Over the past year and a half, I’ve experienced a number of losses that have affected me profoundly. These experiences have left me with a new perspective on my life. Life is short. I need to learn to appreciate my life now, not wait for some future that may not happen. I need to stop putting off personal goals so that I can achieve professional goals.
For so long, I’ve focused on achieving mid- to long-range goals. For example, during my master’s, I focused on getting into my top choice for PhD programs. During much of my PhD, I’ve focused on setting myself up for a tenure-track position. Along the way, I worked hard and allowed myself few breaks. Now that I am nearing the end, I find myself very burned out. I can no longer pretend I am so hardcore that I enjoy working from 7 am to 11 pm (with a couple hours in between to walk to and from the office as well as for preparing meals), 7 days a week. It doesn’t help that I don’t find my dissertation topic interesting or important anymore. I need to finish. I will finish. But, I also need to find a way to live in the present.
Now, as I begin a new year—the year I will graduate—I want to think about and prepare for the next several months in a positive way. The two goals I have for this year seem to boil down to diametrically opposed aspirations (in this order): 1) stop being so chronically stressed out and 2) finish my dissertation. Actually, I think finishing my dissertation will help a lot to reduce my overall stress because writing a dissertation is hard (no kidding) and because I have hated my PhD experience (I’ll get into more specifics with a future post). Since I’m not going to quit my PhD, I need to get the writing over and be done with my department ASAP. At any rate, I’m going take a stab at organizing some positive steps to get me to both of these goals.
First, I need to knock my dissertation off the pedestal I put it on and accept that it isn’t going to make a huge breakthrough. It will not be published in PNAS, Science, Nature, etc., and that’s ok. It will not be perfect, and that’s ok too. No research is perfect. I need to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and embrace my undergrad mentor’s mantra: better done than good. For me, this is much easier said than done, but I’ll never finish if I wait until I find my dissertation acceptable. Second, as another former advisor used to rhetorically ask me as I wrote my thesis, “How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.” Instead of being overwhelmed and paralyzed by the amount of work I need to do before I schedule a defense, I need to focus on getting pieces completed. Therefore, I
plan to will devote:
- At least 1 hour a day to writing and generating figures. If I can’t write, I will sit there for the hour and brainstorm ideas for a section. Thinking about it is still working, and it’s better than nothing.
- At least 4 hours in the lab, 5 days a week to finish the last bits of labwork until I have enough for the three data chapters.
- Twenty hours per week on TA-ship responsibilities during the spring semester.
Since I know that I feel less stressed when I have a set routine, I need to decide on a routine that fits in all of this work as well as exercise and execute it when the semester starts. I can use the couple weeks in between now and then to practice getting into this routine. In addition to these tangible goals, I will work on a few less easily measured goals to help me with stress. These are:
- Walk/jog 10 miles (cumulative)/day 6 days per week. Add stretching, yoga, and/or meditation 5 days/week. Disclosure: I currently walk about 10 miles a day, so I’m adding a little (1-2 miles) jogging (gah!) to this goal to shake things up both for my body and mind (if I’m jogging, I can’t dwell on anything aside from breathing and desperately listening for the mile marker to be announced on my pedometer app).
- Stop caring that other people might be judging me for not putting in a traditional 8 (or 10 or 12) hour day at the office. I work from home before and after I get to the office, taking breaks in between to go for long walks. I am more productive this way.
- Enjoy sporadic conversations with my colleagues while at the office (instead of being stressed out that I’m not getting anything done).
- Take a bath at least once a week with a fun read, a glass of wine, some chill music, and lots of bubbles.
I could probably set several more goals, but I think this is a good start. Basically, I need to set a daily routine and stick to it, and allow myself the guilt-free time off.
Are you setting some goals to accomplish in 2014? How do you plan to accomplish those goals?