Keep Moving Forward: 4 Tips to Enjoy the Journey More

“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.” ~Proverb

Five years ago, I decided to fulfill my dream of getting a doctorate. I knew from talking to friends who took on the same endeavor that it would mean many sleepless nights and tons of reading and writing. But nothing prepared me for the path that lay ahead.

Graduate school is often compared to a marathon. Why? At each moment, when you think you’ve completed a major milestone, you realize you have a long road ahead. You just have to keep going and going.

First, there’s the coursework. I took on a full load and worked two part-time jobs.

Second, you really have to develop a thick skin because part of the experience of graduate school is humbling yourself before your professors and peers and learning to take constructive criticism. This also becomes an exercise in tuning into your own voice by learning how to distinguish between useless and useful feedback.

Third, your patience is tried and tested because it’s such a long road–an average five to seven years to completion in the United States.

I went into graduate school because I loved learning and I had a passion for my research. Along the way, as I buried myself in books, grading, and academic dialogue with my colleagues, I lost sight of this passion.

I became so focused on the destination that I forgot about the journey.

For my dissertation, I had to travel abroad to collect data. At first, I was enthused about the act of discovery. What kind of data would I find? What would I learn about the country, culture, and people living there? I was excited about the prospect of my research contributing to the good of mankind, even in some minute way. I harbored high hopes.

Gradually, this enthusiasm wore off. All I could think about was when I would finish.

I felt I had made too many sacrifices in the last five years and I was ready to be done. I wanted to get married and start a family and felt graduate school had hindered the development of my personal life.

While all my friends got mortgages and established their families, I had traveled the world and devoted myself to research and knowledge. I began to resent my career path.

Traces of this resentment showed up in my interactions with people abroad. When I conducted interviews, I sometimes found myself growing impatient. I wanted to be done. When this happened, my interviewees could sense my impatience and withdrew from me.

This was not the kind of person I wanted to be. I took on this “marathon” for passion and meaning in life and I was not about to lose that.

So, one day, I confided in one of my best friends online. I told him all my concerns and worries.

He asked me to remember the day when I received my admissions letter to graduate school.

I remember being elated. I shared the news with family. Though they were sad I would be moving from West Coast to the East Coast, they were overjoyed for me.

I remember my heart skipping a beat when I picked up books by professors whom I admired and wanted to emulate.

I remember the little things that made me smile, like learning a new idea which helped me see the world in a completely different way.

And I remember being fully aware that this new path I was taking would have ups and downs. I knew I would be able to weather the downs because the ups were worth it.

My best friend reminded me that I am right where I’m supposed to be. I chose this path for a reason. Sure, the path is filled with obstacles, but every path has its challenges. At least I get to do what I love.

I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

In the fast-paced, stressful modern life, it’s easy to forget that we’re facing the right direction and to keep walking. Here are a few tips to remind us that life, with its ups and downs, is the destination. All we have to do is remember.

1. Get a mission statement.

We cannot necessarily control the events around us, but we can control our attitude. Sometimes, all it takes is a little nudge to remind us of our initial attitudes when we took on the challenging path.

Here’s what I do. I dig out my mission statement, just like the one Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People encourages us to do. In the book, he recommends that we make a poster complete with pictures which highlight and illustrate our core values.

If you don’t have a mission statement, you can make one!

What do you value in life? How do you picture your day-to-day routine? Why did you choose your career path? Then use magazine articles and cut out pictures which remind you of your values.

You can laminate your mission statement, like I did, and hang it up in your office. This will remind you when you’re facing the wrong direction or to keep walking in the right one.

2. Be inspired.

When I get that empty or bitter feeling of regret of the choices I’ve made in life, instead of turning to unhealthy doses of chocolate, I curl up in bed and watch inspirational movies. Movies which show strong characters facing one challenge after another and eventually being redeemed.

My favorite movie is The Shawshank Redemption. Andy Dufresne, the main character, never loses hope. He faces the right direction and keeps walking. In the end, he prevails and along the way, strengthens his humanity by helping those around him. Choose your favorite movie and be inspired.

3. Get active.

I recently took on Muay Thai boxing. Me and 10 other guys. Although I’m winded in the first 15 minutes of conditioning, I have seen steady improvements in my physical strength and reflex.

Doing boxing reminds me to keep going, even when I don’t feel like it. It also keeps me centered. Sparring is about anticipating your opponent’s moves, and you have to be in the moment to do that. Being mindful is the key lesson I have learned in boxing.

According to my instructor, a world-renowned coach who has trained with the current world champion, the sport is primarily about mental discipline. When he chants, “It’s all in your mind, keep going, you can do it,” I feel stronger.

I get a second wind not only in boxing, but in all areas of my life. Boxing and other forms of exercise remind us that our minds are stronger than we think and hard work does pay off in the end. We just gotta keep on going.

4. Take deep breaths and relax.

I’m more focused on the destination rather than the journey when I’m anxious and stressed. Collecting data and then synthesizing it into an academic article requires a lot of patience and hard work.

When I get stressed, I just want to give up. I stop focusing on the present moment and I start becoming impatient about the future. I want to finish now. Then negative thoughts about the past—what choices I could and should have made—start creeping in. To counteract this, I have learned it helps to simply breathe.

My best friend took me through the visualization exercise. It’s something I have learned to do on my own. First, I close my eyes in a quiet setting. I turn on my favorite music.

Then I take a deep breath and then visualize myself when I first embarked on this journey. What did I feel? What was I thinking? The positive sensations start flooding in and I recall the joy I felt when I first took on this path. Sometimes, all we need is a simple, gentle reminder.

We remind ourselves to trust our instincts and keep forging ahead. This is all part of the beautiful journey called life.

Photo by Trekking Rinjani

About Janny Chang

Janny Chang is a Ph.D. Candidate at Columbia University doing research on social networks in foreign investment firms in developing economies. She currently lives in Lusaka, Zambia. Janny loves to travel and read and write about a variety of topics. She can be reached at jc3439(Atcolumbia(DOT)edu.

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  • Just what I needed. I always remind myself no matter what happens, keep moving forward but stay in the present moment. No past no future just this valuable and blessed day is all I have. And when it comes to inspiration “The Peaceful Warrior” has really helped me recover and sometimes push me to be better and thats good because I think I have come a long way. Thank you

  • Thank you for this post. It was exactly what I needed today. Especially the part of reminding ourselves of the joy we felt when we first started down the path of our dreams. Sometimes I get so wrapped up with the drama of bad roommates, delays in financial aid, and the number of other things that can occur when working on our education that I forget…that I should be focusing on the coursework, the reading of various journal studies, learning all that I can. That this was the what brings me joy and makes me happy. Going to bed at night considering all the new information and how I can apply it to my next project. This is my joy, this is my happiness, the rest…it is just the bumps in the road. They are all part of the learning experience. Thank you again. This came at a perfect time. 

  • Janny Chang

    Thank you so much, Travis, for reading. I also get wrapped up in the drama and still do! 🙂 So it’s really nice to know I’m not alone. We’re not alone. We can look to each other for support, especially on this website and other online communities, to remind ourselves that it’s really the journey, with all its struggles and joys, that truly matters. I recently listened to a Mat Kearney song called “Sooner or Later” and the deep lyrics captured the essence of this journey, my journey, your journey, our journey…”Take my hand/We’ll get there/the fear inside/the hills we’ve climbed/the tears this side of heaven/all these dreams inside of me/I swear we’re gonna get there.” It’s such an inspirational song! Thanks again for your comment, Travis!!! 🙂

  • Janny Chang

    Thank you for reading, Senen! I have always wanted to check out “The Peaceful Warrior” and will do so based on your recommendation. It sounds like just what I need. It brings such joy to my heart to hear that you have come such a long way. Sometimes, I tend to lose sight of the struggles I’ve overcome so it’s very inspiring to hear from someone who has gone through a long road and acknowledges the steps along the way. Thank you again for that reminder Senen!!! 🙂 

  • I love being reminded to believe in my path even when my mind gives me every reason not to. With some new and unfamiliar territory coming up on my journey, I’ve needed to remind myself of this more often.

    I really love this article. Thanks for the wonderful tips! 🙂

    ~ Madison 

  • APathThroughTheTrees

    Mantras are so powerful, aren’t they?!  And posters can help us create images of the life we want to live…so that as all of those good things are unfolding in front of us, they already seem familiar, and so more real, more natural, and exactly right…

  • Deepak

    Thank you so much for sharing. I was in Graduate School and got burnt out from developing a negative attitude about my career choice. I saw my friends get their dream jobs and start families, and I thought I made a mistake.

    It took a while but then remembered why I wanted to go to Graduate school and what inspired me. It was actually a set of papers a Prof. gave me. I keep those with me to always remember that inspiration. I am back in school to fulfill my dream.

    When I now speak to my friends about what I went through, they have similar stories. Some felt they made the mistakes I thought I had made. I realised I was always comparing the ‘behind the scenes work’ of my life to the ‘highlights’ of their lives. That is a crazy thing to do.

    Thanks again 

  • Claire

     This was exactly what I needed today. Like you, I have been lucky enough to get a PhD scholarship and travel. I get to see amazing wildlife, stunning landscapes and meet some wonderful people – but sometimes it’s unbelievably hard. I knew there would be tough moments but saying the word ‘tough’ to yourself does not equate to the terror of self doubt as you realise you’re no longer the smartest in the class, the resentment at having to do repetitive number crunching and data analysing, and the pain at being away from the people you love for months on end.

    However, posts like this remind me how elating the good times are; discovering a species not known from this area, the kindness of people I encounter, the feeling of adventure, the hope that I can do something to conserve the beautiful areas I visit. When times get hard I try and remember that this too shall pass, and to appreciate the small things of beauty in my day. I remember how lucky I am to get paid to travel and explore, and to have the chance to contribute to science and conservation.

    I will be saving your post onto my desktop and following your recommendations – like you, I know deep down that I am where I want to be, but no path is sunny and easy all the way. The challenges I’ve overcome have made me a stronger and kinder person, and hopefully the way I respond to current and future challenges will do the same.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  • yup – i think we know inside inherently if it’s the right path. and there are signas around which tell us otherwise. i got completely burntout not being on the right path
    now i’m re orientingnoch noch

  • Hengjoeshen

    Inspiring indeed, just exactly what I need right now. I am currently an undergraduate, and I begin to feel lost. While my friends have started to have career and family, I wonder why am I still studying. Never in my life that I ever consider about what am I going to do with my future. Thoughts of regrets about my past always haunt my mind, but guess I am feeling better now after reading your post. Now only I realize that I was never alone. 

  • Beth

    I seriously needed this – amazing how similar journeys can be – we are not alone. Thank you so much. Beth

  • Janny Chang

    Thanks, Madison, for reading! 🙂 I wish you all the best — equanimity, joy, meaning and strength — in the next part of your journey. Warmly, Janny.

  • Janny Chang

     Indeed — mantras and images are incredibly powerful. Just like you said, they tap into our subconscious and speak to every fiber of our being. The consequence is total harmony of our senses and our inner spirit. 🙂

  • Janny Chang

    What a wonderful idea — to keep meaningful artifacts with you all the time as a constant, inspirational reminder. A friend of mine, who tirelessly worked as a high school teacher for many years, did the same thing by keeping a set of appreciation letters from his students in a Ziploc bag. He used to pull it out and say to me, “Whenever I’m exhausted, I take these out and re-read them.” Thank you, Deepak. for sharing your story and your insights. This really struck me — “I realised I was always comparing the ‘behind the scenes work’ of my life to the ‘highlights’ of their lives.” I have done the same. Kudos to you for going back to school to fulfill your dream and wishing you all the best in your journey! 🙂

  • Janny Chang

    Claire, I have saved your response to my workspace on Evernotes. You have articulated exactly how I’ve felt so many times — “I knew there would be tough moments but saying the word ‘tough’ to
    yourself does not equate to the terror of self doubt as you realise
    you’re no longer the smartest in the class, the resentment at having to
    do repetitive number crunching and data analysing, and the pain at being
    away from the people you love for months on end.” Thank you for sharing your story and your pearls of wisdom. And I absolutely agree with you — no road is easy all the time, but these obstacles have the capacity to mold us into stronger and kinder people. THANK YOU, Claire! 🙂

  • Janny Chang

    Very true, Noch Noch! I believe in paying attention to the signs around us, too. Warm wishes to you as you re-orient your path. 🙂

  • Janny Chang

    We are definitely not alone, Hengjosehen. There is great comfort in knowing that. Thank you for sharing your experience! Warmly, Janny.

  • Janny Chang

    I am thinking the same thing, Beth! I am touched and amazed by all the responses. Thank you for reading! 🙂 Warmly, Janny.

  • Eric

    Very relatable. I am not in graduate school but I am working so I can afford school for the coming fall. At times I want to give up and join my coworkers who have no intention to achieve a degree (which there isn’t anything wrong with). But then I remember why I love school and engineering, why I love to learn about the world I live in. Your post really helped me to put my current feelings in perspective, and I am going to try your 4 pieces of advice. The funny thing is I have also wanted to try boxing for the longest time and I recently got hammered by my roommates for not having seen the shawshank redemption, I will definitely be crossing both of those off my to-do list soon 🙂

  • Guest

    Reading your post scared me because it could have just as easily been written by me, right now.  It is exactly how I currently feel about graduate school.  I am pursuing my doctorate as well and often feel “stuck” – I am ready to move back closer to my family, to have children, to work a regular 9-5 and put these incredibly long weeks full of wearing 5 different hats (taking on so many different roles: researcher, TA, clinician, student, program coordinator, family roles), behind me… I hope that rereading your post day after day can solidify your advice, but i’ll be quite honest, there are many days that I just need to see the light at the end of the tunnel and the passion of journey aren’t quite enough to get me through :/ (sorry for the downer post, it’s just where I currently am in the present moment)

  • Janny- thanks for this post. I recently got out of grad school and I remember seriously contemplating quitting a couple of times. Your point about “getting active” was perhaps the most important to me. Someone told me that the word “emotion” implies motion. You can’t just let those negative feelings fester inside you. You need to move and express them out of your system.

    With that, I spent the cold dark winters in upstate New York doing nordic skiing workouts with the university team. It turned out to be one of the more rewarding experiences during grad school and helped get me through it while feeling passionate again.


  • April 18, 2013

    Greetings Janny!

    It is my hope that this message finds you doing well. This is just a simple note to say THANK YOU for the inspiration and practical advice.

    I have been working to get out of a rut following a recent breakup; hence I googled “I am ready to move on” and discovered your article “Keep Moving Forward: 4 Tips to Enjoy the
    Journey More” on the Tiny Buddha Website. Wishing you continued success as you travel / live your journey.