Doomed to fail
September 2, 2012 8:31 PM   Subscribe

How can I force myself to apply for jobs when I know I will fail at any job I get?

I'm 32, female, and was laid off two months ago after three years with my company. I also have severe ADD, which has consistently undermined just about everything I've ever wanted to do with my life. I loved my last job, and the job before it, and there were aspects of both where I excelled. But in other regards, I was terrible, despite trying my hardest and desperately wanting to succeed. My supervisors were constantly exasperated with me and regularly threatened to fire me; they kept me on partly (I think) because they saw that I was sincerely trying, partly because of my skills in certain areas, partly because training a replacement was too onerous, and partly (maybe mostly) because of the lengthy and complicated firing process required by the company (especially given the ADD diagnosis). But it was clear that they wished they could be rid of me.

I've tried everything: meds, therapy, skills groups, organizational systems, self-help books. They help, but I'm still seriously impaired. One problem is that the jobs in my field that are available to those without an advanced degree tend to have a lot of admin responsibilities. I could go to graduate school - that's what I really want to do - but who would ever write me a recommendation letter? And even if I did get accepted somewhere, who's to say I'd even be able to finish the program? Anyway, many of the things I struggle with are base-level expectations at any job: punctuality, reliability, consistency. I once discussed accommodations with my psychiatrist and he was basically like "Accommodate you how? Agree you can be an hour late for meetings? Promise not to get mad when you don't call people back?"

I was ultimately laid off due to lack of funding, and am receiving unemployment. But I'm having a really hard time submitting job applications because it all just seems futile. I feel dishonest trying to write a cover letter about how great of an employee I'd be when the truth is I'd be a terrible employee and they'd regret hiring me. There have been a lot of people who believed in me, my intelligence, and my talents, and I believed in myself too, and I've let us all down. Accepting that I'll never be able to do the things I'd hoped to do with my life is hard enough; how do I accept my inability to meet any expectations at all? If I fail at doing something I love, how can I expect to succeed at anything else? I feel like there's no place for me. When I know I'll fail at anything, everything seems pointless. Where do I go from here?

NB: I've tried MANY different meds (for ADD, depression, and anxiety) and am currently on a cocktail. I'm in therapy and have been for a long time (using a variety of modalities). The ADD fucks up my life in many other ways which aren't explicitly relevant to this question other than contributing to my general aura of failure.

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posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
But I'm having a really hard time submitting job applications because it all just seems futile. I feel dishonest trying to write a cover letter about how great of an employee I'd be when the truth is I'd be a terrible employee and they'd regret hiring me.

I can totally relate. 1,000%. I'm only a college student applying to part-time jobs, but in nyc you really have to sell yourself anyway. For me, I feel like I'm kind of in a similar situation (I can't keep a job and suspect a possible ADD diagnosis)--I've resigned myself to working an hourly job like Starbucks or something. I mean hey, at least there's health benefits.

That probably doesn't help, but I just wanted to say "you're not the only one." And anyway, your job's not everything. Not finding one doesn't make you a failure, you know?
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 8:39 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might do better if you take a little pressure off yourself. What I mean is, get a job that doesn't have so much responsibility, and just work to pay the bills. Yes this might mean some lowly wage work (Starbucks, mail room, etc.), and you might feel like it's beneath you and your talents and education, but try not to think of it that way. Where you work does not define a person. Try to find other things in your life that are meaningful (volunteering, cultivating personal relationships, whatever) and define yourself through those rather than where you work.

This might be a permanent solution or it's possible that in a year or so, your ADD might be better managed and you'll be ready to try again at something a bit more challenging. The point is, not having a stellar job or an amazing work record does not mean you are a failure as a person. There is much more to you than that.
posted by katyggls at 9:06 PM on September 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

I don't know what your field is, but is there anything related or parallel you could do where you'd be working for yourself? That way you could set your own deadlines and schedule, and do work that is more suited to your style. (Sorry that's vague. I don't know what you actually do, so I don't know if that's possible. There are a lot of books out there for "What else can I do with a XXXX degree?" that can give you tips.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:08 PM on September 2, 2012

I second the idea of exploring the possibility of being self-employed. You might need some help (contracted or whatever) supporting the aspects where you are weakest while you concentrate yourself on those things at which you excel. If you gave more information about your skills, experience, and interests, I could probably be more specific. Certainly some people with ADD are very productive and big achievers because they really excel at certain tasks.
posted by Dansaman at 9:22 PM on September 2, 2012

Lower responsibility jobs are all about the punctuality, reliability, and all. It seems like something more artistic would be up your alley. Any field, really, that you don't have to start at a certain time. Do you paint, quilt, can you do computer programming? If you're an architect, then maybe architectural illustration, where you would take your own contracts during good periods, and none during bad. (Yes, that is very specific, mainly as a jumping off idea for whatever field you're in.) I once had a data entry job for a local restaurant -- they would drop off boxes of receipts and I would enter it all in appropriate fields and explain it to them later. It was tedious work, but I could do it any time of day or night, as long as it was done within a few days. I have friends who hunt estate sales for their etsy shop (it's not their main business, but it is profitable). These are the jobs off the top of my head, that can be on your schedule, and do more when you're functioning better, and less when you're not. The more you can find a job that de-emphasizes the aspects of work that you have the hardest time with, and showcases what you are best at, the better you will feel about your ability to hold a job. Good luck finding something good for you.
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:22 PM on September 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ahh. Let me tell you a little story....

First of all, at 32, you are still likely really shitting on yourself as a human being and misinterpreting a bunch of stuff from the past. DROP THAT.

The past is not relevant.


I would desperately LOVE to be proficient physically and mentally in X field. But I started late, and despite great education and work experience - I will always be "slow" in that field. That field requires speed - I don't have it. The older I get, the more this is apparent.

What I DO have is talent for this field. In spades.

Guess what?

I make a GREAT small business owner in my field. I know what a fuck-up I can be on execution (mental and physical abilities in the moment) but I can see the bigger picture. I hire people who are great at what I am not, but my vision and direction prevails.

Plus. I am my own boss.

I'm an awesome salesperson and representative of what my company provides, I think of every detail, and I try my HARDEST not to worry that I personally can't execute what I sell to my own high standards. I don't have those particular chops, but most others in my field have the speed and require the vision and direction - so it works out.


Can you freelance or start a small bare-bones type business in your field?


My first solo business in my mid-to-late 20's closed up shop because I did well, but did not know how to expand. I started my second business at your age and totally flamed out because my business partner/investor was a greedy SOB. Fuck them.

My now business has begun on a solid foundation, is my own, and my fear is gone because my previous mistakes were all steps on the way towards success.


I don't know what you do, but you might want to play to your strengths and create your own individual business model and small enterprise that capitalizes on your talents and buffers your defects.

No one is perfect. You seem to think others are.

This is false.

Plenty of idiots make heaps of money. I live in LA now, so I know this to be true.

I'm pretty sure those idiots I referenced follow my formula, or one similar.

God bless the stupid and incapable. We all have to eat!
posted by jbenben at 10:29 PM on September 2, 2012 [16 favorites]

Nthing working for yourself! I was a terrible employee but I am more than fine as a freelancer. I have days when I am unfocused and can get nothing done -- the same behavior that used to get me fired. But then I make up for it! Sometimes I have to stay up all night but the work gets done. All my clients ultimately see is the end product -- not my process, which is as messy as ever. Don't give up! I am so much happier than my non-ADD friends who work for The Man!
posted by summer sock at 11:41 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

This may be a little extreme but if you are seriously incapable of basic tasks and your psychiatrist agrees both that you are incapable of them and it is not possible for a job to reasonably work around them, have you thought about applying for disability?

If that seems ridiculous, think about why it does - what would be the explanation for rejecting a disability application? How would they explain that you can hold down a job while not being able to {notice the clock, return phone calls, etc}? Does their imagined explanation give you any ideas?
posted by jacalata at 1:45 AM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am assuming you have a college degree, since you mention wanting to go to graduate school. One work-at-home option is doing search engine evaluation work for LeapForce. You can do it absolutely any time of day or night, as much or as little as you want, or not do it at all for weeks (though I think you have to have a couple of dozen hours per month to stay a contractor with them). If you know a foreign language well you could work for Lionbridge. Neither of these are very lucrative, but they certainly pay more than the Starbucks/mail room type jobs recommended above--LeapForce used to start at $13.50 and LionBridge was more like $20/hour. You also obviously have writing skills, so you could do web articles as a contractor.

I worked as a web developer, and some of my jobs allowed to me to pretty much work whenever and wherever I wanted. Yes, you still have to show up or dial in for meetings, but those can be fairly infrequent. And I'm assuming that with the organizational systems you've learned it could not be too much to ask to show up at a meeting once in a while on time. Even just setting Google Calendar to remind you of a meeting N time before it (where N is enough time to get to said meeting, but not enough time to forget it) should do it.
posted by parrot_person at 1:45 AM on September 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think it's interesting that you perceived that your superiors wanted to get rid of you and were constantly fed up with you but kept you on anyway.

I was in that state of mind a long time ago. The reason they keep you on anyway, whether they acknowledge this or not, is probably because you're good at your job.

Your coworkers will perceive anxiety as incompetence and only grudgingly acknowledge the end result. But the end result is probably the reason why they don't just boot you out and recruit someone else - they know in their hearts that actually, you're OK and J. Random Else won't necessarily do a better job.

I don't know what specifically will help you but I would suggest looking for freelance gigs that you can do from home, where nobody can see you getting wound up. You may find that your performance improves when you have less scope for things like being late (you'll still have to meet deadlines but you won't be late in your own home) and you won't have people watching you and critiquing the steps you take to get a job done because they, in ther superiority, wouldn't do it that way. Not saying you should do this forever but it might keep you going for a little while and let you clear your head.

Pardon me for asking but are you getting your treatment from a specialist in ADHD? Just wondering.
posted by tel3path at 1:46 AM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm wondering this because your psychiatrist's suggestion sounds not very helpful at all. In the UK, there used to be such a thing as benefits for people who can get jobs but who keep getting fired because of their disability (not that I ever needed those, and it actually sounds like you don't either because you don't *keep* getting fired). My point is that that's the kind of thing a psychiatrist should know about. And if he really thinks you can't be accommodated, why hasn't he already suggested you go on disability, I wonder.
posted by tel3path at 1:50 AM on September 3, 2012

...even further, I think jbenben might have a good idea for you, but when I was in the state of mind you're in, it would have been overwhelming to implement. That's why I suggest freelance-at-home stuff for a while as I think it will get you started while helping you to recover your sense of competence. When you can breathe, you'll be much better placed to build a business as she suggests. I also think that this route, even if you can't see how at this point, is ultimately going to be a good way for you to work your ticket back into the field you want.

And yes, plenty of successful people are really, wilfully, stubbornly stupid. They make bad decisions and bob along with their heads just barely above water, bedevilling their staff as they go. You are not like that. You try very hard to be good at every part of every job you do, even if you can't manage it. You don't just do the parts you like and hide the rest (though I suggest you try to learn to *talk* in terms of your strengths and belittle your piffling, piddling weaknesses, because that's what successful people do, though I don't think you're in the mindset to pull that off yet) - so many people just do the parts of a job that they like, because unlike you, they are entitled assholes. Eventually your attitude is going to take you further than them, even though you can't see it yet.
posted by tel3path at 2:08 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

For my two cents, I would take where you are now and use it to your advantage. Instead of destroying yourself over not being able to focus on the job, why not look for jobs where having rapid-fire distraction levels ALREADY BUILT IN to not only yourself but the job also?

Working in restaurants as a waiter or busboy.

Working in a field where distractions are minute-by-minute guarantees (event management, concierge work, taxi drivers, etc.)

I've found this idea has benefited my career enormously (and I also have been diagnosed with ADHD as well.)

I used to outright hate myself and FEAR any job with a ludicrous level of rapid-fire responsibilities, but then I was thrown into one as a temp and really excelled in it. I found I thrived in any role where I had to be triaging something every second.

Bonus advice: why not look for ways with your free time to train and hone your ADD towards something really cool that will help your public speaking/self-esteem? DO IMPROV!

Taking improv classes turned my natural distraction into a monster asset. And it's FUN!
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:00 AM on September 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

You say you had 2 jobs you liked and did pretty well at before this last one. How can you know for sure that your next job won't be another good experience?

No one is completely great at their job. Most everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Find out your strengths - many people feel that ADD brings some strengths with it - and focus your long-term career plans on playing to those strengths.

In the meantime, why not temp - just to get some cash and rebuild your confidence.

Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 7:20 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

And I have absolutely worked with people who apparently have undiagnosed ADD and are terrible at certain things. This does not mean they get fired or that they are failures. Some of them are doing pretty well.

I liked this book about ADD. It's written by a psychiatrist who found out relatively late in life that he has ADD. The writing style is rather casual, but I really liked that instead of tying everything up in a few neat little case studies he talks very honestly about his own problems with ADD and how he finds ways to live with it and stay positive.
posted by bunderful at 7:31 PM on September 3, 2012

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