Looking Back

In my last post I wrote about the challenge of making resolutions that we can actually keep, rather than setting ourselves up for failure.

It is key, when setting goals, to take stock of what you have or have not done well. This isn’t an all-or-nothing examination—you didn’t fail by not getting an article accepted, for instance, as you have no control over the peer review process. But if you never submitted one, well, that is an area where you might seek to improve in the future.

Looking back and taking stock of what you did well, what needs work, what areas you never even touched is key to developing your resolutions and goals for the upcoming year. I mentioned in the last post that we tend to create lofty resolutions that sound great but are rather difficult. Instead take the time now to think about your previous goals and what you could have done better to reach them. Be specific—perhaps you wrote a draft of an article but never edited it, or perhaps you committed to writing three book reviews, which you did, but you were not able to make the time to work on your own research, teaching, or that chapter that is due rather soon…Don’t forget that you are a whole person, too, and your goals should not just focus on work. What did you accomplish in your personal life? What still needs your attention? Perhaps you made it to yoga twice a week all semester, or ran your first 5k or marathon. Celebrate those accomplishments! Likewise Did you spend the time with your family that you wanted to? Hike those trails? Visit those bourbon distilleries?

Make sure you take the time to think about what you did well, too, and to recognize and celebrate those achievements, no matter how small. Remember also to think about what you have control over in the steps associated with each goal—you do not control peer review, you do not control the administration or the grant or tenure committee, or the job search committees—and try to let those parts go. Stressing over them does nothing but cause you stress. (In the famous words of Aaron Burr via the musical Hamilton [“Wait for It”], “I am the one thing in life I can control.”)

Write these down—a list of areas that you need to work on and what you did very well, and recognize where you have no control. Put it aside for a day or two, and then return to it. Were you specific? Can you see areas that need improvement? This will be the basis of your future resolutions.

So before you commit to any resolutions for the new  semester/summer/sabbatical, take the time to review what you did well and where you need to focus your time and energy.

An academic’s schedule has numerous natural starting and ending points (e.g. fall term, spring term, summer) throughout the academic year. Each of these points should be considered a place to stop, take stock of what we have done well and what we can improve, where we were too ambitious in our goal-setting (or not ambitious enough!).

I’ll continue to develop and expand upon these ideas in the next few posts, covering:

  1. Looking Back (this post)
  2. Recognizing and owning your worth
  3. Developing a SMART plan
  4. Organizing your time

Blog post originally published here at shaynasheinfeld.com.