Overcome the Burdens of High Achievement and ADHD

You’re a creative, “out-of-the-box” thinker with high intellect. Your innate ability to intensely focus on your passions makes it possible for you to excel. You’re the accomplished, go-to person, the one whom people can count on, and just about everyone does. 

As a kid, you were a first-class student, and you got into most of your top colleges. Even if you had to cram for tests or school projects, you found a way to get things done at all costs. Deadlines were a motivator (and still are).  But now as an adult, it’s standard practice to privately verge on all-nighters, and with piled-up tasks and responsibilities, numerous spinning plates, and mounting stress, it’s all become too much to sustain.    

But before we discuss strategies, let’s first talk about the high achiever with ADHD.  

The Erroneous Assumptions of High Intelligence and ADHD  Male College Studen studying

The assumption is clear that intelligence and high intellect means favorable outcomes in life, but that’s not necessarily the case. Highly intelligent individuals with ADHD generally excel at creative, divergent thinking. However, they run into challenges with tasks that are detail-oriented and require accuracy and speed.  


Additionally, as is the case with individuals of average intellect, the high intellect of an individual with ADHD, does not insulate them from executive functioning challenges, which is the ability to organize, plan, problem-solve and regulate emotions.  Cognitive functioning and executive functioning live in separate areas of the brain and develop separately. Executive functioning matures slower in individuals with ADHD, and can take well into the late 20’s or early 30’s to develop. Because of this, children and young adults tend to be 3 – 5 years behind their same-aged peers in executive functioning, including social/emotional functioning. 

The Hidden Burden of High Achievement and ADHD Femaie College student studying at night

When you’re a high-achieving kid, self-esteem can be about smarts, getting things right, and having near-perfect grades. Especially when making and keeping friends doesn’t come easily, there’s a tendency to rely on intellect and high achievement for your self-esteem and identity.


As school gets more demanding starting in middle school and on up, it’s no surprise that a student has trouble relying on their intelligence alone to meet the increasing demands. The shame of missing or late assignments, and low grades that don't reflect ability level are too difficult to bear. Pulling off good grades, or getting into the college of choice, without seemingly struggling or needing help, must be accomplished, at all costs.    

Drained, exhausted and burdened by keeping up with demands of school, sports, a side job, and chores, you may have done your best to keep up behind the scenes.  Exhausted from all the internal upheaval,  and keeping up the persona that "all is ok," the anxiety levels most likely began to increase.  

Isolated behind closed doors, these patterns go well into adulthood, before you may have recognized the need for support.

Here are three strategies to assist you in overcoming the burdens when living with high achievement and ADHD:

Recognize the Drawbacks of Being High Achieving Stressed woman working at computer

When you’re the high-achieving, superstar in your workplace, family, group, or community, you come across as the one who has it all together. You’re the person everyone goes to for help and support, so you don't appear to be struggling or even notice it yourself. 

Quick Tips:

  • In what areas of your life do you need help and support?
  • What might be getting in the way from your childhood about getting help? 
  • What stories are  you telling yourself, if any, about getting support? 
  • Parents: Try to let your resistant child struggle so he or she can experience the need for support for his or herself. 

Let Go of the Need to Be Perfect  Business woman

When you seek perfection, you give yourself a tough time when you can’t meet your high standards. Then you beat yourself up because you’ve failed. Furthermore, you could be carrying a history of old messages of not feeling "good enough." The cycle repeats when you listen to your self-talk which sabotages your ability to move forward. 

Quick Tips:

  • Let go of the need to do it the "right way." This releases your need to control every situation.
  • Wanting things to be perfect only prolongs finishing something and moving on.
  • Recognize that it’s Ok to make mistakes.
  • Ask yourself, or your child, "What if there is no perfect?"
  • Focus on the process rather than the results. Acknowledge your efforts. If you’re a parent, try this with your child.

Set Boundaries 

When you want to do well, there can be the tendency to put yourself last. When you are asked to do too much, you tend to over-extend. As you try to solve other people’s problems, you can feel overwhelmed and resentful. At the same time, you’re exhausted and not advocating for yourself. This is a sign that you’re not paying attention to your boundaries.  Stressed Man

A boundary is the behavior that’s OK and not OK for others to engage in with you. For example, “It’s not ok for you to call me after 10 pm.” When people don’t hold to our boundaries, we must follow through with a consequence. “If you call after 10 pm, the phone will be on do not disturb, and I will not answer until tomorrow.” 

Quick Tips:

  • If you are feeling resentful of others' behavior with you, that's a sign that it's necessary for a boundary. You could be unconsciously people-pleasing to feed your self-esteem or to meet a goal that’s in conflict with your values.
  • It’s uncomfortable to set boundaries at first, and you may feel guilty, which is natural. Do not let that feeling stop you from taking care of yourself.
  • Boundaries are not about being liked. In fact, when you set limits, you will more likely be respected for knowing your needs and desires.

 To summarize, while there are some assumptions and hidden obstacles to living with high achievement and ADHD, you can overcome them by:

  • Recognizing the Drawbacks of Being High-Achieving
  • Letting Go of the Need to Be Perfect
  • Setting Boundaries



Try these and let me know how they work out for you!




 PS. Need more assistance supporting your kids with ADHD and related challenges? 

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can talk about some solutions you can put into place now!


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