Welcome to college! You have approximately four years to figure out what you want to be, who you want to be, and where you want to be. GOOD LUCK!

Did you feel like this when you arrived at school? Do you still feel like this? As if there’s an impeding, looming deadline you HAVE to figure your ENTIRE life out by, or you’re a failure? Well, listen closely…throw all of that nonsense out of your brain RIGHT NOW, and never allow it back in. “But Katy, I have dreams, I have goals, I have SO MANY people counting on me, looking up to me, and expecting great things from me.” Great, then let’s begin!

You may be wondering why I’m so confident that your graduation date doesn’t have to be the time at which you have your life all figured out. Let me tell you my story…

I started taking college classes when I was 16. I knew I would have to pay for my college education on my own, and my High School had a program that if you had a certain GPA and ACT scores, they would allow you to take college courses in place of your high school classes; I graduated with 27 credits. I spent the next year at the JUCO in my hometown taking two 20 credit semesters. I transferred to a small college in Texas, taking high course loads and dual-enrolling in a Master’s program as I am finishing my last semester of my Bachelor’s. I was 23 with a Master’s degree. But I wasn’t does yet, I had more to accomplish. I spent the next three years relentlessly apply for doctoral programs. When I got into my dream school, The University of Kansas, as an alternate, I was ecstatic. I worked endless hours to finally accomplish my doctoral dreams. I was worried COVID would have an effect on my graduation date, but alas, it passed. Then, during my last, and hardest year, I became pregnant. My due date was also my graduation date. Instead, my little guy came the day before I was to defend my dissertation. Fear not, I defended eight days after he was born, and walked the stage five days later.

Why do I tell you this story? Because woven into this crazy, imperfect story are broken plans, changing goals, and the shifting of dreams. And that’s what we’re here to talk about: Dreams and Goals.

I’m a Type A, obsessive planner. My goals had deadlines, and those deadlines were not to be changed…otherwise, I had failed. My perspective on life changed during my second year of my Doctorate. I had taken a Positive Psychology class that changed my life. I chose to allow myself flexibility, grace, and to JUST BE ME. One of the assignments was to create a Bucket List (Dreams). With that Bucket List, we had to create Goals that would lead us to an item on our list. Many of us have created SMART goals, and that method is great, but it never really worked for me. This method, to me, takes on a more “to-do list” vibe. Here’s how Dreams and Goals works: 

  1. Create a Bucket List of your wildest dreams, and things you want to accomplish eventually. Feel free to put a date next to them.
  2. Organize them. Perhaps you put the most important one on top or organize them by when you want to accomplish them. I arranged mine on a timeline (see below).
  3. PICK ONE!
  4. Write down 2-3 long-term habits that will be helpful to abide by in order to accomplish the goal.
  5. Under each long-term habit, write down 2-3 short term behaviors that will help reinforce, and eventually become, your long-term habits.
  6. If you really want to go the extra mile, write down 2-3 immediate actions you can do for each short-term behavior.

A word of caution: Feel free to put all your dreams on your list, but make sure you put an asterisk* next to dreams that depend on other people or circumstances. For example, if one of your dreams is to win an award (e.g., Player of the Year) or a championship, it is important to keep in mind that those Dreams and Goals are also based on other players and teams, and not FULLY in your control, and therefore, may not ever be accomplished.

Here was my list of Dreams from the summer of 2019, silly notes and all:

  1. Graduate with my PhD
    1. Goal date: 2022 (you will have a meltdown if this doesn’t happen)
  2. Get CMPC Certified
    1. Goal date: 2024
  3. Get ACE Group Exercise certification
    1. Goal date: 2024?
  4. Finish LPC licensure
    1. Goal date: 2026? (do your best on this one)
  5. Publish research, yuh nerd
    1. Goal date: as often as possible
  6. Present at national conferences
    1. Goal date: as often as possible
  7. Start a family
    1. Goal date: tentative; sometime after I’m 30, and after I have graduated and established a career, or maybe don’t have any and live rich
  8. Live somewhere I love (beach maybe?)
    1. Goal date: tentative; when it makes sense, but don’t wait until retirement
  9. Travel
    1. Goal date: as often as possible
  10. Make a difference in the lives of others
    1. Goal date: always

I laugh looking at this list, not only at the notes, but at how much I have accomplished on that list, and how far I have to go still. When I had to pick one item, I picked my #1, getting my PhD. Here’s how my list looked. Each of my three long-term habits has three short-term behaviors beneath. I did not go the extra mile initially, but as an example, I have added immediate actions to my second long term habit.

GOAL: Graduate with my PhD

  1. Complete assignments on time/early
  2. Create calendar reminders, make a schedule and stick to it (within reason)
  3. Lock yourself in your office on Friday mornings from 10am-1pm, even if you don’t have homework, DO SOMETHING. If all else, have a big breakfast and coffee with yourself.
  4. Make sure your jobs (rec, athletics, teaching) don’t impede your homework time, grade student work on time, don’t schedule anything on Fridays
  5. Complete paperwork & submission deadlines early in order to fix mistakes if needed
  6. Be proactive – know the step-by-step process ahead of time, and what documents need to be sent to who for approval
  7. Download all forms
  8. Email the Dean of Graduate studies, and make sure you are not missing any step
  9. Begin asking professors if they will be on your dissertation committee
  10. Fill out documents now, so they are ready when you need them
  11. Fill out the forms
  12. If you don’t understand, email the correct person and ask for guidance
  13. Create calendar reminders of deadlines
  14. Create reminders now
  15. Add tentative dates for comprehensive exam and dissertation defense
  16. Start brainstorming research possibilities to prepare for dissertation (yikes!)
  17. Read 2-3 journal articles on topics you may want to research, and start creating folders of resources
  18. Create flow charts or bulleted lists of ideas and paths of understanding topics
  19. Discuss ideas with Mary at least once a month to get her input and guidance, then adapt

    Perhaps this method seems overwhelming, that’s ok. My suggestion is to just try it, do the minimum, and add to it when you can. Set dates but prepare to be flexible. Trust me, when you look back on your journey, you’ll realize you accomplished your dreams and goals in perfect timing. Take bumps in the road as lessons and learning opportunities as opposed to seeing them as failures. No one expects perfection from you. Not to mention, if everything always went as planned, that would be a boring, anti-climactic story.

    The truth is, no one truly knows what they want to be when they grow up…and if they do, I bet the path to that dream was anything but straight. I spent 9 years in school, and I was never able to give a quality answer to the infamous “So what are you going to do when you graduate?” question. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, so rather than feeling pressure to answer the question, give yourself permission to say, “I don’t know, I’m still working on figuring that out, but here are a few dreams and goals I am working on.”

    By: Katy Strande, PhD