How did you become aware of what you are good at and what you suck at?
November 20, 2009 12:43 PM   Subscribe

I’m trying to be confident, self assured, and self-aware but constantly doubt myself. It doesn’t feel like I have picked up any valuable skills and it seems like my brain is stagnating. I read constantly and always have but still feel incredibly stupid. That fact that I have not advanced professionally is eating at me. Everyone else seems to possess some magical learning skills and I am not measuring up. I am consistently bad at everything I do and fail to get the big picture or the tiny details. I’m always forgetting something or making simple mistakes. And everything takes a really long time to complete. It has become increasingly difficult for me to recognize my own skills. At this point in my life I need to get good at something because I don’t see any progression in my future with the way things are now.

I restarted school this semester and have the same issues grasping ideas and concepts. This just ends up feeding my tendencies to procrastinate.

To the questions!

What are you good at? How did you discover your skill? Is it innate or was it something that you had to really work at? What are some good resources for finding my own skills as well as honing them?
posted by mokeydraws to Work & Money (17 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
How old are you?
posted by bz at 12:52 PM on November 20, 2009

I'm 29. Female, working in NYC.
posted by mokeydraws at 1:02 PM on November 20, 2009

I have nothing to suggest of note; I just wanted to say that I am right there with you and will be watching this thread. It seems like a fairly common thing in your late twenties - I think it's a combination of not being in a structured rah rah you're awesome-focused school environment any more, with a touch of realizing that you're no longer precocious or exceptional anymore at that age - you're just you. I feel exactly the same kind of general sense of self-doubt and eroded confidence, basically continuously. I don't think my capacities have changed in any substantive way, and I'm sure yours haven't, either - I've just become much more aware of my (myriad) failings.

There's an element of adjusting expectations, too. I used to think I was a superstar and could probably accomplish whatever I wanted to. Now I think I pretty much suck. Not saying that's the best way to approach things, but it can take the pressure off, a little. Realize that all the people around you - even/especially those who seem to have it together - feel at least a bit the same way.
posted by peachfuzz at 1:21 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Especially since you said you've gone back to school and it's the same old problems, you remind me of someone I know who tried several times to get through school. The problem he had was a disconnect between what he's good at doing, and what he thought he ought to be good at doing. I wonder if you should ask some close friends what they see you doing. Maybe visit a career counselor if you believe in such things.

Also you may be at the beginning of a growth stage where you discover things about yourself that you didn't previously know. Here are some of the things I have learned over time: You should find things that interest you and do them for their own sake, not because they will lead to career advancement, or an advanced degree, or anything else of the sort. Also, be aware that not all your fulfillment needs to come from your job/career. Most folks spend a third of their time in biological maintenance (sleeping, eating), and a third at work (paying the bills). Notice how that leaves another third? This is the third you spend on yourself and your interests and pursuits. Do not waste it in front of the TV, and do not waste it wishing your job was fulfilling you in every way.

Also do not waste it worrying that some people are smarter than you or better at things than you. I promise you they are. There is at most one person in the world who is both smartest and best at things. Chances are good it's not you. Acknowledge that and stop worrying about it. That is only a way to make yourself miserable. Let it go.
posted by fritley at 1:23 PM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Get a good study group with people you like.

I was having a really hard time with classes at one point in undergrad. I wasn't doing so bad grade-wise, but I felt like I didn't understand anything and was just copying the methods for the example problems, not thinking through them on my own.

I ended up in a study group with some other students and found that working through the material together helped me understand much more. When I understood, I explained, which helped me get it even better and when I didn't understand some one else was able to explain it to me.

In general, get into a position where there is some one you can learn from. In a previous job I couldn't find that person and felt really bad about my own skills. In my current job I found a number of people to learn from. That helps me feel more confident in what I know as at least I know where to go for the answers.
posted by chiefthe at 1:57 PM on November 20, 2009

Have you ever been evaluated for ADD? What you're describing sounds a lot like typical problems experienced by those with Attention Deficit Disorder - Inattentive (rather than hyperactive).

IANAD and this is not an attempt to diagnose you, but are these long-standing problems that go back to childhood or does this feel like it's come on suddenly? If it's the former, it might be something to look into... if only to rule it out. If it's more recent, then it definitely is something situationally based, like being in a rut.
posted by canine epigram at 2:02 PM on November 20, 2009

I've seen a few docs for ADHD and have been prescribed adderal in the past. The side effects, specifically appetite loss (which led to weight loss) was too difficult to deal with. Plus I did not get any benefitsI am seeing a therapist now. The closest I got to an actual diagnose was a check list that a psychiatrist gave me.
posted by mokeydraws at 2:17 PM on November 20, 2009

I went through a bit of what you are describing when I was in my late twenties, and something that helped me came from a really unexpected place; I developed some strange hobbies.

Specifically, I developed hobbies that no one in my circle of friends or co-workers involved themselves in. (In my case it was leatherwork and knifesmithing but that's not really relevant), what this did for me was give me something to do where I couldn't easily be judged by my peers on my abilities this way I never felt pressured to go faster than I was ready to, and I never was made to feel dumb by not knowing something; I knew that I would never be the best, or even particularly great, but eventually I did get good enough that I could make stuff for myself.

And that was super cool. With my own two hands, I made stuff that I can still use today, more than a decade later.

As weird as it sounds, This sort of strange thing gave me confidence, because I could do something that no one else I knew was able to. No matter how much smarter or better they might be, if someone right then and there needed a knife made, I was the only one in the room who could do it.

Eventually, that confidence started to show up in other aspects of my life, and while I haven't made anything in years, it's nice to know the knowledge got me to where I am.
posted by quin at 2:44 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ugh, ignore some of that grammatical ickyness I did up there. All I was trying to say was that getting slowly good at something that you can't easily be judged on might be a way to build confidence in other areas of your life.

At the very least, it can demonstrate to you what being confidant with yourself feels like.

posted by quin at 2:49 PM on November 20, 2009

I apologize in advance if this seems off-topic, though I think it's applicable.

Ira Glass talks about storytelling here, but the general idea, I think, is one that is useful to everyone who want to learn an involved skill.

I believe that it is most productive to view any particular skill as learnable by almost anyone, rather than intrinsic to a talented few. It is also productive to be forgiving of yourself to achieve the level of skill you desire.

Pretty much whatever anyone does, they will fail. They will fail a lot in the beginning, unless they are very lucky (and luck doesn't hold). To acquire skill, you must continue to practice despite failure. To continue practicing despite failure, you must not interpret your failures as indicating a permanent/pervasive/personal shortcoming.

I suggest interpreting failures as a reminder of everyone's inevitable ignorance, an invitation to learn more ("what more do I need to learn about the system I'm interacting with here?"), and an indication to back up a little and try something a little different.
posted by Jpfed at 3:06 PM on November 20, 2009 [6 favorites]

Hey mokeydraws - I'm going to try not to make my response to lengthy. :) I'm a 28-year-old woman, and I was just diagnosed with ADHD (Combined subtype) this summer. It has made a tremendous difference in my life. Before that, I went through years (literally, over a decade) of depression - sometimes mild, sometimes severe. I was in-and-out of school, and like you, felt that I had really not advanced professionally. Since getting the diagnosis:

- I have found medication that worked for me, with side effects that I could manage (right now I'm on "Ritalin SR" - my psychiatrist and I are going to play with meds a bit more once I am through exams - I have tried two other "long-acting methylphenidates", and I didn't find that they had side effects that I could live with/the effectiveness that I wanted - and that's okay, I know that this often takes some experimenting).

- Because of having a formal diagnosis, I have been able to obtain support services and a reduced course load (for a normally full-time program) through my school's Centre for Students with Disabilities. This has been *huge* - not having to take a full-time course load has meant that I have actually been able to manage my work, and I'm doing really well in all of my courses (no incomplete major papers looming over me, no missed tests, etc.)

- I've found a counsellor that I work really well with, and we have been working on a) my sense of self-worth b) taking care of myself c) Buddhist concepts of mindfulness that I find very very useful

- Look, ma, no depression! :) It's been 5 months and counting since my last epsode!

Now, a question - did you wind up with an "incomplete diagnosis" because your doctor wasn't sure about ADHD, or because you didn't follow up with appointments? I am not asking this in a judgey way, trust me - I am the queen of bailing on professionals who might have helped me a lot earlier in my 20s.

Anyway, all this is by way of saying that it sounds like your thinking is at least a bit coloured by depression, and I know that makes it hard to be hopeful about anything. But *please* think about getting some medical help - life can be so, so much better.
posted by purlgurly at 3:07 PM on November 20, 2009

A few quick thoughts (apart from ADHD)

Even experts/professionals/savants/virtuosos make lots of mistakes.
(They just know by experience the tricks and tools to fix them quickly).

Jot down what you've learned after reading. You may read a lot and comprehend the text, but you might not retain it without using another part of the brain.

Procrastination has been covered here on the green a lot, and there are great suggestions. Could perfectionism be a factor for you?

On preview, quin is right about confidence.
posted by artdrectr at 3:08 PM on November 20, 2009

One more thought - re. grasping ideas and concepts, and difficulties with same. Now that I am actually able to focus, I realized that I was actually having to *re-teach* myself all of my course material before pretty much any evaluation (paper/quiz/test/exam) - it's a wonder that I was able to get any good marks at all! This may be you, and again, meds/counselling can be very very helpful.

I recommend the website - two Canadian comedians (both of whom have ADD) made a documentary about ADD, and you can view it for free online (at least you can in Canada - hopefully in the States too). The doc is called "ADD and Loving It?!"
posted by purlgurly at 3:11 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

How did you become aware of what you are good at and what you suck at?

By being aware of what I am interested in, and being aware of what I am bored by.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:43 PM on November 20, 2009

You might consider talking to your school (try the office in charge of handling disability issues) about how you could get a comprehensive evaluation for learning disorders, not just attention deficit disorder. This is obviously a very unscientific assessment but you really sound to me like several people I've known describing the difficulties they had before getting proper support for a learning disorder.
posted by nanojath at 6:11 PM on November 20, 2009

Maybe you need to install a new personal operating system.
posted by diode at 10:25 PM on November 20, 2009

"I'm 29. Female"

Get your iron levels checked. Seriously. I felt like I had suddenly become stupid in my late 20s, and it turned out it was just iron-deficiency anemia.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:33 PM on November 23, 2009

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