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“I Got a Lot Done Today. So Why Do I Feel Like a Loser!”

I lift my daughters’ spirits when they’re down with inspirational advice. Now it’s time for me to follow it.

One of the many criteria for adult ADHD is a personal sense of underachievement, regardless of how much you have accomplished. This goes beyond the normal parental insecurity we often feel because our kids aren’t simultaneously trilingual sports stars and Nobel prize winners running their own multi-billion dollar software company by the time they are eight. This criterion has more to do with an abject fear of failure because we didn’t meet our goals for the day, despite checking off most of them.

As an adult and father, I find myself giving sagacious advice to lift my girls’ spirits when they are down. Yet I fail to give myself the same advice when I am similarly discouraged. Maybe I was trained by years of failure and shame to have a permanent inferiority complex, but I haven’t been an embarrassed 15-year-old for almost 35 years.

There is a difference between making excuses versus identifying shortcomings. The difference comes down to responsibility. If we try to get out of it, we’re making excuses. If we try to identify the underlying faults while still taking responsibility, we’re being adults.

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Yet, as adults with ADHD, many of us can’t see how much we ignore the things we do accomplish while we focus on what we haven’t accomplished. I keep the following points in mind to defeat that sense of underachievement. I also adapt them as needed when my girls become discouraged.

  • Success isn’t an all-or-nothing situation. Don’t look at life like a sports game where only one side takes home the trophy. Yes, you may have failed to complete everything on your list, but no, that doesn’t mean you didn’t get anything done.
  • Giving yourself credit for what you’ve accomplished is not settling for less. Since I use to-do lists, I add every unplanned task to my list, and check it off when it’s done. When I look over my list of accomplishments at the end of the day, it is tempting to dismiss every completed item that isn’t the “important thing.” However, looking over what I have accomplished helps me see how I spent my time. There aren’t often many extra things on that list that I could have left unfinished.
  • Life is filled with competing lists with different priorities. Sometimes, everything needs to be done yesterday, yet you only have so many hours in the day to work in. Life doesn’t have only one list of priorities. Some of those priorities work at cross purposes. It is unrealistic to think you can do it all. Family intervenes. Sudden emergencies at work need to be dealt with. Life excels at pitching us curveballs. This is not a personal failing. This is just how life is.
  • Focusing on what you’ve accomplished helps you to continue striving. Discouragement can slowly sap our strength. The more we think about our failures, the more we fail. I find that giving the day’s accomplishments a positive spin helps me feel more positive about tackling my list tomorrow. If I focus on failure, I become too discouraged to catch up. It makes things worse.
  • Brush yourself off, and try again. The secret to success is to learn from our mistakes and keep moving forward. You tell your kids this. Maybe you should spend more time taking your own advice. I know that when I do, I’m happier and more productive.

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