Career Column

Motivation: How to Keep the Fire Burning

Anna Yang
Post-Doctoral Fellow
Merck & Co., Inc.


few months ago while relaxing at the spa, one of my girlfriends asked me, “How do you do all that you do?” The question surprised me initially because this was something I had never stopped to analyze. I laughed and asked her to clarify what she meant. She replied, “How are you motivated to do all that you do?”

Thus, I began to contemplate the factors that drove me to make choices in pharmacy school and after graduation. I reflected upon how I maintained my drive to achieve as a student, an educator, and a post-graduate fellow. Certainly, motivational factors differ from person to person, but I realized that my motivation level is continuously impacted by a few tips that were common among the advice that I received throughout the years.

Build a Supportive Foundation

A robust, supportive network allows me to learn constantly while gaining perspectives from many lenses. The right mentors can positively influence your decisions to pursue opportunities that you may not have noticed without their guidance. Learning from my mentors’ experiences and seeing their accomplishments excites me to take on my own challenges. For example, I took initiative as a student to find out what I could achieve by establishing relationships with my mentors and expressing my interests. From these connections, I was able to find projects and ultimately got involved in research, publications, and presentations as a pharmacy student. I find that my network frequently helps me reach other professionals.

My mentees also have a meaningful effect on my motivation to do more. Hearing my mentees’ successes in securing their first jobs upon graduation after years of guiding conversations is incredibly exciting. Their hard work and achievements inspire me to continue maintaining my relationships and keep me accountable to act as a role model.

Set Realistic Goals

A major driving factor for burnout is setting unattainable goals that likely will not be achieved in an “ideal” timeframe. Discouragement can result from setting the bar too high and missing the target. Like most other students in pharmacy school, my attention was split among many focus areas, such as didactics, extra-curricular activities, part-time jobs, and other personal responsibilities. Although I strived to be outstanding in all these areas, I discovered that I would not be able to give my best efforts to each; there simply was not enough time in the day. By taking a step back to assess my situation, I found it important to identify more manageable goals by prioritizing my tasks and limiting myself when needed. Don’t get me wrong, a good challenge is exciting and I encourage seizing opportunity, but the key is to recognize how much can be handled and what is realistically possible given other constraints.

Stay Positive

Maybe the search for the dream job was unsuccessful, or a project did not turn out as planned. Though easier said than done, it is important to acknowledge that there are pros and cons to any situation. Some of my greatest lessons have been born from failures, and these learnings continue to push me to do something better or different. In one instance, I thought of the “perfect” research project that would have provided interesting and useful outcomes. Yet, after many discussions and attempts, I realized that the project could not be carried out due to timing and limitations that were beyond my control. As I moved on, I continued to remember the lessons I learned and used my lack of success as fuel to prompt my next task. In fact, because my first project was unsuccessful, I had the bandwidth to champion a different, and arguably better, project. These situations offer a chance to learn and grow from a challenging experience. Although a change in plans may be unsettling, an even greater opportunity may result.

Have Incentive

Most people, like myself, perform better when there is a reward upon completion. Whether the task is going to the gym to be rewarded with fitness (or ice cream), or studying to achieve better grades, it is apparent that there is some innate, selfish motive in completing an action and receiving a benefit. I admit that I live by a “work hard, play hard” motto. If I am more efficient in completing my responsibilities, then I can reward myself with more free time. Taking well-deserved breaks is critical. Sleep, exercise, eat well, and take care of yourself so that your motivation is refreshed and revitalized. I was far less motivated as a student when I was hungry and sleep-deprived, so I learned that my studying time was much more effective if snacks were available and all-nighters were avoided.

What to Do When You Run Out of Steam…

“I can’t.” “It’s too hard.” Everyone has experienced a discouraging opinion about a goal from time to time. It is not easy to maintain motivation when it seems like you hit a brick wall, but the ultimate question to reflect on is why. Remind yourself why you want to accomplish a task. When I reflect upon my own plans from school to fellowship, I consider what the true purpose is and how it can help me achieve my goals. Having a clear vision that guides you in the right direction is critical to avoid drifting and losing track of valuable time. Find the fuel that lights your fire.

Consider these questions:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What is the meaning and value?

You understand yourself best, so reflect upon the “why” and you may discover what inspires you to achieve your goals.

Motivation levels can go through highs and lows, but it is essential to remind yourself to keep climbing back up. Regardless of the setting, whether it be school, the workplace, or your personal life, the next time the fire starts to wane, use these quick tricks to help reignite the flames.

Anna Yang is a second year post-doctoral fellow in Medical Affairs at Merck in conjunction with the Rutgers Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowship Program. Anna earned her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Rutgers University and is working towards her Master of Business Administration degree at Rutgers Business School.