Waking Up at Princeton: It’s not always the Degree You Get That Makes You Smart
Many years ago, when I was working toward my first Master’s Degree at Princeton, I had an experience that really changed my life. This experience positioned me on a new path, and provided me with a new direction regarding how to live my life. I had accomplished many things at Princeton: I was graduating with honors, I had won many awards for my research work, and I had been accepted into one of the top Ph.D. clinical psychology programs in the United States. All seemed to be going well!
On a beautiful spring day, one of my last at Princeton, I decided to go to a park and just hang out for a few hours. I had not done this at all during the entire time I had attended Princeton. I had been too busy pursuing my achievements, never taking the time to slow down and just experienced the beauty of Princeton, New Jersey. If you ever get the chance, Princeton really is a lovely little town, dotted with beautiful parks and open fields.
The day was pristine, and I decided to lie on my back on the grass, just gazing up at the sky and the trees. This moment spent lying on my back and looking up at the sky was the most beautiful experience I’d had during my entire stay at Princeton. Then, something happened. I realized that although I had been at the University for almost three years, I had never done this. I realized that I had missed out on just being: being present and enjoying nature and my surroundings. I had been so busy achieving that I never paused to enjoy the simple wonders of the campus. It was a very sad experience for me, but one that really pushed me forward and helped me to start changing the way I lived my life. Of course, I didn’t undergo an overnight change, but I really did begin to slow down and enjoy the journey. I began not just achieving, but enjoying the process of moving forward, growing, and just being. I began to enjoy nature and life as it happens right here, right now.
When I moved out to California upon graduating from Princeton, I discovered many beautiful hiking trails and I found many people in my doctoral program that would join me on different days for long walks. I was truly committed to take the time to enjoy life, instead of only focusing upon achieving. The funny thing was, when I first started exploring the trails, I probably had about ten different people from my doctoral program who would hike with me at different times, on different days. It was so beautiful hiking on the hills and the mountains, yet at the end of the program, I couldn’t find one fellow student who had the time to go hiking anymore. Instead, I found a number of other people who would join me; these people had obviously learned to enjoy the journey of life.
One of the key factors of happiness is that we really do need to enjoy the journey, no matter what is happening in our lives. If we are on that achievement track, if we are trying to make money, earn degrees, achieve fame, etc., we still need to enjoy life along the way. It isn’t that it is wrong to achieve, but it’s wrong to miss out on life as we achieve. The path of achievement-driven gratification leads to a very empty, very sad life. There is nothing wrong with achieving, but let’s enjoy the journey along the way! Take pleasure life, get out, be with friends, and enjoy nature. It is important to enjoy the journey, to enjoy life as we achieve; we really can do both! We have a tendency to cause our achievements and our goals to supersede living and loving life right here, right now. Often we say, “Some day I’ll slow down. Some day I’ll enjoy life, but right now I need to achieve. I need to make it so I have time to slow down when I reach my goals. When I do reach my goals, then I’ll slow down and enjoy life.” But why not achieve while slowing down a bit to enjoy the journey? We can do both. We may reach our goals a little bit later, but we will be in much better shape if we enjoy the journey along the way. And if life doesn’t turn out the way we expected, it won’t bother us as much because we’ve enjoyed the journey along the way. It’s a win/win situation! We get to work towards our goals AND enjoy our journey. The key is that we have to slow down a bit. We have to let go of some of our goals, or accept that we will reach some of them a little later than we had planned. Remember the old tortoise and hare story: the tortoise still got to the end of the race, but he did so slowly, enjoying the journey.
We can achieve anything as long as we enjoy the journey, slow down, and work towards our goals. Ultimately, what can help us along the way is to be passionate. We must love our goals simply because we like working towards them, enjoying the journey along the way. This is truly the ultimate win/win scenario. Even if we do not reach our goals, we will have enjoyed the journey and we will have loved doing what we were doing all along the way. If our goals don’t work out, well, then we will just move onto the next journey.
Dr. Robert Puff, Ph.D. is a meditation expert, author, international speaker, and the creator of the weekly Meditation for Health Podcast, available at http://www.MeditationForHealthPodcast.com. He also creates a weekly podcast exploring the world of Enlightenment, available at http://www.EnlightenmentPodcast.com, and a weekly podcast exploring the world of Happiness, available at http://www.HappinessPodcast.org. Additionally, Dr. Puff maintains a blog, which can be found at http://www.Meditation-Enlightenment.com. If you would like to contact Dr. Puff, his e-mail address is DrPuff@cox.net.