Entrepreneurs Turn Disabilities Into Capabilities

Some of America’s great business pioneers are affected by a variety of mental health challenges. However, their struggles may be viewed as assets, contributing to their greatness.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, mental health struggles are conditions involving significant changes in thinking, emotion and/or behavior, distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.”

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorders (OCPD) and Depression are some of the diagnoses that affect many well-known entrepreneurs.

Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO; Estee Lauder, Estee Lauder Companies’ CEO, and Paul Orfalea, Kinko’s CEO, are a few impactful business leaders who have first-hand experience dealing with unruly mental health.

If you look around you, at least one person probably owns an Apple product. You, or a parent, have rushed over to Kinko’s to make a copy or to buy office essentials. Estee Lauder’s perfume may be lingering nearby.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was hailed as an innovator, creator, and idealist. However, behind the curtain was also a list of characteristics associated with depression, bipolar disorder, and obsessive compulsive personality disorder (different from OCD).

In the book, America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation, author Joshua Kendall states, “Jobs was difficult to work for and would often blow his stack when something wasn’t done the right way, which meant, of course, his way.”

He was known for donning white gloves in order to inspect the cleanliness of his office. He worked best in a pristine environment and expected nothing less from his staff. It often drove them mad. He would get angry and at times argued abusively that his viewpoint was the right one.  

Jobs was forced out, as his forceful demands were not deemed fit for the company. His early struggles at Apple are attributed to his later episodes of depression. As the once co-founder of the company, he could not cope with the loss.

So, he worked tirelessly to make his return. He continued his efforts to create the perfect design for Apple products. His over-focused attention to detail showed signs of Obsessive Personality Compulsive Disorder: “a pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency,” according to Psych Central.

(Not to be confused with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which often inhibits a person from getting anything done because they are fixated on one particular thought or obsession.)    

Although he struggled for many years, his continued focus on the brand made Apple a household name, with its innovative designs and revolutionary software products. He was eventually able to rejoin Apple, catapulting the company into large success and solidifying himself as a tycoon.

Up until Job’s demise, he concerned himself with any design surrounding him — when he was dying in the hospital, he suggested his doctors make a better design for his oxygen mask as none of them were practical enough for his taste.  

Jobs came back from what seemed like an Earth-shattering failure. By getting the support he needed and persisting, he was able to meet and surpass his pre-struggle achievements.

Estee Lauder

Estee Lauder, a makeup mogul, was always preoccupied with women’s facial features. According to Kendall’s book, “Estée Lauder couldn’t stop touching other women’s faces. Perfect strangers would do, including those she might bump into on an elevator or a street corner.”    

Having to work from a young age instilled in her an innate drive to succeed, but she might have also experienced obsessive compulsive personality disorder symptoms, much like Jobs. Her preoccupation with other women’s faces enhanced her urge to produce beauty care products that could elevate a women’s beauty.

Those with OCPD…happen to have remarkable strengths; they possess enormous drive and persistence and are very detail-oriented.

“Those with OCPD, as I have discovered time and time again, happen to have remarkable strengths; they possess enormous drive and persistence and are very detail-oriented,” states Kendall in Scientific American.

Paul Orfalea

People with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder are often presumed to have short attention spans and difficulty with committing to or completing tasks.

Along with ADHD, Orfalea was also diagnosed with dyslexia, a “condition that makes it hard to learn to read and learn” according to Medical News Today — a combination that goes hand-in-hand to severely challenge a person’s focus.

So how did Orfalea manage his mental health in order to create a multi-billion dollar company?

In Orfalea’s book Copy This!: Lessons from a Hyperactive Dyslexic who Turned a Bright Idea Into One of America’s Best Companies, he discusses the many struggles he faced in school, college and running his own business in the later years.

He never received high scores in school and was nowhere near the top of his class. Orfalea began selling pencils and paper out of his college dorm.

He saw a high-demand for his products and services, which later would prompt his idea of Kinko’s, which would become a multi-billion dollar copy shop.

Orafalea’s strength wasn’t the standard business practice of collecting data and analytics; he couldn’t because of his learning inhibitions. So instead, he focused on what he was good at: being personable. He enjoyed meeting people.

He hired people who were able to balance what some might consider his weaknesses, and he learned how to successfully run a business his way as opposed to the way so many others believed it should be done.” 

He would go from business to business, differentiating his locations from one another to discover what worked at one shop versus the other. After consulting his employees, he would implement the best policies throughout his entire company.

Orfalea found creative ways to turn his weaknesses into strengths. Notably, he rephrases the terms learning disorders or learning disabilities into learning opportunities. 

Above all, Orfalea acknowledges his family for being supportive and patient with his disabilities. A person’s support system can cause a huge impact in a person’s overall wellbeing. 

To get your own anonymous, on-demand, non-judgmental support system, try entering your thoughts at Supportiv – just hit Let’s Begin.

You’ll be connected to people who genuinely understand what you’re going through. Like the moguls above, they can help you see your weaknesses as strengths.

Written by: Leslie Rivera

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