay, hey, put this down, pick this up. Go work on these things now.” That has been like the biggest success for me. But you know, to be honest, if I can be transparent, even doing this interview, one of the things… I was talking to my boss about this, and it was like I don’t necessarily want to be the face of ADHD, because I don’t think that that’s possible.
Jay Miller (34:12):
Like, so many people, so many different experiences, so many different things. If anything, I just want to tell people that like, “Hey, this is possible, even if you don’t think it is.” If you’re in a situation and you can get out of that situation that’s somewhat toxic for you if you have ADHD, I want to encourage you to do that. If you are in a position, like I want you to feel as if you have a solution available to you. Because that’s where all of those moments where I collapsed, not literally collapsed, but ADHD-wise collapsed… I realized every time I talk about that, I then have to put the disclaimer out of like, “Oh, no, I didn’t like hit the ground.”
Lindsay Guentzel (35:01):
That came later.
Jay Miller (35:02):
Yeah, that came afterwards.
Lindsay Guentzel (35:04):
Jay Miller (35:05):
But that moment is like, you don’t… I hit those points in my life because there was no one there to tell me, “Hey, you should go talk to somebody,” until there finally was, and then that opened a doorway and completely jettisoned my career into a different direction, all for the positive. So like, at this point, I don’t necessarily think about thriving or success. Like, I’m just doing what I do in hopes that I can encourage other people to do the same, and again, ultimately just make a nice, comfortable living for myself and my family.
Lindsay Guentzel (35:48):
It’s interesting that you say that about the word “thriving,” and kind of looking ahead, especially considering we talked about… What’s the saying, like, “Lights to lights”?
Jay Miller (35:58):
Yeah, “Lights to lights” or “Chow to chow.”
Lindsay Guentzel (36:02):
I mean, you do almost in a sense kind of take it day by day. You’re enjoying what you’re doing and you’re living in that moment, and I think that’s an amazing place to be.
Jay Miller (36:12):
It definitely feels good. You know, I can definitely say that, again, being a little bit more older, like I do think about like, “Oh, hey, am I saving for retirement? Or am I doing all these other things?” I have a kid, and college is really expensive. Like, I need to start saving now to be able to afford one semester. Like, all of these individual thoughts, they run through my head from time to time, but I think more than anything, it is let things happen as they happen. I think about that in terms of the projects that I’m working on, you know? For someone who loves talking about productivity and productivity things, a lot of what I’m doing is not often planned. It is very much go to meetings that I’m supposed to be at, make sure I’m not missing any of those, and then work on whatever like strikes you in that moment.
Jay Miller (37:11):
And I mean, luckily I have like 1,500 projects, so like it’s easy to have something, but it’s often the goal of just like, if I can push something into a direction, and if I made progress on it, document that progress, let people know hey, you’re working on this, and if you’re not doing a thing that people want you to be doing, they’ll tell you. I’ve relied on that a little bit, and luckily, I tend to just be working on the right things at the right time, or I just get them done fast enough that I can set them down and then pick up something else, and they’re like, “Oh, Jay’s really busy.” So it kind of just works out the way it does.
Lindsay Guentzel (37:53):
You mentioned project managers being an important part of your role, because they kind of corral everything and make sure that your focus is where it needs to be. But you talk about a lot of these projects, and the way you describe them is like you’re working on them, and you’re working on them, and you put them down, and you pick them back up, and I imagine at some point they’re getting finished, so how have you… What are the workarounds you’ve learned to kind of get to that point? Because in my mind, I’m like, “We have not touched at all about what your daily routine is,” if like you’re crossing things off lists, if you have a running to-do list. You seem very casual about all the work you’re doing, and I would just really like to know what your secret is, and if you could pass it along to me.
Jay Miller (38:44):
So you made a really big misconception. The projects don’t get finished. That’s the trick. The thing that I’ve learned is that you can work on those projects and still create off of those projects. So for me, I put out a tool called diversityorgs.tech, which was this idea of like hey, anywhere in the world, you should find tech organizations that specifically focus on your underrepresented group. And obviously for me, that would be like black men, but I cover as many of the different bases as I can. And in that moment, I got past the minimum viable product. Like, I’m comfortable enough having this on the internet. I know what bugs exist. I’m going to write content about this now. I’m going to start creating off of this thing.
Jay Miller (39:47):
It’s nowhere near finished. There are plenty of things that can continue to happen on it. And as I iterate over time, I’m documenting those processes, so then I’m creating content off of kind of, “Hey, here’s what a project I recently did that lets me map out where wildfires are across the globe, because I live in California, where fires just happen, and it’s like I wanted to be able to see where fires exist, so I just made the thing,” and it was like, “All right, the thing is made. Now I can document how I made the thing.” And the next step in that is like write a bunch of posts, do a video, everybody’s happy, and then set that down, because it works. But I could make it better, and I know that I could make it better, and I start indexing all the things that I could make it better.
Jay Miller (40:35):
And then when I have downtime or when someone says, “Oh, hey, we need an example of a project doing this,” I can go, “I have a project that’s doing something like that. I could make it better by doing this new thing.” And then I just pick it back up and start working on it some more. But ultimately, I think I like picking up projects that don’t necessarily have a concrete end, because that means I can just pick them up, work on them for a while, and then set them down, and no one is upset that I didn’t finish the project, because the project wasn’t designed to be finished.
Lindsay Guentzel (41:06):
It actually sounds like the perfect space for someone with ADHD.
Jay Miller (41:10):
Exactly. And the best part with that is there have been moments where people have said, “Hey, can you help with this other project?” And I don’t like those projects, because they do have a definitive end, and it’s like, “Ah, I am working on this. Who do I know when it’s done?” It’s like, “This looks done enough. I’m going to ask them if this is okay, and then go about my business and never want to touch that thing ever again.”
Lindsay Guentzel (41:39):
There’s just so much that I can relate to in that, and I just love the fact that you look at all of the things that you’re doing as like essentially opportunities for growth. You’re taking what you’re learning in those moments, in the moments that really excite you, knowing full well that you’re probably not going to put as much… Not even energy. I don’t want to say it that way, but like you know at some point you’re going to move on to something else. Like, you’re going to kind of just say, “Okay, I’m going,” but you’re taking what you learned from that and moving into something else. I think that’s a very valuable moment to touch on for all of us, who kind of sit in our little puddle of shame when we don’t finish something, because that is so common with ADHD. But to look at it as a learning experience, and like you’re taking that and transforming it into something else in your life.
Jay Miller (42:38):
One of my artistic-al inspirations in life is Donald Glover. One of the things I really like about his career as an artist, as a musician, as a director, as an actor, like, everything is evolved further and further off of something before it, you know? When he did his original comedy skits on YouTube, and then that turned into becoming a comedy writer, and writing for 30 Rock, and then from there, doing community, and all while doing all of that, having this idea of, “I want to be a musician,” and then having an album, and doing mixtapes, and then putting out an album that was critically acclaimed, and even in those moments, developing different video and artistic ideas that he then took back into producing the series, Atlanta.
Jay Miller (43:34):
And now you see him on Disney properties, as like Lando Calrissian and things, and it’s like all of these things, the depth and the growth that he had was evolutionary. It came off of, “I started doing this thing. It was good, or bad, or whatever, but it was what it was, and then I took the knowledge from that and brought it to the next thing.” And I have tried to do that a lot with the different things that I’ve made. Again, I talked about doing podcasting for seven or eight years. I’m now on a podcast network, and I get paid to do podcasts, and now I… My sister was like, “Hey, I want to do a podcast.” I’m like, “Great. Let me give you all 10 years of like knowledge wrapped up in a bow,” and she’s like, “It’s just a fun thing I want to do with my friends.” I was like, “Okay, I’ll put that back up, but when you want to get serious about it, I got it here for you.”
Jay Miller (44:28):
And just that idea of I’ve done so many things, and I haven’t even done them well. I’ve just done them, and I think for a lot of people, that’s often enough, because I think a lot of people just don’t ever do anything.
Lindsay Guentzel (44:42):
The fear of starting stuff. It’s a powerful thing. So I want to wrap things up, and I’m actually going to change things up, because my last question is always, “What do you wish people knew or understood better about ADHD?” But I actually want to go back to the questions that you’ve been asking people over the last year, year-and-a-half, about what they would tell people in that moment, when they’re speaking to somebody, and they’re in that moment of vulnerability, and there’s a lot of fear, and a lot of shame, and a lot of confusion, and… We aren’t set up as humans in this world, to be good in that situation, and I’m curious to know what you would say, what your advice would be.
Jay Miller (45:25):
The first thing I would tell someone is, “You, somewhere, have just the instinctual tools for survival. Like, you will not… Don’t let this be the end of you. Especially if you got diagnosed later in life, as an adult, you’ve managed, to some level, up to this point. Now, it should be… It’ll be different, and now there’s a word, or there’s a classification associated with it. But that isn’t the end. Take all that stuff that you learned, take all the things that you were doing to cope, and now look at it from this new lens, of, ‘Oh, I have ADHD. Oh, I’m doing this thing that I’ve always done for years whenever I get stressed out or overwhelmed. Is this a thing that I could put a little bit of a structure around and connect that with my ADHD?'”
Jay Miller (46:37):
Or, if and when you decide like, “Okay, maybe medication is a thing that I want to try,” again, you’ve done so many things up to that point. If it doesn’t work, you can say, “I know what being in a good spot feels like. This isn’t it,” and having the confidence to talk to a psychiatrist and say like, “Hey, we need to figure this out,” because I think that’s a lot of where the stereotypes and some of the problems arose, of people saying, “Well, doctor says I need to do this, so I’m just going to do this, and I guess this is my life now,” and it’s like that’s absolutely not true. There are support groups that you can talk to. You can work with your psychiatrist to adjust medication levels, and you can even decide, “Hey, medication’s not a thing for me. I’m going to handle this with a lot of group support, therapy, and many other things.”
Jay Miller (47:35):
But, the question is, you’ve been managing this on your own for so long, and you don’t have to. So, what are you going to do? Like, what are you going to be thinking about in those next steps? And I hope that the answer is like, “I want to find people around me that also have ADHD, and learn from them.” And again, it’s not going to be a matter of, “Well, this worked for this other person, so it’s going to work for me too.” But when you don’t know where to start, what tended to work for other people usually is a good starting place, and you can even evolve off of that. “Oh, hey. I can’t play Tetris nine hours a day anymore, because I have to take care of my little one.” Once my little one goes to bed, or when I go on my lunch break, I still get my Tetris rounds in. And now I just bring programming into it, so then I have an excuse to play Tetris during work.
Lindsay Guentzel (48:38):
I loved what you said, “You managed this on your own, and now you don’t have to.” I think that is such a powerful message to end on, and it is just such a gift of hope to people, that regardless of where you are, you lived life without this knowledge, without knowing what it was, without the ability to get help, and now you don’t have to do it on your own anymore. That is a very powerful thing to remind people of. So Jay, thank you so much, not just for that amazing little nugget to end on, but my goodness, for sharing so much of your life, and your enthusiasm, and your energy. I can’t wait to see what comes with all of the things you’re doing. It sounds like a very fun-filled, probably a little chaotic at times life, but my goodness, like what you are putting out, I will sign up for, so thank you.
Jay Miller (49:41):
Absolutely. And I will say, if this comes out in October, I am working on a couple of resources for people who are curious about living life with ADHD. We’ve talked about how hard it can be to open up to people. Right now, I’m in the process of building resources that will allow people to share words of encouragement anonymously, so that’s kind of the next big project that I get to work on for a while, and then get it to a point where I’m comfortable with it being in the world.
Lindsay Guentzel (50:19):
That is incredible. I can’t wait to see what that looks like, and look at you, taking on a project that has an end date, because you want people to enjoy it.
Jay Miller (50:29):
Yes. I’ve put some artificial end dates in there. There might be tweets. That’ll be the thing, is at the end of the day, the minimum product is tweets. But there will also hopefully be a website where people can go, and if they’re interested, they’ll get to hear the stories of what I hope to be a lot of other people. Again, we’re still in the process of getting those people to come and submit, but everything would be anonymous, so a lot of people have already expressed interest in sharing what their knowledge that they’ve accrued, just learning how to live.
Lindsay Guentzel (51:05):
That is incredible. That’s an amazing project. What a gift that will be. I can’t wait to see how it comes together. Jay, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I’m so grateful, and I’m so excited to see what’s next, and of course, thank you for your candidness, and for all the energy you’re putting out into the world to help this community. It really is a gift to everybody, so thank you.
Jay Miller (51:30):
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to come on and speak.
Lindsay Guentzel (51:50):
To find out more about Refocused 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 @RefocusedPod.