A year without … goals?

Usually at this time of year I spend quite a bit of time reflecting on my goals from the past year and evaluating my progress towards them, and setting new goals for the new year. I’ll set a “XX for 20XX” list (e.g., 21 goals for 2021) that contains a mix of personal and professional goals. I’ll pick a theme word for the year. I’ll think and dream big, and get super excited for all the bright, shiny promises the new year surely holds.

I adore goal setting, goal tracking, goal reflecting, and just living a life guided and structured by goals.

Until recently, that is.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened. Maybe it was when I encountered yet another setback on what’s seemed like an endless stint in PT and recovery this year from what now looks like multiple layered injuries and imbalances, which once again put my running goals on hold. Maybe it was entering a new academic year on fumes, again. But at some point this fall, I realized I was burned out on goals.

I abandoned my 21 for 2021 list. I set aside my Fall 2021 goals list, keeping only those crucial ones that were time-sensitive to Fall Term. I allowed myself to live more serendipitously, focusing on shorter time horizons: week-to-week, with a much smaller focus on month-to-month and nothing beyond that. And I floated the idea of NOT setting goals in 2022, continuing to focus on these shorter time spans.

The not-setting-goals idea is really appealing. There’s so much that’s up in the air right now in my life. My timeline for getting back to running is very much unknown, and my issues are such that I have to be super careful with other cardio too. (Luckily, taekwondo seems ok so far.) So setting athletic goals is a no-go. My stint as STEM Director ends in December 2022 (I’m spending a few extra months in the role so that the next director can finish his sabbatical before stepping into the role), and my next career step is unclear at this point. A long-in-the-works pilot program may or may not happen next year. A small research cohort program I direct may or may not continue. And did I mention I’m turning 50 (gulp)?

What might a year without goals look like? My current working model is a Year of Reflection(s), a series of questions to ponder and maybe even answer. Being in a holding pattern of sorts opens up room for reflection. What is my athletic identity if I can’t run, or can’t run long distances? What do I want my next career stage to look like? Do I want to finish out my career at Carleton, or should I seek out another academic home? (Or: is academia still home for me?) Where do I want to focus my time and energy in this new decade I’m entering? Perhaps I spell these out all at once, or perhaps I parcel them out over the course of the year.

I’m still enjoying others’ goal setting processes vicariously (the discussion of the Vital 9 in the last Happier podcast, the 2022 version of the annual goal setting episode on Best of Both Worlds), and will continue to enjoy seeing how others think about and plan ahead for the new year. Heck, I’ll envy their optimism and probably feel a bit of FOMO for not participating. At the same time, I’m excited to see what a year without goals looks like and feels like — and whether that makes a difference in how I approach my day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month over the course of the year.

Are you setting goals this year, are you opting out of goals, or are you somewhere in the middle?


What I’m reading: I just finished Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol, by Holly Whitaker. I stopped drinking a couple of years ago when I realized alcohol, no matter how small the amount, was quite literally making me sick. I’ve always recognized how much social situations revolve around alcohol, but navigating those same spaces as a fully sober person has been quite the eye opening adventure. This book delves into that territory deeply, and provides an extensive critique of how “recovery” happens (e.g., why is AA’s 12-step program really the only game in town?), along with presenting alternative and more inclusive ways of approaching “recovery”. I appreciated the mix of memoir and critique / self-help as well, particularly as someone who enjoys a good memoir.

What I’m listening to. The first episode of Season 3 of the CS-Ed podcast just dropped, and I started listening to it at the end of my commute home yesterday. I’ve spent quite a bit of time recently thinking about specifications grading and grading for equity, so I’m interested to hear what “alternative grading” looks like at an institution very different from my own.