Back to School Pt 2: Goal Setting with Soul

Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.

–Fortune cookie quote I found on my floor–

This is my last full semester in NYC, and I am more than halfway through my PhD program.  I’ve officially crossed the Rubicon.  While I am proud of how far I’ve come, I feel like I’m in this gray area where I’m part student-part professional.  I don’t have classes with professors, but I have a four person committee who are expecting me to independently read and write in preparation for my February qualifying exam.   Additionally, I have 80 students of my own who keep calling me professor when my salary falls far short of the title.  Who am I, and what am I doing with my life?

I can’t definitively say that I know what I want to do when I graduate, but I do know that I need to finish this program in the short term.  The what is clear.  The how, not so much.

In terms of getting through this semester, I know that I must be super clear about what I want to accomplish and what is actually worth my time.   In addition to teaching and studying, I am a research assistant, I have two undergraduate mentees, I’m a member of various social organizations, I volunteer and I still need time to watch Insecure on Sunday night. How sway???

A good friend bought me a copy of The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul for my birthday this year, and it really helped me to reorient how I think about goal setting.  The main premise of the book is that often times, people take on tasks in hopes that it will make them feel a certain way — smart, confident, proud, etc. –but once the goal is accomplished, that desired feeling is rarely there.  Essentially, most people have it backwards.  The author suggests that we need to first get clear on how we want to feel, and then use those core desired feelings to guide the tasks that we pursue.  My core desired feelings are: Self-confident, Happy, Intimate and Competent.  For me, a lot of the goals are the same (I need to pass my qualifying exam come hell or high water), but the motivation behind it has changed.

I’m not waiting for my committee’s final decision to make me feel like a competent person.  The fact that I can hold myself accountable to a regular study schedule, familiarize myself with a body of literature and then defend my ideas in front of a group of people is the real why.  It would be foolish to put my feelings in the hands of others and to delay feelings of self adequacy to a date five months away–that may or may not come to pass.

So, what does this look like on the ground? How am I going about making this happen for myself?  I’m super type A and a strong believer in writing things down and making it plain.  I create a chart where I set annual goals and then break them down by quarters and by the month (I’d love to do weekly, actually). This chart is posted by my mirror, so I see it everyday.  I also keep a daily running to do list to keep me on track. I get a lot of satisfaction crossing things off.  A mentor suggested to me the idea of putting things in the ‘cue’ so that I don’t unintentionally prioritize other people’s needs and wants before what I’ve already established is a priority.  In short, it’s a ‘it can wait’ philosophy.  Finally, I recently started using Google Calendar and downloaded the app on my phone.  I was hesitant because I’ve always had a paper planner, but I must say it’s nice having my schedule so easily accessible.

(This year, I begrudgingly made a vision board, put it in the corner of my room, and to be honest, a lot of things have come to fruition–still not so patiently waiting for Denzel or Kofi to appear.)

I struggle with not judging myself based on my level of productivity because if I don’t produce, I don’t eat.  That’s just the hard reality; however, I really try to be intentional about having compassion for myself in all of this.   There are enough people who are going to treat me like a machine, so I can’t also be complicit in that.  I know that I will fall short and may not get everything that I set out to do, but the fact is that I at least take myself seriously enough to try.  I will have compassion and love for myself regardless.

So here are my goals:


  • Pass my second qualifying exam with distinction
  • Establish a reading schedule where I have time to review
  • Send reminders–I think I subconsciously  have an issue with holding people accountable for the commitments they make to me especially when it’s for something I don’t want them to show up to–like anything that would require me to put on an academic dog and pony show


  • Answer emails within 48 hours–I have strong boundaries about weekends and holidays, however
  • Provide challenging yet engaging content for each of my classes-work smarter not harder


  • Keep up with a regular workout schedule at least three times a week
  • Dance!
  • Limit my spending

So, putting your desired feelings first,  how do you want to feel this semester? What goals are you setting out to accomplish that would allow you to feel this way?

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