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Getting Unstuck, Moving Forward

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
– Winston Churchill

We know what you’re thinking: why are you already giving me tips on how to move forward from feeling stuck so early in the quarter?  Well, we thought we’d offer you some preventative tips to help you pull through, no matter where you’re at this quarter or what year you are in your degree program.  Besides, everyone gets stuck in life, and graduate school is no exception by any means. There are several factors that can contribute to feeling stuck from getting our work done.  We’ve put together a short list of these, including ways you can move forward.  So let’s begin:

Relieving the pressure.  Looming deadlines for school and work.  Family, community, and financial responsibilities.  Preparing for job searches, interviews, and possible relocations—near or far.  Those pressures can make us feel overwhelmingly stuck.  One way to relieve this weight is to re-focus your attention on what you need right now:  Do you need to slow down and take a few deep breaths (repeat every few hours)?  After that deep breath or two, and in a calmer state of mind, identify a single step you can take for one of your tasks that would help you feel you have accomplished something today.  Each task is just made up of a whole series of steps.  We have to start somewhere, and it often helps relieve the pressure to just take that one step.

Finding value in yourself (despite imperfections). We all struggle and have shortcomings. Indeed, in a job interview a common question is, “Tell me about your weaknesses!”  Being honest about your own limitations – not critical, just descriptive – can sometimes give you the awareness you need to move ahead again.  More often than not, we need a trusted conversation partner to help us see this perspective.  Reach out for support from peers, departmental staff or advisors, loved ones, or campus resources (whomever you feel most comfortable with).

Facing the fear of failure.  Academia can perpetuate the myth that we must be highly productive, all of the time.  And if we’re not, we must be failures.  Not only is this unrealistic and unattainable, this kind of culture obscures actual strategies for how to do our best work—and it can keep us from trying in the first place.  So how can we best manage this?  First, it’s helpful to think of failure in terms of progress over time—so you can grow into being that better professional, practitioner, or scholar.  It’s a process, not an end result.  You try, you learn, and you move forward—all the while validating and/or rewarding yourself each step of the way.  No matter how big or small the milestone.  It’s also vital that you build a support system of people who’ve got your back and will recognize your achievements along with you.

Remembering your purpose.  Feeling stuck can make you forget why you are in graduate or professional school in the first place.  It can also keep you in a false feedback loop that makes you believe that you are unsuccessful or unworthy of achievement.  Whenever you feel this way, remember that you are working hard towards your degree for many amazing reasons and focus on those—whether it’s to making a contribution to a field of knowledge, impacting policy that improves lives, getting a job that you love and that helps you provide for your families.  Remembering your end goals helps us focus on what really counts.


Jaye Sablan, Kelly Edwards, Ziyan Bai
Core Programs Team