Reply To: Does anyone else have issues setting goals? What’s worked?

Home Welcome to the ADDitude Forums For Adults Getting Things Done Does anyone else have issues setting goals? What’s worked? Reply To: Does anyone else have issues setting goals? What’s worked?


Finding your passion is not enough. What worked for me is actually something a lot of self-help books will advise against, but some sharp-minded ancient philosophers probably would have strongly recommended: figure out what you DON’T want before, or together with, figuring out what you want.

In my mid childhood through the teen years, I was highly focused on both. At the same time I was developing my passion for the natural sciences, I was developing a sense of all the nasty things that happened to adults (and some overconfident teens, all disproportionately likely to be fellow ADHDers, but I didn’t know about the relationship between my neurotype and these things at the time) that I didn’t want to happen to me:

Serious financial troubles like bankruptcy and deep or extended consumer debt with the resulting bad credit. (So far, I was only in this kind of trouble for less than a year, and a mild form of it, held afloat precisely by good credit.)
STIs and unwanted pregnancies.
Abusive relationships, being either the abuser or the abused.
Frequent unemployment or underemployment.
Drug, alcohol, gambling etc. addictions.
Strongly lifestyle-related illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers striking before a ripe old age.
The obesity that often precedes and predicts those lifestyle-related illnesses.
Cavities. (These I ended up getting my first of when I was a teenager with braces, and I got 2 1/2 more as an adult so far.)
Hating my job, my spouse, my co-workers, my kid(s) even while I stuck to them.
Mental illness.
Car accidents.
Housewifery. (If I were a man, the equivalent thing to avoid would have been being stuck in a crummy job just to support a housewife and a couple spawn.)

Maybe intuitively but not explicitly knowing that I was precisely of the neurotype most likely to suffer any and all of these things, but more likely just seeing even the neurotypicals in my life end up in at least one of these situations (in the case of my non-ADHD mother, often but not always linked to rocky relationships with probable undiagnosed ADHDers like my father and first stepfather), I was the one young person in the room who dared to say and think explicitly “yes, this can all happen to me and I’m going to do my darnedest to make sure as little as possible of it does.”

And I don’t think that without this attitude I would be where I am now. For instance, I pursued my passion in the natural sciences, but also keeping in mind avoiding all of the above nasty consequences. So I opted for an academic career with its predictable steps and structure and good-enough salary over the modern self-reinventing chaos of the corporate world. Before that, I let fancy brand-name universities wait until I was in grad school, when they would pay me to go, and took scholarships to a state school for my bachelor’s. Before that, I worked hard in high school, with the help of Ritalin to help me get through the more boring classes that I flunked in 7th grade leading to my diagnosis, so I could get those scholarships. After grad school, I let the academic job market decide which city I would live in and when, and if I had to chuck a boyfriend or leave the comforts of home to do it, so be it, that was the price of avoiding unemployment, underemployment, financial problems, and housewifery. And all the while I brushed my teeth (but not always well enough in the back), managed somehow not to let diet and exercise matters get too out of hand (though I kind of came close in grad school and my postdoctoral years), and didn’t use any recreational drugs other than alcohol and trying marijuana once in a place it was recently legalized, and I even never went back to alcohol after having my kid because I wasn’t comfortable with the amount I’d drink in a sitting given what I’d heard about binge drinking and its risks.

So if you can’t find your passion, figure out what you don’t want first and how to avoid getting what you don’t want. Then within your options for avoiding what you don’t want, find the one that’s the most exciting or, at least, the least boring. It’s called “defensive pessimism.” Counter-cultural as it may be in today’s world, it works. And in matters like subprime mortgages and covid, a lot of people in the ranks of the powerful could have used a heck of a lot more of it. The positive flip side of it, going back to the ancient Stoics and cited in some self-help books, is realizing when things get tough just how much worse they could have been. I feel strained at my job and bored by some aspects of it? Well, I’ve been able to keep doing it even during the covid crisis, and it has aspects that I actually find exciting. There’s always some good luck within bad luck. Heck, maybe if I hadn’t had ADHD, I would have been a little too relaxed about some of these issues like the hare that lost the race to the tortoise and, like my mother (or neurotypical young adults of this century who don’t finish college on time, get pregnant or get someone pregnant at an inconvenient time, or catch covid and flood the local hospitals), I could have ended up with a few of them anyway.

The original post is old, so good luck – and good recognition of the good aspects of your luck – to whoever might read this.