Veneer of competence


Finding the balance between wanting respect and needing realistic expectations

Veneer of competence

People who find out I have ADHD often express surprise: I am so competent (well, sometimes) and calm, they tell me.

This conclusion comes, I believe, from two things:

  • Misinterpretation of coping mechanisms (e.g. my extensive filing system)
  • Deliberate artifice on my part

This second is the cause of some internal conflict. Not because it smacks of dishonesty (I don’t believe that anybody presents themselves with real honesty: we all wear masks and I don’t see a problem with that), but because it requires balance.

On one side of the scales is the need, or the desire, to be seen as competent. This means that people are more likely to take me seriously.

Being taken seriously means that:

  • I am more likely to be considered for roles I want
  • My ideas are more likely to be taken on board and/or implemented
  • I am treated with greater respect

The above points also have their downsides, of course (who among us hasn’t people-pleased their way into multiple roles of responsibility that they didn’t really want?) – but, on the whole, I like being someone who is taken seriously.

The other side of the scales, though, is weighted with something less palatable to my ego: the need for people to understand my limitations.

If you project an air of bustling confidence, you are quite often burdened with tasks that you can’t (or won’t) complete for various reasons.

If you can’t bring yourself to admit this – to yourself or to others – the process ends with an incomplete task (often not even started, due to mental blocks of one kind or another), a pissed-off friend or colleague, and another item on the guilt stack.

If I were more capable of explaining my limitations, I feel, I would be able to turn down the responsibilities I genuinely can’t handle; and limit expectations for the ones I can.

“Yes, this task will be completed, but it will probably be done in small half-hour bursts at 1am over the course of about a month.

“On the other hand, it might get done in the next day if it ends up being the target of a twitching session of hyperfocus.

“Is that OK?” 🙂

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