Successful yet Bored or Burned out at work? Maybe you’ve hit a local maximum

Are you feeling stuck at the peak of your career, wondering if there’s more to achieve? You’re not alone. Many high-achieving professionals, especially those with ADHD, experience this. Let’s explore how a concept from computer science, known as a ‘local maximum,’ can offer a fresh perspective on these career plateaus.

Local Maximums Explained

In computer science, particularly in optimization algorithms, a ‘local maximum’ refers to a point higher than its immediate surroundings but not the highest point possible. To simplify, imagine a landscape of hills and valleys; a local maximum is like standing atop one of the smaller hills, yet not on the tallest mountain. You might find yourself on a hill you’ve climbed for years, only to realize it doesn’t offer the view you hoped for. Metaphorically, this is like reaching a point in your career where you feel like you’ve maxed out your potential or achievements in a specific area. It’s a stage where you might see minimal room for further growth, and contemplating change could feel like stepping down into a valley before climbing a higher peak.

However, here lies an important insight: the ‘local maximum’ isn’t the end of the journey. Beyond these immediate downslopes are other hills, possibly leading to higher, more fulfilling peaks – what we can call the ‘global maximum.’ This represents the ultimate fulfillment or achievement you can aspire to in your field or life.

While no perfect peak exists in the journey of life and career—as perfection is a myth—it’s intriguing to consider exploring new paths and potential heights. This is especially relevant if you can navigate these changes without feeling like you’re losing ground. For those with ADHD, the challenge lies in embracing the uncertainty and potential setbacks of leaving your current comfort zone to seek greater fulfillment.

Case Study 1

The Law Firm Senior Associate Meet John, a senior associate at a prestigious law firm whose rapid career progression left him feeling unexpectedly unfulfilled. Despite his success, John found himself struggling with seemingly simple tasks, losing motivation. His breakthrough came when working with an ADHD coach, where he discovered his need for novelty and complex challenges. John rekindled his passion by volunteering for a high-risk case, aligning his work with his need for intellectual stimulation.

Case Study 2

The Machine Learning Specialist Sarah, a machine learning specialist at Amazon, faced a similar situation. Amazon recruited her shortly after she finished her doctorate. She used to think she had it all, but before long, she found herself gripping to friends about her golden handcuffs. Of course, they suggested a career pivot, but she was too drained by work to even think of doing anything more during her much-needed recovery time after hours. Coaching helped her recognize that she was experiencing a ‘local maximum.’ By reassessing her core values and managing her energy more effectively, Sarah started a quirky side project: developing a machine learning algorithm to optimize urban beekeeping strategies. This unique endeavour rekindled her love for her expertise and connected her to a community passionate about urban sustainability, leading to new, fulfilling career opportunities.

Three Ways to Overcome Your Local Maximum

Explore and find your activators

Reflect on your true motivators – what used to light you up? What used to help you to launch out of bed? what gives you a spark of energy on those low days? Journal, talk to trusted friends or find a community that understands your experience. Friends that are better at listening, empathising and validating than they are at advising could be particularly helpful during these times.

Start leaning into change—randomly

did someone tell you to create a plan for pivoting to a new career in 4 months and to break the lab into small steps? Did they also explain how to find time for and follow through on said steps when you’re totally spent after work? How to overcome the emotional noise around the hours you’ve spent on Netflix? Planning and pursuing a career pivot will be great when you’re ready. In the meantime, what if you let yourself wander into areas of greater interest to see what you find? Talk to someone who loves their work. Disappear into that rabbit hole of a new opportunity online—read that article, browse the forum, and sign up for new things, not knowing what will happen. When you find something of genuine interest, you’ll know.

Seek Support from an ADHD Coach

An ADHD coach offers personalized strategies to help you navigate your slump and find new heights. The above case studies have been anonymized, but the principles are the same. Coaches are creative thought partners to help you get unstuck. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey nor do you have to do without support.


Recognizing and overcoming local maximums is key to both professional achievements and personal fulfillment, especially for those with ADHD. While John and Sarah’s stories are prototypes of typical clients, they highlight how ADHD coaching can be a pivotal part of this journey.

If you’re feeling stuck at your own local maximum, consider reaching out for ADHD coaching. It could be your step towards new, uncharted peaks of professional and personal life.

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