Becoming an Executive Malfunctioning

It’s a rough transition from individual contributor to executive, especially for someone with ADHD. While I’ve gotten to the point in life where I value my innate abilities, I also acknowledge that there are many things vital for moving up in the workforce that do not come naturally to me. I am currently at the point where either I figure out how to fake it well enough that no one realizes this, or giving up.

I don’t want to give up. The opportunity I have today is so great, so exciting, so overwhelmingly awesome that I end up getting to the end of every day and kicking myself for not doing it better. Because I know the best executives know how to be those ducks with their feet kicking hard under water but their faces never flinching. They manage to instantaneously prioritize thousands of projects or project particles while also not slipping up on any details. They are human gods.

There is a reality to my existence, which, at best, puts me into the absent minded professor type category and at worst has me tripping from job to job impressing on one project but failing magnificently on the next. The trick, I’ve learned, is an executive must learn how to make friends and influence people. She must have such charisma that even if other people come up with a great idea and execute on it flawlessly, she will somehow take part of the credit without hoarding all the credit to herself, and seem somehow to effortlessly manage so many moving parts at once. And while she embraces conflict in the right moments, she avoids it in all others. She is everything I’m not and will never be.

Yet there is value to what I can bring, I just need to focus on that and not try to be who I’m not. I have good ideas and can make shit happen. That’s why people who have worked with me in the past will recommend me to others. When I’m good, I’m really good. But my flaws are many. It’s my thought processes. My upbringing which is always my undoing. I’m squarely an adult now and I can’t escape the little, awkward, scared girl who was constantly told her thoughts, choices and actions were wrong.

So just get over it, right. I’ve done the therapy. I’ve looked at my life pragmatically and practically to rationalize all the pain away. Nothing works. I’m always back where I started. How can I escape myself without losing myself?

It all starts with the ability to be decisive. When I had my own idea as a child, when I came up with my own reason or rhyme, I was wrong. I know I was a troubled child. I didn’t like to follow the rules. If my parents asked me to do something I’d ignore them because I hated to blindly follow authority. I wanted to come to conclusions and action on my own. Instead, I just got stuck.

I thought one day I’d grow out of this haze. But instead all of my life haunts me and pulls me back into its void. There are days I think that perhaps ending my life is the best option because I am just not good at living, but then I remember how afraid of all of the many outcomes of such attempts and wonder how I can get through another day. Depression is a funny thing. There’s no use talking to other people about how a part of you wants to disappear because it seems like you’re just being an attention whore unless you were to actually kill yourself and succeed, in which case you’re selfish for your actions but at least you weren’t just all talk.

Preface: I am not going to kill myself, I am just writing the thoughts of a bipolar depressed person with suicidal ideation, but I don’t really have a death wish, I am just writing the thoughts that come to my mind because I like to be honest on this blog and this is where my mind was last night.. When I think about dying these days, my thought process has changed a bit from earlier years. When I was in high school and college I oft romanticized suicide, hoping people would finally accept that my pain was real. Throughout my 20s I’d have my ups and downs, and again, I just wanted people to realize that I was hurting and realize that I wasn’t just joking or being immature in my feelings, that they were genuine and lead me to such a terminal decision. I’m not going to kill myself, but I have noticed that in my 30s these thoughts have shifted. I still have them, still romanticize the notion of paying cash for an old car and an old house with a garage in some desolate location and driving there one night and letting the fumes drift me to sleep. I no longer care if anyone else validates my pain as real. I no longer crave the attention. The romanticism is purely aligned with escaping this person I am because every single day is a struggle trying to become someone I’ll never be.

That’s overly dramatic, for sure, and irrational, and pointless thinking, but since this is a blog where I share all my thoughts it’s a relevant musing. It’s also completely unhelpful as I try to focus on just sorting out the world and managing it as a normal person would, faking everyone out as this executive who has her shit together, who clearly doesn’t. And at some point you can’t really talk about this stuff anymore – as an adolescent your angst is attributed to hormones and you’re just one of the many teenagers struggling to grow up. As an adult – if you’re not really on the verge of jumping in front of a train or putting a gun to your head – these thoughts must just be dealt with and put to the side. They are still cries for help, they are still a little child trying so hard to find a place to fit in, and/or find an escape.

What I wonder is how to the next 30 years of my life play out, and can I seriously survive them without crumbling to bits? I want to be a mother, I want to have a family and to be happy and to help my children grow into well-adjusted human beings, but how the fuck can I expect to be able to do that when I’m such a transient train wreck. How long can I go fooling one group of people before they find me out?

This fear of being found out is much worse as an executive. I look at colleagues who are years younger than I am and think they could do a much better job in my role than I could. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity and want more than anything to succeed but the only way I can see doing that, maybe, is to find some sort of perfect combination of anxiety meds and anti-depressants that completely remove every last sense of me from me. I never wanted that, but I also thought it would get better. I thought it would just take time until I found myself and what I’m good at and then viola, happiness, or at least contentment.

I’ve sought out help over the years but clearly nothing helps. My therapist wants me to meditate, my adhd coach wants me on anxiety meds, and my friends just want me to stop being so negative all the time. It is my mother’s voice constantly criticizing me for how I look and simultaneously bragging to others about my mediocre accomplishments while my father treats me like a dumb child who cannot fend for herself or make her own decisions that kicks me in the stomach every single day. It’s my father’s relentless narcissism which sees so much fault in others but none in himself, where a mistake made by his own daughter is the momentary end of the world while the same mistake made personality is a matter to laugh off, not only part of being human but really no big deal.

Watching videos of myself as a young child over the holidays, a child of just barely 3, I was rather advanced for my age, but my parents expected more. As a first child, this happens. My father noted, watching the videos, that I was such a happy little kid, and then, what happened? I don’t know what happened. Was it brain chemistry? Was it becoming aware of my parents’ raging narcissism? Was it not fitting in the box that was cut for me and seeking approval the only way that seemed to work, through putting on a show, through singing and dancing and painting and being special – because I had to be special, of course, if I was normal how could I ever be loved?

The thing is to be an executive, to be a successful business professional, you must be normal. You must be a machine. Sure, you can have some clever ideas, some concepts to test, but you are not rewarded for being special. You’re rewarded for getting the job done in the most efficient way possible. You should not create art. You create work. You manage others. You build a team. You get shit done. Then you go home, eat dinner, and repeat.

Maybe if my parents hadn’t raised me to believe the only way to be valued is to be special I wouldn’t be so fucked in the head today. I don’t know. If I didn’t want to be special than would I even be where I am today? When I was three, in the videos, my father asked me what I want to be when I grow up and I said “an actress.” Clearly, as a three year old, I already felt this was the only way to find approval. And today, I still crave this attention, this approval. It gets in the way of being an adult. I’m not my mother, who has absolutely no sense of empathy or others, or my father, who also lacks empathy, and replaces it with paranoia and a thick slab of judgment which he thinks is empathy. But it’s not.

No, I’m not them at all. I may be built as a narcissist, longing for the spotlight, longing for people to think I’m interesting and talented and unique, but there’s also a big part of me that is an introverted, quiet, reclusive, shy, and disconnected individual who may not be the person who my parents had raised me to be, the person who was poked and prodded and put on a pedestal and told she was so smart and talented and amazing until her actual abilities maxed out and then she was just told she wasn’t trying hard enough. Not working up to potential. Lazy. Forgetful. Messy. Mistake prone. Socially challenged. Lonely and alone.

Nothing has changed, is the problem. When I’m put in a social situation I’m still the awkward duck who doesn’t know what to say, who can’t effectively engage in conversation, who watches the rest of the world with wonder, enamored of how easy it is for some people to just be normal. Sure, everyone has their issues, everyone has their problems, but not everyone is so far removed from normality that the amount of energy it takes to just fight the need for approval while trying to simply fit in, talk at the right time, stop talking at the right time, say the right things, avoid blurting out the wrong things, look the right way, and just blend in so no one realizes how much of a mess you are inside.

So this is why I get to the point of the day, or week, or month, where I just crash, when I start romanticizing the concept of disappearance, not the act itself; it’s the frequent repeats of my mind suggesting that life, for all intents and purposes, will be a constant repeat of the same scenario with slightly difference scenery, different pay grades, different amount of wrinkles etched into my aging face. If existentialist philosophy is for a moment allowed, it’s at least fair to acknowledge that all life is headed in the same shared direction, and it’s a bit presumptuous to say awareness is the ideal state of being, especially when sleep itself is something we long for, to drop from time into nothingness, completely unaware, not longing for anything, not hungry or tired or pained. So I don’t know why it is so shocking for one to think of death as either a horrifying end of everything or the release of all our human bullshit so we can melt back into the world from which we came.

Regardless, my goal right now is to become a successful executive and to stop all my negative thoughts. It may be psychological drugs are required to numb my mind, to hollow me out from the inside. This is a little death, a socially acceptable process to euthanize the intricacies of your restless mind.

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2 thoughts on “Becoming an Executive Malfunctioning”

  1. I stumbled across your blog after falling down a click hole of personal finance blogs after deciding to get serious about becoming financially literate and getting my finances in order. The ADHD tag in the navigation column caught my eye and I sort of perked up, because it made me feel like it’s still possible to get out of debt and eventually achieve financial freedom even with the curve balls that living with ADHD and anxiety (and probably depression) can throw at you. What I didn’t expect was to end up in tears because reading your words felt a lot like looking in a mirror and seeing myself staring back. Thank you for writing as personally as you do, you really make me feel as if I’m not alone in the things that I struggle with personally and professionally, and I’m incredibly grateful to have come across your blog.

    1. Hi jbswu – now you have me in tears. That seriously means a lot to me. This blog is partially just a selfish / self serving exercise in complaining about life, but I really do hope that there are people out there who can read it and realize they aren’t alone. If I can do that much then I know I’ve done some good in this world. And, I promise there are a lot of us who have challenges and still figure out how to make the most of life, even with all the ups and downs and downs and ups.

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