Sep 6, 2021

Founder stories: Astrid McGuire, Founder of ADHD Coached

This month, Programme + Marketing Manager Holly Moon chatted with the wonderful Astrid McGuire, ADHD + Neurodivergent Coach; Founder of ADHD Coached. In this piece, Astrid shares her journey about growing up with ADHD + how she successfully launched her own business coaching neurodivergent individuals. Astrid also touches on the ‘aha’ moments that shaped her career, her insights about how organisations can support neurodivergent individuals + the power of diverse thinking.

Firstly Astrid, I’m keen to understand a little more about you and your journey to becoming an ADHD and Neurodivergent coach and founding your business, ADHD Coached… Could you talk me through your story?

So, as I went through childhood and school, I knew I had ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or at least the traits, however, I decided that I didn't want a label so I could live my life normally throughout school and not be seen as a 'different’ person. Eventually at university in the second year, I was struggling so much that one of the teachers said that a diagnosis would help me because we could give me extra time and other small changes that could make a huge difference to my learning. 

So, I got diagnosed, quit university, quit business school and thought to myself, ‘I love sales, I love selling stuff, I'm going to go to London where my cousins were able to find jobs without degrees’. I also thought ‘I'm sure I'll get a job’ which I managed to do before I had even found my first flat. Then, something very important happened which is a key part of my story. I was hired by a manager at a tech firm, I didn't really care that much about the job per say but, they had reached out to me for my languages and I told this manager, ‘look I have ADHD you know’ and he responded with 'that's great, your strengths are exactly what we need’. This was the first time that someone had ever recognised why ADHD can actually be really positive when I always thought I was this out of control kid. 

After that, through a relationship, I met the first person who also had ADHD and we talked until five a.m. in the morning. He then told me to go to a coach as he was working with one and it was amazing! But, I didn't do it. Six months later, I saw my friend again who reaffirmed to me that now, I really had to go because I was really struggling. I then reached out to a coach who was a lovely woman called Heather in Ireland and we kicked off our coaching relationship through Zoom. It was life-changing. Mindset changing. Everything you could possibly imagine. And, the great thing is... I don't actually have to say it was just the coach, I learnt to take responsibility over time. 

Following this, I then went travelling on my first solo trip. I had never been able to organise a holiday for myself as I found it really difficult to make decisions and would struggle with things like this…. So, once I had built up the confidence I jetted off on the holiday, I set up an account called ADHD Life on Instagram, flew to Thailand, came back and within four weeks one of the co-founders of We Work had shared the sentence, (which is now their motto), Do What You Love. Reading this, I said to myself ‘Yes! If I want to go and do what I love, I'm going to have to study. I want to become a coach, I want to help others. A day or two later, I then quit my job which was very impulsive and very ADHD of me but I knew I had worked so hard I could support myself. And now, here I am a year and a half later! 

How did ADHD impact you as you were growing up and at the beginning of your career? I invite you to focus on both the challenges and the positives. 

The biggest impact is the fact that I didn't look at ADHD, I didn't dig deep, so for a few years into work, I was faced with challenges that I just didn't understand. I thought it was just me. An example of those challenges is the executive functioning, high level tasks, and the self talk, which seems to be so much more intense. I often talk about intensity with ADHD and how you're very heavy which can often affect your confidence. 

In my first job, parts of it were not great but there were also amazing positives such as being an outperformer which would make me question ‘what is this’? Six months to a year later I found things were getting harder. 

Then, there was this shifting moment where one of my managers actually recognised my ADHD and I ended up staying with this company much longer than expected. I was given a promotion because the manager understood that my brain was already performing in a way of ‘oh, what are all the negatives? What am I going to do badly?’ and this manager really worked and focused on strengths. So in any one to one, whether I was the lowest performing or the highest performing individual, it was always positively led and growth focused.

Out of this experience I learnt so much, however, this manager then left the company so I also left the company and started a new role at WeWork where the challenges came up again. I was able to work through these but, the management was different, it was high intensity, constantly changing, which our brains are very good with but there was no growth focus. 

We have heard you talk about the difference between a great manager and a not so great one, what do you think is the key difference between the two?

I genuinely think that the focus needs to be on strength, growth, and how we ‘create’ as opposed to the performance itself. The target as a manager should be to always put the person in the centre rather than revenue. 

How has having ADHD impacted your work as a founder? 

I think one of the greatests strengths is the curiosity as the brain is always looking for something interesting every minute of the day and when I started my own business everything was new. Instead of feeling extremely overwhelmed, I was powering through it all and during the first six months I thought to myself 'yes, I can do this’. My ADHD positively impacted my curiosity, creativity and making sure I did not give up. 

Something I also really loved was the flexibility and freedom that came with running my own business as it allowed me to really test, trial and experiment with everything. The responsibility felt so much more natural due to my entrepreneurial side which comes from the family that I grew up in where everyone is an entrepreneur except my dad! 

You talk about your experience of being coached in your 20s and it was like ‘introducing magic’ to your life, could you tell us more about that ‘aha’ moment and how things changed for you from then?

It all started with the holiday trip that I organised. Not only did it affect every single decision I made, it also helped me build up my courage to make decisions by myself in all parts of my life and this was really the epiphany firework moment.  

A big part of coaching is learning how to, in essence, be your own cheerleader. Even in the hardest moments where perseverance is needed, you begin to realise that it really doesn't matter what other people think which has now become a belief for me. Throughout my coaching experience it really helped me change my perception, reframe it, embrace it and then move on. As I started to talk aloud about my ADHD to another person I would have this realisation of what I am actually saying and then having someone repeating it back to me, you start to think ‘oh my goodness, is that really what I said? No? Yes? Ok.

In your view, what do you believe are the biggest challenges when it comes to supporting individuals with ADHD and creating inclusive working environments?

Firstly, I have an opinion that the word 'inclusive' is a word that is covering up for responsibility and I don't think responsibility is inclusive at the moment. Organisations are saying “we want to be inclusive, we're all human, we want to include everyone, we don't actually want to be a bad organisation". However, inclusive means that you take responsibility in all elements of inclusivity and you embrace open conversations as well as vulnerability. When someone comes out with ADHD, I can get a lot of messages from H.R. departments saying "Hi. One of our employees has just been diagnosed and needs help", everytime I'm like, ok, I can work individually with someone, but the real change has to happen internally to understand what ADHD is. About 10% of employees are likely to be neurodivergent in some way and 3.5% will have ADHD which means organisations need to understand what the ADHD brain is and why it is different. It's not that boy jumping on the table and being hyperactive.

There are three main types of ADHD and those being; 

  • impulsive/hyperactive type
  • inattentive and distractible type
  • both types combined. This is the most common type of ADHD and is characterized by impulsive and hyperactive behaviours as well as inattention and distractibility.

The ADHD brain experiences important, executive functioning, and heavy tasks very intensely, so you will often have someone who can be in hyperfocus, where you can’t even talk to them and they'll get the project done all while seeing the loopholes which is a powerful strength. This skill set is incredibly crucial to the future of work, which I think over the next 20 to 30 years as companies grow, they will need to be inclusive of this type of thinking to be truly innovative.

Secondly, to be an inclusive organisation, when ADHD comes up you should never make it just about the ADHD individual. You need to approach their skills with a strength focused mindset and with the openness to be vulnerable to start seeing benefits across the board.   

I had a client I worked with for a while and not only did that person grow and perform incredibly, they started to get promotions because they went into the company and started training and shining a light on ADHD and what it meant to be neurodivergent.  The great thing was, it wasn't just the employees that were learning and being impacted, it was a parent of someone with ADHD, the auntie or a stepdad that was affected the most and this was simply through the power of telling and sharing stories.

Taking one step back from this, I also get people in my practice who will never, ever tell their employer about their ADHD because they know or assume that if they told them, there would be a very high chance they would be fired. 

Thirdly, organisations can not immediately assume that an individual with ADHD will be a risk to the business, or that they are going to be a heavy load on HR, and ultimately they will be difficult to manage. This is the worst answer and organisations need to take into account that their actions will affect someone for the rest of their life. 

What are some of the misconceptions about ADHD?

Coming out with ADHD is heavy, it's frightening and no one really dares to do it. The misconception is "Oh, yeah, but we're so open and we're OK for you to share your true self". But that's not always the case. The misconceptions are, I mean, they're endless really. People say things like, "oh well, you know, just pop pills" even though there is a high chance that people that get on medication and after six months, only 30% - 40%  keep going with the medication. 

Lastly, what’s on the horizon for ADHD Coached and what are you most excited for?

At the moment, there is a ridiculous amount of demand for individuals and I'm also getting many founders and entrepreneurs reaching out for support. I am working to find a balance as being an individual coach there are only X amount of sessions I can do each week to keep my mental health in tact. Next up, I'm going to study to become a CBT counsellor as this will help me offer amazing support for a more diverse group of people with ADHD. However, finding a way to help the corporate world for me is crucial, I see a gap in companies and how much power they have over someone's identity and this is something I want to change. I need to look into hiring more people as I can’t do that on my own!  

To learn more about ADHD Coached, get in touch on LinkedIn + follow Astrid's awesome instagram which is packed with bite size insights around ADHD.

Disclaimer: at Unleashed, we don’t claim to be experts in neurodiversity. However, we want to encourage our readers to embrace an inclusive attitude and approach to supporting all individuals within your organisation.

Written by Unleashed's Holly Moon.

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