What “The Sound of Music” Can Teach the World about ADHD
How do you solve a problem like Maria? Well, get her some ADHD Coaching and a prescription for Adderall. But what do I mean by that?
First let me backup a little to talk about the genesis of this idea. As a person with ADHD and also as an ADHD Coach, I find the general public’s lack of knowledge about ADHD, and the abounding myths about ADHD, to be discouraging.
Actually, not just discouraging—detrimental to how ADDers fare in life. But it’s not so easy to explain ADHD in a way that’s simple to grasp. The subject of this blog—how the character, Maria, in “The Sound of Music” movie reveals and embodies the paradoxes of ADHD—is my way of helping people “get” what ADHD looks like in the world and points to what to do about it.
Let’s look at Maria. As the movie opens, she’s out in nature singing her heart out, presumably inspiring many birds and squirrels. She’s having so much fun and is so concentrated on her task —i.e. hyperfocusing—that she forgets the time and misses mass at church, again! (Because she has no Prospective Memory, the executive function that basically is “remembering to remember”.)
The leading nuns’ reaction to this umpteeenth transgression is telling and important: they see the paradox of Maria, but overall consider the errant “child” to be a “problem” that is beyond their ability to solve. It’s confusing to them, because Maria is very likable and exhibits many other admirable qualities: energy, enthusiasm, can make nuns laugh, and is generally fun to be around. Also, “her penitence is real.” But she’s flighty, late all the time, and doesn’t learn from mistakes.
Maria’s paradoxes confound the poor nuns, who are reduced to labeling her a “flibbertigibbet”— strong words from the ladies in black—who are impossible to understand, as impossible as holding “a moonbeam in your hand.” Ultimately, the nuns, perhaps temporarily forgetting “judge not,” judge her to be a “headache,” “problem,” and—the final blow—“not an asset of the abbey.”
So, in what seems a lot more like punishment than helping a girl out, the nuns send her off to be the nanny to a house filled with children who are suffering an ongoing deprivation of childhood fun due to the demands of their distant and dictatorial father, Baron Georg Von Trapp (and his supremely non-maternal, aristocratic girlfriend, The Baroness). And these kids do not like nannies. They’ve recently broken and dispensed with several in the recent past. In short, it looks like Maria is being set up for yet another failure.
Except something truly miraculous happens. Instead of falling prey to the dysfunctional Von Trapps, Maria thrives. She discovers her true talents—for example, an uncanny ability to teach music and singing in a very sprawling, cinematic kind of way; empathizing with, understanding, and gaining the trust and love of all the formerly antagonistic children; making clothes from drapes; and controlling marionettes. All this, while effortlessly displacing the Baroness, who is helpless against Maria’s infectious lovability when it comes to holding the affection of Baron Von Trapp. Does the Baroness have it in her to hazard and pull off a duet with Georg? No, she does not. But Maria does. Without Maria, we would have no Edelweiss.
So what has happened here? Maria left a situation where her greatest talents are unexpressed and unappreciated, and entered a domain where her talents are useful, inspiring, and transformative. Because of her particular abilities, she is able to overcome daunting domestic and child-developmental challenges and single-handedly defeat the Nazis. Okay, that last bit is hyperbole, but the point stands.
When ADDers are in the right place with the right people doing the right things, they can use their greatest talents, interests, and strengths with great effectiveness. But in the wrong place doing the wrong things, they appear feckless in a way that’s hard to understand—by themselves and others.
This is a lesson to parents with a child who is struggling, employers with employees who might have a perplexing, peculiar mix of abilities and challenges, and lovers and spouses frustrated with partners who inexplicably fail at things that seem easy. To people with ADD, the lesson is both an inspiration and warning: work with your ADHD (i.e. pursue your greatest interests, strengths, and talents) and your ADHD becomes manageable or even supremely advantageous, but go against your ADHD—for instance a job that doesn’t use your talents with people who don’t understand your issues—and you will feel the pain, which will not go away until you change your approach.
Back to my question at the opening. If you are having a hard time figuring out what to do and where to be in terms of work and career, get help. For instance, from a coach. Don’t go to a nun. They got lucky with Maria. Find a well-trained and experienced coach to help you get traction, which in turn, we hope will lead to greater success and happiness. And, yes, maybe even a cornball song or two, a small price to pay for transforming your life into something you have only dreamed of.
Best of Luck,
For a deeper dive into this topic, I invite you to listen to a podcast that airs at 1 pm EST on Wednesday, November 25, 2020, where I speak with Coach Jeff Cooper of Attention Talk Radio. In this podcast, I evaluate the character of Maria in “The Sound of Music” to illustrate how ADDers can liberate themselves and get unstuck by letting go of rigid mindsets that are like invisible prison bars. The podcast is titled, “ADHD and the Conflict between Beliefs and Self-Awareness.”