“Stop Chasing Others’ Approval:” On Twice Exceptionality and Living Life for Me

“You’re going to do great things!”
“You have so much potential!”
“You’re so talented. I see great things in your future!”

So many people in my life have directed various versions of these well-meaning yet anxiety-inducing, expectation-laden comments to me during every phase of my academic career. As a gifted child, I felt as though I could succeed and, at the same time, as if I had to… or I would be letting everyone down.This black-and-white way of thinking did get me to check off a list of great accomplishments:

  • first in my family to graduate college, go on to complete a masters, and start a doctoral program
  • a successful career
  • financially independent since age 18

But hidden in these accomplishments are the many, many struggles and failures I encountered along the way:

  • flunking out my freshman year of college
  • being asked to resign from a job for an error in judgment I made
  • flunking out of my Ph.D. program due to being unable to complete assignments
  • piling on credit card debt

I eventually learned that my setbacks — so confusing and contrary to my successes — were actually due to undiagnosed and unmanaged ADHD. I was twice exceptional (or 2e) all this time, and I had no idea.

[Read: I Grew Up Gifted and Autistic — and Suffered the Burnout of Twice Exceptionality]

My undergraduate transcript is a wonderful example of my interest-based nervous system. I had As and Bs in classes within my major, but failed yoga (which likely had to do with my impulsive, oppositional streak).

Perspective Shift: From Never Enough to Good Enough

At the age of 29, I came to the realization that my life is my own, and while the approval of others is nice, I would never feel content if I continued to chase it. I made the conscious decision to let go of “greatness” as defined by others and to start experiencing life as it came to me.

Letting go of greatness freed me up to be content with where I am currently, instead of always trying to do more or be better. I still have personal and professional goals, but these goals are now based on my values rather than the values of other people.

My shift from “not good enough” to “good enough” has changed my self-view from lazy, unmotivated, and stubborn to efficient, understanding, and passionate.

[Read: “Twice Exceptional Is a Cruel Double-Edged Sword”]

Now I am:

  • enrolled in a doctoral program to advance MY learning and knowledge
  • in a job I can see myself in long-term, with opportunities to advance or switch it up, if I choose
  • writing this blog from a house that I own after paying down my debt

I don’t believe any of this would’ve been possible if I hadn’t made the choice to live life for me, instead of an image I could never realistically attain. I’ve found a specialty I love and a life that finally feels sustainable.

How to Live for Yourself

If you are 2e like me, or if you see yourself in my story, start living life for you with these steps:

  1. Clearly identify your current values. Your personal values will come to define and frame everything else you do in life.
  2. Set at least one goal for each value. They can be as broad or as specific as you like. For example, if you value family, how will you commit to spending more time with them?
  3. Let go of the constant pursuit of greatness. If you are always thinking of where you could or should be, it only robs you of the ability to appreciate who and where you are now.
  4. Foster self-compassion. You are a multi-faceted person. Your worth is not directly measured by your productivity or your achievements.

2e and How to Live for Yourself: Next Steps

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