Working harder isn’t always the answer

All my life, I’ve heard quotes and adages about how all you have to do to be successful is to work hard. And if you’re not successful, you need to just work harder. I tried my very best to follow that school of thought, but things didn’t always turn out the way I thought they would given the amount of effort I put into it. 

The result? Feeling some not so fabulous thoughts about myself and telling myself that I just needed to work even harder.

I have distinct memories from elementary school of laying in bed at night, just about to fall asleep, and suddenly remembering that I had homework I had completely forgotten about. I was so worried about my teacher’s potential reaction and whether I’d be able to finish it in time the next morning that I tossed and turned all night.

In high school and college, I got good grades but several times just before assignments were due — like when I wrote a paper the night before it was due then duplicated it, removed bits and pieces and “messed it up” to create the rough draft that was due at the same time.

I’ve shared these stories with friends as humorous experiences, but I secretly wished my experiences had been different.

Fast forward to today. I’m in my early forties and have two kids diagnosed with ADHD — and it manifests differently for each of my kids. They each have different ADHD-isms and need different environments to be able to focus, and neither does well in a very quiet environment.

My best friend has been telling me for a few years that I also have ADHD. Honestly, I believe it because I don’t have the same issues my kids do and what I struggle with is different than what other people I know with ADHD struggle with. 

Then I did an online assessment. 

And I did the assessment again without leaning on the coping mechanisms I’ve learned or letting self-criticism and negative thoughts influence my answers.

It went a little something like this…

  • Are you often late for or missing meetings and appointments? No, because I put everything in Google Calendar to remind me. Oh.
  • Do you often have trouble concentrating? No, because I put music or a podcast on while I’m working. Oh.
  • Do you often miss deadlines? Yes, but I just need to work harder. Oh.
  • Do you have trouble falling asleep at night due to racing thoughts? No, because I listen to music to drown out the thoughts. Oh.
  • Do you have trouble starting projects or chores? Only the boring ones. Oh.
  • Do you have trouble finishing projects or chores? Yes, but that’s just being lazy. Oh.
  • Do you put things off until the last minute? Yes, but that’s because I was busy/forgot. Oh.

Oh. My. Gosh. This was a lightbulb moment.

When I thought about it all from a big picture perspective, the questions actually fit me to a T.

When my kids were diagnosed, I put effort into learning more about what causes ADHD symptoms. In people with ADHD, the brain makes less dopamine than in typical brains. The hyperactivity, or squirrel brain as I like to call it, is often due to the brain seeing out experiences that boost the dopamine, and wanting to avoid things that are not exciting — starting a new project is exciting, doing chores usually is not. 

There’s also other stuff, like:

  • Executive Dysfunction, which makes it difficult to organize thoughts and start things.
  • Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, which makes it easy to think you’re a burden or others dislike you.
  • Object Permanence, which means that when you put things “away,” you tend to forget they exist.

In 2020, I met with a psychologist to get evaluated for ADHD. When I received my diagnosis, I started crying. I did not realize how much of a difference it would make in my life to know that many of the things I struggled with had nothing to do with not working hard enough or being lazy. They were caused by my wonky brain chemistry.

The first day I took my ADHD medication was life changing. I had complete thoughts. My train of thought didn’t derail itself constantly. I started projects. I finished projects. Again, it was absolutely life changing.

People without ADHD really get to think like this all the time? Astounding.

Now, you may be wondering why oh why am I sharing this with you? 

There are a few reasons.

  1. There are many people just like me — people who think they’re failing at adulting or failing at life because they forget things or don’t get things done on time. And if that’s you, the “failing” is due to wonky brain chemistry, and you should know it’s not your fault and there may be help available.
  2. ADHD typically manifests differently in those assigned female at birth. And back in the 80s when I was a kid, ADHD was more often diagnosed in boys, which means a lot of us 80s kids got swept under the proverbial rug simply because we weren’t hyperactive, fidgety boys.
  3. If you’ve been comparing yourself with those around you and feeling frustrated by your perceived shortcomings, stop and pat yourself on the back and give yourself some grace. Having ADHD does not make you a failure or less than anyone else. Getting things done is literally harder for you and how you learn or choose to deal with it], whether with medication, therapy, or whatever, will be unique to you.

The biggest reason I’m sharing this is because I want you to know that you are not alone!

If any of this sounds familiar, or you think you might have ADHD, or you think that because you have ADHD you can’t run a successful business, make a website, or do big things — you are not alone. 

Sure, it might be harder for you to build a business, make a website, or do big things than it is for someone without a wonky brain… But it’s definitely not impossible.

Now that I understand more about how my brain works and why I have more difficulty with some kinds of projects than others, I can select more of the projects that I am better suited for, which leads to less frustration on both parts and happier customers. 

  • I know that longer-term projects, or things without a specific deadline are very difficult to focus on. 
  • I know that I do love one-on-one training and consulting and short-term projects. 
  • I also love tasks with a specific objective and helping my customers solve their frustration and seeing the delight on their face when they figure out what they need to do.

Understanding my diagnosis helped me align my work with my strengths and you can do the same.

To be clear, I am not a doctor and none of this is medical advice. But if you are looking for someone to help you with technical admin tasks, to work on and in your website, or to help you do big things in your business — someone who understands a wonky brain — that I can help you with.

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