People with ADHD experience more failures than their non-ADHD peers. Even back in grade school, you might remember that school felt harder for you than your friends. While they were passing quizzes, you were having to retake yours. ADHD symptoms can get in the way of success and result in failures in all areas of life including school, relationships, and work.
You might find you achieve all the milestones, like graduating, getting married, buying a house, getting a job… a little later in life than others. For example, it might take you 6 years to finish university rather than 4 years because you had to retake some courses. Those failures can nibble away at your confidence and self-esteem and lead to underachievement and more failures.
When I first start working with a new client, we often spend time getting them to feel good about what they have accomplished in their life. Often, adults with ADHD are so used to experiencing failures, they don’t feel they deserve their successes. When they achieve something awesome, they dismiss it as a fluke or just remember the tears, all-nighters, and pain they went through to get there. Feeling good about what you have attained is important because then, it is easier to achieve your next success.
I was intrigued to learn that Professor Haushorfer from Princeton University says that it is helpful to document your failures. He says that setbacks are usually invisible, yet they happen more frequently than successes. The professor created a CV of his failures and says this document provides perspective; for himself and others. People think things work out for him; when in fact, he experiences failures like everyone else.
Why documenting your failures is helpful when you have ADHD
Writing down your failures on a piece of paper or google doc on your computer can be helpful. Professor Haushorfer shared his online, but yours can be completely private. Here are 6 reasons why it could be helpful:
1. Out of your head
When all your losses are in your head, you can keep ruminating on them. This makes them bigger and more dramatic than they really are. In your mind, you attach negative emotions to each failing and whenever you have a few moments, you relive them again and again. Writing them out, helps break that cycle. It helps you to see each entry in a more neutral way.
2. Reduces the shame
Shame is probably the most dangerous emotion you have as an adult with ADHD. Shame about your failures nibbles away at your self-confidence and self-esteem. It stops you from aiming so high in the future and ‘settling’. Bringing your failures out of the dusty corners of your mind and into the open is the first step to reducing the shame you feel.
3. Helps you to address each one
Some of your failures won’t trigger any emotion. For example, when I was 17 years old, I was desperate to pass my drivers test. I failed twice and passed the 3rd time. Although it felt bad at the time, 20+ years later, I can tell you this failure very matter-of-factly. As you are documenting your failures, notice which ones still hurt. That is a sign that you still need to process them. Talk to a friend, your coach, a therapist, or write in your journal. Do whatever you need to do, so the shame, embarrassment, disappointment etc disappears.
4. Normalizes failure and rejection
Failure and rejection is part of life. By writing everything down, you start to see patterns. This data can help you when you experience a new failure or rejection. For example, you might notice on average, for every 5 CV’s you send out, you are invited for 1 job interview. For every 2 job interviews you have, you are offered 1 job. If you are dating, you might realize that for every 3 first dates, you meet 1 person who you have a second date with.
This type of information helps to turn rejection and failures into a numbers games rather than feeling wounded with every no.
You might also notice positive characteristics you haven’t acknowledged in yourself before, such as perseverance and determination.
5. Time to reflect
A characteristic of ADHD is to jump from activity to activity without reflecting on what happened. If you decide to keep a ‘failure CV’, it will force you to reflect and decided what you could do differently next time. For example, if you get a job interview, you might have researched the company, practiced your interview questions and answers, had your suit dry cleaned, but then arrived late. This reflection time is invaluable so that you learn from your experiences and don’t keep doing the same things but hoping for different results.
Your trump card!
Remember that although you experience more failures, you also hold a trump card! You are very resilient. It is a trait that author, Dale Archer, M.D, identities in his book ‘The ADHD Advantage’ Resilience and the ability to bounce back and try again, is a common ADHD characteristic. This trait allows you to keep striving for your goals, even if you have to add a few more failures to your CV.
To learn more about Professor Haushorfer’s failure CV head here