“You are so smart but…” “You have so much potential, if only…” “you just need to work harder.” Are these words triggering for you? I will say they sure are for me. I totally lost my cool this week as I listened to my son get lectured on how he just needed to improve his “work ethic.”
Here’s the thing I wish I understood at his age. Sometimes the things that come really easy to the average person come really hard for us.
I remember as a kid being so proud and excited to get “citizen of the month” that one time when all my other friends got it every year. I remember almost being kicked out of the gifted program because I was not living up to my potential.
Did that make me work harder? Heck no, it made me resent the people for whom hard work seemed to come easy.
It wasn’t until much much later in life that I finally caught on that it wasn’t about “working harder” for me, but about understanding how I work. Coming up with tools and strategies to use my gifts and work with my weaknesses.
But this did not happen for me until after I dropped out of the college where I had made my closest friends and immediately regretted it. I tried to get tested for learning disabilities, but the according to the state criteria I did not meet their qualifications (despite the fact that there was a 40 point gap between my auditory processing and working memory weakness and my other areas of strength).
Instead of being given tools then, I was asked why I even took the tests – I got into this liberal arts college, I must be doing OK. Obviously not since I dropped out the next year.
Something started to click in my last years of college and I started to learn tools. I got a job in the school system which provided structure and deadlines that kept me in check. I found a really awesome to-do list that helped me sort tasks in a way that wasn’t overwhelming. I wish I could recommend it, but it’s no longer being made – one of these days when I’m rich I’ll hire an app developer to create one similar combined with my research on executive functioning skills.
As I embark on this whole entrepreneur journey and move out of the safe structure of the school system, I am in the process of relearning and reexamining my own tools. As I try new things, some of which work and some of which don’t, I have to remind myself that my challenges are not about how hard I work – if anything I work too hard while I find the most effective use of my time.
This has been a good reminder to be kind to myself as I explore this process. It’s an ongoing journey and I’ve come a very long way. I’ve also been able to help others find their own strengths and be kind to themselves.
On this week’s Embracing Intensity Podcast, I dig a little deeper into the idea of “underachievement.”
I would love to hear from you, what strategies have helped you do the “hard stuff” that others seem to find easy?