Peter Shankman is the first to admit that it could not have been easy raising him. Despite (or perhaps within) his over-the-top hyperactivity and impulsivity, his parents recognized the strengths in him. “I remember growing up my mom would say, ‘You walk to the beat of a different drummer. You are a different person than everyone else and that is your strength.’ I never thought of it as a strength. I was always the one being made fun of by other kids,” recalls Shankman. “It turns out it very much was my strength.”
Today Shankman is recognized internationally for radically new ways of thinking about Social Media, PR, marketing, advertising, creativity, and customer service. He is the founder and CEO of The Geek Factory, Inc., a Marketing and PR firm located in New York City with clients worldwide. His list of clients have included the Snapple Beverage Group, NASA, the US Department of Defense, Walt Disney World, Abercrombie and Kent, the Ad Council, American Express, Discovery Networks, New Frontier Media, and Napster – to name just a few.
Shankman is perhaps best known for founding Help A Reporter Out (HARO), a vital (and free) social networking resource for sources, reporters and advertisers who use the service. I first learned of Shankman though HARO whose services I have used many times myself. It wasn’t until more recently that l learned of his ADHD. Shankman graciously agreed to share more about what life has been like for him with ADHD.
Growing Up Feeling Different
“When I was growing up there wasn’t as much known about ADHD. I was hyper and every report card said I was hyper – ‘needs to calm down in class, needs to sit quietly, needs to learn self control,’” remembers Shankman who was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. “It was tough growing up knowing that I was different, knowing that I was not the same. But what I love about it (ADHD) is what I created of myself. It is all from that.”
When asked what lead to him finally being officially diagnosed with ADHD, Shankman says, “I just always knew I was different. As I started reading more about ADHD, I said ‘hmm, I bet you I have this!’ I read a book by a guy named (Edward) Hallowell. The book was called Delivered from Distraction. Inside the book there is a screening test you take and I think a score of 35% or more you might have ADHD. I got something like 94%!”
“I knew I had ADHD,” adds Shankman. “It wasn’t that I needed to get diagnosed. You know you break your leg and you see a bone sticking out of your leg, you don’t say maybe I should get diagnosed for a broken leg. I knew I had it. I was seeing a psychologist at the time. He said, ‘Look, you know you always talk about having ADHD why don’t you go get some proof?’ So for no other reason than to satisfy my curiosity, I did.”
Shankman, an intense athlete, regularly competes in marathons and triathlons. He is currently in training for his first full Iron Man competition – a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run. In addition, he is an experienced skydiver with 206 jumps under his belt.
Shankman manages the more difficult symptoms of ADHD through these activities. “Anything in my world that naturally raises my endorphins and raises my dopamine levels makes me better and that is how I handle it,” says Shankman. “I was actually supposed to go for a run this morning and something happened with the HARO so I had to postpone the run until this afternoon and I am already jittery. My body had planned on going on that run.”
Shankman is also very self-aware of what works for him. “I know what distracts me. If I need to write or if I need to work or whatever, I’ll be on a plane. I’ll just start writing,” explains Shankman, a frequent flyer. “On a plane there is nothing that can interrupt me and that is the greatest thing for me.”
Relationships can be more difficult admits Shankman. “The concept of relationships has always been tough for me because it is very hard to find someone who understands how off the wall I am. It is not easy. That being said I have learned to slow down. That is the best way I could possibly say it – slowing down.”
“When I’m talking to someone I’m dating I’ve learned not to come in the door a million miles an hour. I’ll actually stand outside the door before I come inside and just take a couple of deep breaths and that helps to go in a little calmer,” explains Shankman. “It also really helps if you find someone who likes your sort of craziness, who appreciates it, who is in awe of it almost.”
He is also a strong advocate of seeking help when it is needed. “I’m not just saying this because I am a neurotic, Jewish, New Yorker. I think everyone should at some point, if they haven’t already, there is nothing wrong with having a therapist,” says Shankman. “I have a psychologist who I love talking to and it is just really helpful.”
Shankman also encourages people to value themselves and embrace their differences. He ends the interview with the message his mother taught him long ago - “Different is good, I swear.”
Peter Shankman. Phone Interview/Email Correspondence. May 27 and June 14, 2010.