ADHD and Feeling ‘Behind’ in Life

People living with ADHD often report that they are ‘behind in life.’ This feeling of being ‘behind’ is coupled with feelings of frustration, ‘if only’s and a little despair.

When you feel ‘behind’ it is usually compared to where you thought you would be at this phase of your life, or in comparison to what similar aged friends are doing, or to traditional milestones that are considered normal. For example, graduating at 21 years old, being happily married with children at 30, and retiring at 65.

Some people live with this behind feeling for years; for other people it catches up on them at unexpected times. No age group is immune. This feeling can creep up on you any time, in your 20s, 50s or 70s .

Why Do ADHDers Feel Behind?

Everyone can feel behind in life but people with ADHD seem to experience this more frequently.

Some things DO take longer when you have ADHD.

For example, if you are at University, you might take fewer classes per semester, which means graduating 1 or 2 years later than non ADHDer students.

Certain life skills don’t come automatically to ADHDers, and it takes time to learn the ADHD-friendly How-To’s.

Learning one skill might cause you to press pause in another seemingly unrelated area of your life. For example, if your home is cluttered you might decide to stop dating until you have mastered housekeeping skills. You want to feel proud to invite someone over to your place, not mortified.

Some skills can help many areas in your life, yet still take time to learn and master. For example, communication skills help you perform well in job interviews, on dates, and improve the quality of the relationships with your friends and family.

Having ADHD means it is very hard to stay motivated and perform well in a job that doesn’t work with your strengths and keep your interest. It can take time and a bit of job hopping until you find a career that is a good fit for you. This can be frustrating when friends are getting promoted and you are still in a starting position.

Some Things Take Less Time

While some things do take you longer, remember that is only half the picture. There are some activities you can do much faster than other people. Here are just a few examples.

As an ADHDer, you can…

  • 1. Think of unique, creative and inventive ideas.
  • 2. Problem-solve.
  • 3. See how things could operate more effectively. You can see improvements that other people might never ever think of.
  • 4. Perform certain tasks in record breaking time. These might be linked to your skill set, like computer programming, or might be something quite random!

Feeling Behind is a Way of Thinking

Feeling behind is a way of thinking, a thought pattern. It isn’t based on actual reality and facts. Instead it’s based on the way you think about the facts – a bit like the glass is half full or half empty.

If this way of thinking is left unchecked, you will continue to feel behind no matter what your age or accomplishments.

Whenever you get weighed down in negative thoughts, balance them out with a realistic and more accurate view of you and your life.

Try this exercise to help retrain your thinking.

Every time you feel behind in life, think of three of your accomplishments. Big or small.

By doing this, you are replacing a negative thought with three positive ones.

Be careful not to talk away your successes.

‘I have a degree… yeah but I handed in all my assignments late.’

Just state the factual accomplishments. 🙂

Define What Success Means to You.

How will you know when you aren’t behind, that you are in just the right place?

When you are very clear on what your version of success is. Not your neighbour’s or your best friend’s, just yours.

Some people don’t like the word ‘success’ because it creates a mental picture in their head of someone who stands for everything  they dislike.

If you are having a reaction to the word success as you are reading, that is a sign this exercise is important for you!

When we aren’t clear on our version of success, we end up measuring our life against someone definition of success… which is why we feel behind.

It could be that the reason you don’t have certain things is because they aren’t important to you, in which case you aren’t behind at all, you are living in alignment with your values.

Success for you might include some of the stereotypical things that are viewed as successful… owning a house, getting a degree, finding a loving partner to share your life with. It might be having the freedom to travel, getting a dog, wearing put-together outfits, having a certain position at work, having your own business. It might be saving money every month, having a retirement plan, etc.

Or none of them!

You get to decide.

This exercise sounds grand, but don’t make it really big. You can do it on your Starbucks napkins or think about it as you are walking to appointments.

Once your vision of success is clear, write it down and keep it safe.

When you have your definition of success it is liberating and also a practical framework to help you work towards the things you would like in your life and don’t have yet.

Why it’s Dangerous to Push too Hard

In an effort to hit success milestones, it can be tempting to push hard just to cross things off your success list. However! Be careful! Don’t force things, as some goals have a natural pace that can’t be hurried.

For example, people who think, ‘I am 40, I should be married by now,’ might fast track a relationship based on fear they are behind rather than their compatibility with their date. In an effort to reach the goal, they might ignore red flags, and their own feelings.

They might get married, so technically they aren’t behind any more, but are faced with a new set of problems that come with an unhappy relationship.


1. Define what success is for you.

2. Every time you feel behind, think of 3 of your accomplishments.

3. If you feel envious of others, use that as a signpost that they have something you would like in your life.

4. What takes you less time? And what does that tell you about what you’re good at and what you really enjoy?

Have you have felt behind? And what helped you to feel you were in exactly the right place?


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  1. Eileen says:

    Thank you for an enlightening and positive (and not pretentious) viewpoint in your article. The biggest takeaway for me was to focus on what’s important to you and not just accept measurement by society’s yardstick. It’s exhaustive to me to explain to others our non-traditional pace when they clearly don’t want to hear it, as true as it is. Ironically the people I’m closest to don’t argue it, it’s always the B Team.

  2. Karen says:

    Wow! What an awesome article! For my entire career, I was always the star employee. Always performed well, arrived timely, in early-out late. However, I took early retirement after 30 years but although I still have plenty of working years left. When my daughter left for college, I decided to take a part-time job to assist my husband with her expenses. OMG, the job is simple data entry and I make more mistakes than I ever have in my entire career. It’s awful! I’m so embarrassed and constantly paranoid that someone will bring an error back to me. And if that’s not bad enough, I’m 10-15 mins late everyday! I never ever had these problems before and I manged teams as well as large case clients and consistently recognized as a top performer. What in the world is going on? When I worked in my career, I did not take meds. I’m now on meds and still make at least one mistake everyday (seems that way anyway). I’ve really enjoyed being back in the workforce but I don’t want to return to what I was doing previously. I want to make a little money but with a lot less stress. Do you think the data entry tasks are too simple for me? I humbly ask that question. Is there a test that an ADHDer can take so we’ll know what type careers to ‘stay away from”. I’m so very serious. However, I will share that the list you provided above are my strengths to a ‘T”! Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

    • Hi Karen
      I think you are right, this job isn’t stimulating or interesting enough for you. which is why you have trouble arriving on time and make errors.
      A list of good jobs for someone with ADHD would be awesome.. but it’s not that simple because
      everyone’s ADHD and interests and motivations are different.
      For example your data entry job could be someone’s dream job!
      It’s best to find a job that is stimulation enough to keep your interest and motivation, without being too stressful and overwhelming.

      I am going to be launching a course very soon to help people with ADHD find a job they love. Be sure to look out for it, because I think it will really be helpful for you.

  3. Melissa B says:

    Wow!!! This has been something that has plagued me for ,well, decades. As an adult I had always felt like I was so behind in everything but it really hit me about four years ago when my husband and I split up. Until then I was engaged in keeping my husband healthy (he has several mental and physical health concerns) and then raising our daughter so accomplishing other things was not even a concern. I am nearly 40 and I feel I have done nothing of note (other than raise my teenage daughter without any financial help). I am attempting to go back to school to get my BA and then my Master’s in Library Science but so far in the last three years I have completed a total of two courses. With the last course I ended up having to buy two additional extensions in order to complete it (granted there were some other factors such as the hospitalization of my daughter for illness but all the same). I feel like I will be in my 80’s before I complete my degree and will then have no time to enjoy working in a library as my youth has been spent.

    I make so many plans to do things and I just can’t seem to actually make my plans work out. I get started and then “poof”. Projects take months. Courses take longer than they should. It is so frustrating. I often take mini breaks to get caught up on my backlog of stuff which works great but then I get so behind again.

    I have tried simplifying my life and reducing the number of things I am involved in so that I have more time to devote to the things I really want to accomplish but then I get a horrible case of the FOMO(Fear of Missing Out). Or I get the ADHD boredom curse rearing up and I loose interest. One thing I have had to come to realize is that if I can’t complete something in a relatively short period of time, it won’t get done. I also use a timer to help keep me on track. I also have done the “what does success look like to you” and that was helpful and did elevate some stress but I fell that some people think that I have no ambition and no passion but that is far from the truth. I just can’t seem to direct it in the best way.

    Now knowing that this is a part of my ADHD does help me to accept that for me life is going to look different that the Jones’s and that it is ok. It is more than ok because I can be me and not try to be them.

    Thanks again for a great supportive article!

  4. Jacque M says:

    What a great article. While I think everyone feels like they don’t get enough done, it’s strangely validating to me that ADHD’ers have a higher prevalence of this.

    I’m acutely aware of the things I’m slow at or haven’t accomplished. Instead, I’m going to start tuning into the things I’m fast at! Thanks for the ideas!

  5. Very good information. Ironically I would feel successful if I could catch up and stay caught up! I dream of having enough time left over to get bored… guess I’d better get to work on those suggestions. Thanks, Jacqui!

  6. Colleen says:

    I felt behind in Intellectual y. I always loved History. I now choose fiction with a bit of non fiction books to read. It’s really made a difference in my confidence. 😊

  7. I always feel bad that I never did the normal things others did to become an adult. I was always mature as a kid and I am proud of all the goals I set when I was nine, I completed them and; still maintain them when everyone around me is in utter chaos of losing their lives and homes. I graduated late but I knew innately those skills would help my small family out and they did.
    Maybe I never chased the money dream but; instead I chased dreams of art and sport balanced by life provided by a dream job in fast paced milieu of medicine.

    • Never need to feel bad about not doing the ‘normal’ things Susan. That is so cool you set goals when you were 9…and even more impressive that you achieved them. Great job!

  8. Amanda Morales says:

    I found this article to be extremely helpful because I’ve felt behind most of my life. Now I have the tools to get over it! Thank you so much.

    • Wonderful Amanda!! so happy to hear you are going to try out the suggestions!

      • Sriram Chadalavada says:

        Just what I needed to read! After moving to a different country Canada from US, I have not yet got my career going. And I have sadly noted people younger than me have kids, homes and a successful career whereas I who did pretty well academically and took reasonable risks with my career am now really struggling. Add to that self doubt and constant over thinking, you get one unhappy ADHD-er. Thanks for the suggestions!

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