Early in my undergraduate career, I vividly remember the excitement of Boiler Gold Rush (BGR), Purdue’s undergraduate orientation. Fun school-sanctioned activities filled the day and, in the evening, kickbacks and frat parties. I always preferred to stay low key. I would rather walk around campus or town than attend a loud crowded party… but I digress, back to maximizing success

Party over. Game time.

A week or two after arriving on campus, classes had officially begun. I thought to myself, “I made it to the big leagues.” The lecture halls and libraries were filled with other students eager to learn and do well. But I noticed something weird, some of the brightest students were struggling to succeed. Not because they weren’t capable, but because they could not manage the social and academic aspects of college. And when it was time to decide whether to go to a party or study, more than likely they chose the party. College is hard enough without distractions but constantly succumbing to those distractions makes everything else much more challenging. 

An article published by Indeed titled: “10 Tips to Become Successful and Achieve What You Want in Life”, begins their list with “Be committed.” At some point in all our personal, academic, or professional careers we must let some things go to achieve the success we desire. At times these can be trivial things but there will be some meaningful hobbies/past-times/distractions that will have to be reduced or fully abandoned for a season. For me this meant no video games, less time at home hanging out with old friends, and in the most extreme cases, visiting my parents much less. This was painful at times, but I learned how to manage the pain.

3 Strategies for maximizing success through pain management

After 10 years of post-secondary education, I have become familiar with this process. 

1. Find others with the same level of commitment

Misery is not the only thing that enjoys company, success does too. Late freshman year I learned that successfully matriculating through college would require greater commitment, so I found someone who was willing to shut-down the libraries with me. We would regularly study for hours, often until the libraries would close. Although we are now in separate countries, we still help each other stay committed to our goals. Nevertheless, as I continued my education into graduate school, I found other highly committed peers to form a community with to ensure we all graduated with our PhDs no matter the obstacle. 

Misery is not the only thing that enjoys company, success does too.

2. Maximizing success by taking pain medicine

No matter the goal, we still need to live full and balanced lives. For me, I needed time to recharge. Whether just leaving campus or leaving West Lafayette to go to my parents’ house to eat a real home cooked meal. These breaks from work were usually quite short because if I was not working, then I was not moving closer to my goal and risked introducing too many distractions. My parents made it clear, they wished I could stay home longer but the show had to go on. 

3. Maximizing success by seeing a doctor

During my long tenure in academia, I saw what the stress of trying to thrive in highly competitive spaces for extended periods of time could do. Particularly for those like myself who are hypercritical of themselves, it is important to stay calibrated. When things are going well, do not let off the gas, but loosen your grip on the steering wheel a little bit. Learning where to be lenient can be challenging especially when the path is winding and complex but with the right combination of mentors and coaches this can be made easier. Proper coaching will allow you to direct your effort in particular areas to help you avoid being stretched too thin. This allows for greater capacity to reclaim some of the things you needed to reduce during that season.   

Closing

Managing pain is vital for maximizing success at all levels. Inadequate pain management can derail even the most brilliant people. The ability to stay committed is what allowed me to recover from a poor college semester, make the Dean’s list, stay in school until my late twenties, and earn my PhD. If you can manage the pain, you can achieve even greater success. 

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editors: Colby M. (Adolph) Vöst, PhD, Nicholas Pulliam, PhD

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