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Image / Editorial

Hit Me Up: Am I too stupid to succeed?


by Rhona Mcauliffe
05th Dec 2018
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Each week, our agony aunt answers a reader question. This week, a reader questions thier intelligence and ability to do a good job.


Dear Rhona,

I could never air this at work and am too embarrassed to share it with the life coach I’ve just started seeing. I’ve always worked really hard at whatever job I’ve done. I ended up in a career where my attention to detail was appreciated and I was promoted all the way through my twenties until I peaked. I’ve changed jobs twice since then to try to progress but my career is stalling.

The quality of my work is always excellent but I take a very long time to do it. I’ve tried productivity hacks, working smarter, giving myself minimal time limits but the work I do under those conditions is horrible. My current boss has started allocating all of the really fiddly, analysis reports to me because I do them well. I can’t tell him how long these docs really take me or he’d question my general intelligence but I am working evenings and weekends to get through them all and wonder if I am actually stupid.

I feel constantly overwhelmed and stressed about meeting each of the deadlines set. At the same time, I’ve painted myself into a corner and am being given the annoying work no-one else wants. I’m watching younger colleagues who started after me rise through the ranks on little more than big personalities and a lot of networking and it kills me. But I also know that I don’t have the chat. I don’t think on my feet well and often draw a blank when I’m put on the spot. I feel like my brain is sabotaging me, I really want to work hard and succeed but nothing I do helps to speed my brain up. It’s holding me back and getting me down and I don’t know what to do.

– Anon.

Firstly, thank you so much for getting in touch. It’s incredibly difficult to stand back and assess your working methods with any objectivity. We’re more inclined to make excuses to ourselves about the time something takes us, blaming procrastination or constant interruptions on the perceived delay. It’s even harder when our findings hint that we may not be the super-human brain boxes we’d hoped, that there might be limitations to our intellectual greatness.

That is the conclusion you have thus far arrived at but it is not necessarily the case. The key is relooking at your ‘limitations’ as strengths.

Now, I can’t say I haven’t spiralled down several rabbit holes here so before I start bandying ‘personality types’ around, I also need to lay down the usual disclaimers: I am not a doctor, psychotherapist or mind-related professional. I’m not even an exemplary human. I have however scored some interesting reading material and avenues for you to explore.

Have you ever heard of the term HSP or Highly Sensitive Person? I hadn’t until last night and am now hooked. Clinical psychologist and author, Elaine Aron has been researching HSP’s since 1991 and published a book, with her husband, Arthur Aron, also a clinical psychologist, in 1996. The book, The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You is a US bestseller and was reissued in 2017.

The Aron’s research, which includes brain-mapping and qualitative research, focuses on subjects who have a Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS). This is not a disorder, largely because multiple studies estimate that 15 to 20% of the population fall into this category. A HSP is characterised by greater depth of processing, a tendency to be easily over-stimulated – by noise, chaotic situations, deadlines etc – strong emotional reactions and sensitivity to subtle stimuli no-one else seems to notice, for example, a fragrance or siren sounding in the distance.

A HSP is usually conscientious and cannot bear to submit work that does not meet her or his exacting standards, especially if the bar has been set externally (your boss). They may take longer to make a decision, perform on the hop or meet a deadline as they tend to have a ‘big picture’ view and want to consider and include all contributing factors before committing. Does this sound like you? There’s a stack of information on Aron’s site, www.hsperson.com and also a mini quiz to do here to gauge if you are in the HSP crew or not.

Having taken the test, I suspect that I too am a HSP, which could be why I’m banging on about it! However, I sent the link to a friend of mine who ticks every single HSP box and she responded with: Ha! Thanks but I’ve just had a comprehensive stool analysis and confirmed a yeast overgrowth so reckon that’s my problem solved. So, you know, get your stools checked too.

Culturally, especially in Western work environments, speed, social confidence and the ability to delegate is rewarded with bigger salaries and higher promotions. The doers and deep thinkers are regularly overlooked for the big jobs or pay cheques, despite being essential to the business and often, in fact, the heart of the business.

According to Forbes magazine, the new work order will prioritise collaboration, not competition which should even out the score eventually, glory and salary-wise (if the ‘droids haven’t taken over by then). In the meantime, it sounds like although your boss has recognised your strengths, he is also taking you for granted. Be honest about the work and time you are pumping into each report. He is looking for quality, which is why he’s coming to you. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ if you are being realistic about your time and have too much on. Own your contribution to the team, don’t negate the brilliant work you are doing because it takes you time and ask your boss how he sees you progressing within the company.

It’s brilliant that you’ve started seeing a life coach, as you’re likely to tap into a wealth of new opportunities and avenues, even if it means retraining. Maybe your current company is not the perfect fit for you long-term? Be honest about your concerns and your strengths to fully benefit from the sessions. Try not to write anything off, considering all options, opening up your possibilities. The key to a happy working life is finding work that suits your personality and temperament. The more you know about yourself, the easier it will be to find the right job and career in which you can thrive. If you want to delve deeper into your emotional makeup and mental frustrations, Frances Kenny, a recommended psychotherapist with An Cuan in Rathgar, Dublin also has a special interest in HSPs. She will be more relevant if you’ve completed a few online tests and relate generally to the stated traits!

And lastly, remember not to measure your achievements against any of the other tall-talking fireballs in your office. I think Maya Angelou had it sussed when she said: Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it. Good luck.

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