TL;DR I’m someone who can really excel at something if I’m passionate about it. But I can’t seem to sustain my passion for anything long-term, so I plateau and eventually underperform.
I work in artificial intelligence. When I first got into it during my undergrad, I got _really_ into it. I was obsessive. I read and studied and learned to build stuff on my own time. I was really good at it and impressed a lot of people with how quickly I was able to gain a mastery of the fundamentals of the field. This early momentum propelled me to lots of early successes – I built a good network of people working in the industry in my area, got some good internships on my resume, and got into a really competitive master’s program.
But that initial spurt only lasted so long. Gradually, my interested waned from fiery passion to sizzling coals. I’ve now finished my master’s and am at my first full-time job, and I have been majorly underperforming – I’m at risk of losing the job in the next month or so if I can’t figure out how to turn it around. This is really frustrating because on the face of it, it’s the perfect job. It’s at a really well-renowned startup in my field, it’s super flexible, and it allows me to work squarely within my interests. I should be stoked about the work I’m doing day-to-day, but for some reason I’m not.
Part of the problem is just that the job is extremely unstructured – no deadlines, no assigned projects, no regular checkins with my boss, nothing. I have to figure out ways to contribute to my team’s goals on my own and follow through. Obviously not great for someone with ADHD (in fact, my underperformance at my job is what propelled me to finally go and get tested). But, despite the lack of structure, I feel that I really lack the excitement and passion for my work that I had a few years back. Sure, my job requires initiative and self-drive, but when I’m really excited about something, I’m nothing if not self-driven.
This is not the first time this has happened in my life. I was raised a Mormon, and when I was 19 I went on a church mission to an area with a very difficult language which I had to learn. In the beginning, I was _stoked_. I was really looking forward to learning this language. Unlike most, I started studying on my own as soon as I got my assignment, and by the time I arrived at the so-called “Missionary Training Center” two months later, I already had a major head-start over my peers. When I arrived in my country of service, fellow missionaries and natives alike were amazed at how good I was at the language considering I had just arrived. In the first couple of months there, I continued to excel and grow in my abilities. But then, my excitement began to fade into banal normalcy and I plateaud. By the end of my 2-year mission, I was still _pretty good_ at the language compared to others – as with AI, my initial momentum carried me a long way – but there were also many who had surpassed me in fluency.
I really struggle with this. A former partner once told me that I can master anything if I set my mind to it. But I don’t seem to have any mastery over the things my mind is set to. I can get really excited about something and have several months (or even a year, in the case of AI) where I can obsess about it and, on the day to day, have a much easier time getting myself into a hyperfocused state. But then I plateau. I can be good at something _if and only if_ I can be passionate about it, but I can’t seem to make myself be passionate about anything unless a perfect storm occurs, and even then it only lasts for a limited time. I feel like I should be able to get it together and just will myself to put the same energy into my work as I did in the early days, but it doesn’t seem to work that way.
I feel locked out of achieving my own potential. Like I’m racing a car that uses the whole tank of fuel in the first lap to great effect, but then slowly coasts to the finish line. I feel like I should be blowing everyone at my job away, or at least holding my own. Instead, I am on probation.
I just got diagnosed with ADHD and should start taking Adderall or something soon. I’m hopeful that will help, but think it would be naive of me to assume that will solve all my problems.
Can anyone relate? Is this an ADHD thing or a depression thing or just a life thing? Does anyone have advice for sustaining passion for something even after the early excitement wanes? I really care about succeeding in my career and feel like I’m screwing up the good trajectory I set myself on in the beginning. In short, I’m fed up with myself and feel helpless about the possibility of doing better.