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"Success is a Journey, not a Destination": How to Stay Motivated When a Finish Line isn't in Sight

Updated: Dec 19, 2020

Since beginning my PhD, I have been reminded that graduate school is a marathon, not a sprint. As this “race” is optimistically five years long, sprinting when the pistol is fired is not sustainable for the duration of the marathon. This analogy is widely applicable for graduate school (and I will delve into this deeper in the future), but is particularly relevant in regard to the successes of graduate school. Being early in my PhD, a finish line is nowhere in sight. I am not close to a publication, advancing to candidacy and my defense is a universe away. So how do I stay motivated to keep running this race? Some days, this is an easy answer, my passion for scientific research and the ability to answer research questions drives me to continue to push. (And the six figure salary on the other side of a PhD isn’t bad motivation either!) But other days, when your experiments continuously fail or you need to re-strategize your entire project, every step feels heavy. It is on these days that I struggle to find the motivation to keep running.

Although many believe personality tests to be “bad science”, I am a strong identifier with my Enneagram classification. The Enneagram identifies your personality type with “wings” that supplement your core personality type. What I like about the Enneagram over other personality tests is that it not only identifies your own personality, but it also encompasses how you interact with others and the world. I am a 2 Wing 3, which means I am ambitious but an inability to accomplish goals leaves me drained. Lately, I have been struggling in my research to accomplish my goals for this quarter. Due to this lack of accomplishment, I have felt my strides in this marathon to be heavy. Recognizing these feelings, I need to keep reminding myself that although I do not feel like I am accomplishing my goals, I am succeeding in something everyday. Whether it is refraining from snoozing my alarm in the morning, changing my approach to a scientific problem, or making a healthy dinner choice at Chick-fil-a, I have been tracking these “Daily Successes” to keep myself motivated. Writing these successes on a repurposed To-Do notepad has made an improvement in my positivity and lightened my strides.

Research is a field plagued with failure, so it is critical for me to be reminded that I am making small successes in my graduate schooling, as well as in my personal life. I encourage you all to record your own successes when you are feeling like your strides are heavy because success is not only finishing the race, but taking each step of the journey.


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