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Learning to walk without a crutch

Like most people who are extremely online, I have a love / hate relationship with X (Twitter). I created a Twitter account in high school (2006) back when you texted the platform to tweet, but I didn’t really get how to use the platform or have anyone interesting to follow so I gave up. I came back to Twitter as I was at the beginning of my career in 2012. I don’t remember exactly what inspired me to join, but I remember trying to follow all of the designers whose work I admired. After a little while, I realized that many of these people were doing the same thing: following people whose work they admired.

Early career Ben Early Career Ben

Once I realized this, Twitter was unlocked for me. It blew my mind that if you just start with someone who is talented in your field, and follow the people they follow, you will eventually end up following the people who are moving and shaping the industry you work in. And from that moment on I was hooked. It was like being hooked up to a drip system that not only kept me up to date, but ahead of the curve in navigating my career. It helped me choose Sketch over Photoshop for UI design (and then move to Figma when Sketch was still at its peak). It helped me choose React in the very early days. It’s hard to understate how much of a benefit this had on my career.

When you are early on in your career, you seemingly need to boil the ocean in order to learn everything you need to know to be relevant in a given field, but a savvy person is able to navigate all of the options and focus their time on learning the highest value skill. To this day, one of the top pieces of advice I give people early in their careers is to follow this same path. So what changed for me?

I suppose it is human nature, but many of the best things in life can become a crutch that prevent you from growing. Once all the easy wins have been achieved, there is hard work standing in the way of you reaching your potential. For me, two of those crutches were Adderall and Twitter. I was diagnosed as an adult with ADD/ADHD (and my parents later confirmed they always believed that was the case but had not wanted to intervene). When I started taking Adderall (coincidentally also in 2012) it had such an immediate impact on my career. I was focused and productive, and most importantly it helped me overcome the hesitancy to start tasks that were “less interesting” or not mentally stimulating.

The problem with Adderall is that over time, your body builds up a tolerance to it, and it loses its effectiveness over time. You are essentially left with the choice of increasing your dose to get the same impact, or face the reality of diminishing marginal returns. In my case, I was always very worried about building up an addiction to a controlled substance so I after increasing my dose to 15mg (starting at 5mg), I decided to deal with the marginal returns. I stayed on this dosage for 6+ years without making a change, and the reality was that the benefits that helped me so much early on for me were no longer there.

Adderall is very expensive and oftentimes insurance will not cover it (that was the case after our insurance changed), so why keep taking it? To be honest, it was because I was afraid. I was afraid of the irritability and headaches I knew I’d get weaning off. I was afraid of my productivity plummeting, so in classic ADD form I procrastinated. Thankfully, this past summer, there was a major supply shortage of Adderall and every Pharmacy was out of stock and it would be weeks before they could fill my prescriptions. I decided that this was the moment to make the change (and honestly it wasn’t as hard as I thought to quit).

Family photo from the week I quit taking Adderall Family photo from the week I quit taking Adderall

Twitter on the other hand was still my drug of choice, because while it also was offering diminishing marginal returns for my career, it was very helpful for alleviating one of my greatest fears: being bored. But the reality is, boredom is a gift. It is the temporary pain that stands between you and creativity. I have decided that I need to spend more time allowing space for boredom. To sit in that momentary pain, take a breath, tell myself I am ok, and then move on to something life giving.

So much of the beauty in life is on the other side of temporary pain, so in 2024, it is my goal to run towards the pain instead of running away. In exercise / fitness, in work, and in my home life to be more intentional about how I spend my time. So here’s to being (a little) bored, and the joy that waits on the other side.


Thank you to Greg Baugues for writing and talking with me personally about both taking and weaning off his meds.

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