A popular complaint for adults with ADHD is “I just can’t get my act together!” What is not commonly known is that both the underachievers and overachievers with ADHD share the same complaint. How can that be?
I Can’t Get It Together and I Have Low Self-Esteem
It’s hard to believe that I have anything in common with high power overachievers, considering how low power my achievements tend to be.
In fact, since I am acutely aware of all the things I didn’t accomplish yesterday (this article, for example), I am filled with a very inflamed case of frustration over those unfinished items. They take on a life larger than what I have managed to check off my list. There is no salve for it but to keep working and working until all things have been accomplished. This keeps me up at night and stressed during the next day. In this, I have everything in common with overachievers.
Adults with ADHD share a sense of underachievement no matter how much they have actually accomplished. Once the gears of the mind are engaged, this list of unfinished tasks can take on an obsessed urgency. Have you ever pushed through to the end of a project to the exclusion of life around you simply because you were afraid you might lose momentum, or worse, forget to finish if you stopped too soon?
When I Do Get It Together, I Still Think I’m Underachieving
For those of you who cannot relate because you have the other ADHD problem of having a hard time getting out of the starting gate, you may be surprised to learn that the feeling of unimportance you feel for your lack of achievements doesn’t go away if you actually start achieving things!
ADHD seems to breed in many of us a constant sense of pessimism. Here’s a sample of what I think when down on myself:
- I don’t write fast enough.
- I don’t write often enough.
- I don’t get enough commenters.
- Not enough people @me back on Twitter.
- Nothing I write affects anybody.
- Nobody retweets me.
- Nobody quotes me.
- I don’t own a home like others in my writing circle.
- I don’t make enough money like my brother.
- I don’t have a degree.
- I need to work more.
- I need to write more.
- I need to more . . . More . . . MORE!
When I compare myself to how I was six years ago before I began charting my progress online, I am so much more productive. I write two blogs, contribute articles to a national magazine, and am writing a middle-grade fantasy novel while also being a full-time Dad on disability. Not only am I undertaking these tasks, but I am succeeding at them. Yet I am filled with a pervasive sense of complete Loser-ness.
The lack of accomplishments hovers like glowing carrots at the end of emotional strings—mocking me and constantly reminding me of where I haven’t arrived yet. Once something is complete I dismiss it as unimportant because my mind races to find something new to focus on. In the end, nothing is more important than what I haven’t finished yet.
How to Develop A Positive Self-Image Even When You Can’t Get It Together
Can this possibly sound any more pathetic? Well, all is not hopeless. We can rein it in. In fact, I often do just that. I gave someone advice the other day on Twitter that I often give myself:
When we compare ourselves to others, we only come up short. Better to compare yourself to yourself to see your own progress.
When I forget this simple advice, my mind can race along the track of those thoughts I wrote above. However, when I remind myself to chart my own progress only against myself, my path of success becomes clearer and I am able to let the anxiety go. Having goals to reach for can be a highly motivational and positive thing, but only if we do not dismiss our own successes.
Whether we work harder for those successes or not can be debated, but this I do know. We earned them. We should be proud of them. Feeling positive about ourselves will breed more success and leave us with a healthy sense of achievement.