Thanks to Susan Murphy of SuzeMuse for the encouragement to share this blogpost with you. Her blogpost What’s Holding You Back From Telling Your Story has reminded me to just be a human being and write. Sometimes, I read so much about “how to blog” and “how to _____” I start thinking too much. So, here’s a blogpost that’s comin’ atcha without concern for search engines or even whether it’s right for this space.
Put your hat on and let’s go!
“HOW’D YOU GET SO GOOD AT EXCEL?”
Here’s the secret. Sure, I’ve had 15 years of working with data, all the experiences, the breakdowns, messes, moments of brilliance, mentors, exploration, etc. But then there’s the blessing of ADD: Attention Deficit Disorder.
About 10 years ago a Dr. questioned whether I’d ever been tested, diagnosed or discussed the possibility of ADD. I have no idea what had her bring this up but it was accurate and confirmed. There it is! The truth about me and Excel is Attention Deficit Disorder.
In this TEDx Talk Stephen Tonti wonderfully describes many experiences of having ADD. Especially interesting are the parts about hyper-focus and “seeing the big picture.” Those have always been gifts of mine while short-term memory has always been rough.
THE STRUGGLE WITH SHORT TERM MEMORY
I play bass, and learning songs is excruciating because bandleaders are notorious for teaching a new song straight out of their heads. “So … we start in F# and then we go to D. Like this …” They’d then strum their guitar and demonstrate. But I’m standing there with my bass wondering
- Where is this going?
- How many measures of F#?
- How many measures of D?
- Is this the intro to the song or are we already in the song?
- What’s after D?
- What rhythm is the drummer playing?
My short-term memory has shorted out!
And then the bandleader would gesture for everyone to stop playing, then say, “I forgot to tell you this part.” Then they’d noodle around on their guitar and say, “Forget what I just said. We start in F#. Then we go to B and walk to the D.”
I look at the other bandmates and they’re getting it. They’re playing while I have already forgotten the part about “B with a walk up to D.” That initial phase of learning a song is dreadful but, once we’ve gotten through the whole song, then I can go home and put the song in a spreadsheet, as described in “Excel, Music & Songwriting.” If the song is well written, there are patterns that hold a song together and make the sections easy to visualize as individual pieces of “the big picture.”
THE BLESSING OF THE ADD DIAGNOSIS
The diagnosis gave me something to dig into. It was no longer bizarre to have a poor short-term memory while also being able to visualize pieces of a big picture. It made sense that my BA is in Philosophy and it’s comprised mostly of Logic and Decision Theory courses (don’t ask me about Descartes or Spinoza). Symbols, patterns, connections and processes make my brain happy.
It also makes sense when asked about my passion and skill for working with data and Excel. Whether I’m building an app or cleansing a dataset, the major pieces are always present, and how they need to fit together and the strategy for making it happen.
I can see it all.
And then the hyper-focus kicks in and that’s a beautiful place to be. It’s like a jet-ski on a straight course, bouncing on choppy waves under a bright blue sky. There’s a bold and powerful elegance about working with data inside complex projects.
EXCEL, DATA & ADD
I’ve talked with other people who have ADD and we all aren’t data people but, there’s something that our individual brains like and we can’t get enough of it. So, I agree with Stephen Tonti when he says that there isn’t really an attention “deficit.” Learning a damned song straight out of someone else’s head triggers so much for me that it seems like I’m, not paying attention but in actuality, inside my head it feels like fireworks have been set off. Similarly, long movies are overstimulating and I mentally go somewhere else and often just go to sleep.
No. I don’t think there’s a deficit. It rather feels like too much doggone commotion demanding to much attention all at once.
However, data arouses my brain most wonderfully … yes yes yes. Data. My clients and Excel students benefit from the ADD more than they benefit from my years of experience because of the hyper-focus and ability to see the pieces of the whole.
I can’t teach ADD to students. But I can help shorten their learning curve by stressing that working with data requires strategy and focus. Excel’s functions only help with efficiency. Database queries make things easier. A pencil and paper make things easier to see. Some how humanity survived all these years, managing data, with no computers. Strategy is what’s missing in a lot of technical courses. We get handed a bunch of titillating tools, and then what?
Through teaching and training I’ve seen that strategy should come first, and then the tools. That’s the gift of ADD. And that’s the secret. My students can’t come learn ADD but they’ll get strategy and help with the thought process of working with data. The tools are irrelevant.