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?