I was at a conference with a friend when the speaker said something about success. I commented to my friend that I wasn’t very successful (or maybe she poked me and
said I was, and I looked surprised; either way it came out that I didn’t think I was a successful person). She pointed out to me that, at the time, I had completed a Bachelor of Music in Composition as well as the coursework for a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and I had been working with autistic children for several years and doing well with that career. Yet I didn’t feel like a success.
Big question here: Why didn’t I feel successful?
We’ll come back to that in a moment, but I’m sure if you think about it you’ll realize that you have a similar problem.
Something I have learned since being diagnosed with ADHD is that we need to address a lot of things differently from the ways other people do. Our brains are not neurotypical (normal), meaning that they are physically different from non-ADHD brains and so they function differently. Because our brains are not typical, our lives cannot be typical. Expecting our lives to follow a typical trajectory is foolish and will lead to burnout, depression, anxiety, and feeling unsuccessful. However, if we redefine success, our atypicality is able to shine in good ways as we work to achieve our success on our own terms. This is nothing but positive!
So, how do we think differently about success? It’s all about reframing things.
First, consider your strengths – but remember that strengths can also be weaknesses! For example, I’m really good at organizing things, but sometimes I get so involved in doing it “just right” that it never actually gets finished.
Once you have a list of your strengths (with notes regarding how they might be weaknesses as well), make notes about how your ADHD impacts your strengths — make sure you include how it might help, ADHD is not all bad all of the time! For example, while perfectionism can be a problem for my organizing, I am also really good at hyperfocusing, which can sometimes mean that I get lots done.
Finally, think about how you can mitigate the impact your ADHD has on your strengths. You might need to find ways to work around your symptoms, for example, but then again, you might be able to find ways to work with them! The point is to minimize negative impact and maximize positive impact.
Back to the anecdote at the beginning: why didn’t I feel successful? Because the things I had achieved weren’t part of my personal picture of success. I am much more successful now that I’ve oriented myself towards the things that I truly care about, using my strengths and weaknesses to great effect. I still struggle, but I feel more successful and that’s what matters.
So, what does success look like for you? I’d be interested to hear about it!
Janna Willard is the founder of Actually ADHD and the Actually ADHD Tumblr. The goal of the blog and site is to provide accurate information about ADHD as well as practical tips and tricks to help ADHDers achieve success in their lives, whatever success looks like for them. Janna is a wife and mother of one, and she and her family live in rural Saskatchewan, Canada.