Before I share my progress on my 2018 goals, I want to take us waaaay back to The Tending Year’s introduction post.
Cue flashback chimes music:
Over the next year I’ll use this space to record my practice of improving my life via the concept of tending. I knew I wanted to choose a word of the year for 2018, and after mumbling words to myself on long drives and jotting down lists in my notebooks, I finally chose tending. I’m a writer by training, and tending seduced me because of its dual meaning:
to tend to: taking responsibility or care of something
to tend to do: developing habitual actions or beliefs
I hope that my focus on tending in my life will help me to accomplish four key goals this year:
- complete my dissertation prospectus
- begin drafting my dissertation
- improve my health and wellness
- pay off debt and save money
December’s theme is “Looking Back, Looking Forward,” and I invite you to join me in reviewing which topics and tools helped me to tend to my four key goals this year.
Now that the I’ve dedicated eleven months and forty-nine (!!!) blog posts to tending to these goals, I’d like to report both my progress and some lessons I picked up along the way. Perhaps my biggest takeaway is:
I learned that while some goals are “check-off-able,” like a dissertation prospectus, other goals require a shift in perspective and ongoing commitment to change.
Below, I break down my process for accomplishing each goal, tell you the key lesson I learned, and share what intentions I will carry with me to the next year.
1. Complete my Dissertation Prospectus
My dissertation prospectus is the first goal I checked off this year. When I started the process, I thought it would be easy-peasy: all I had to do was write a paper that outlines the theory, methods, and chapters that will compose my dissertation. I love my research, so I thought channeling my fascination and skills as a writer would allow me to churn out a prospectus, submit it, and be on my way. In fact, I viewed the prospectus as something that was holding me back from the “real” work of writing the dissertation.
After drafting and revising (and revising and revising and revising), I finally admitted that I faced a challenge: I needed to step back from writing and go back to the research drawing board. This would require a large shift in perspective about what counted as productivity. I addressed my dilemma in my Week 16 post: “Enjoy the Process”:
Although I’ve been honing my academic writing skills for over a decade, the genre of the dissertation prospectus feels elusive—because it is new. I am learning about it as I compose it, which means I am not always aware if I’m checking off boxes that show my progression. That’s hard for me, because I like knowing how close I am to “done,” and I like even more knowing how close I am to “done well.”
Learning how to enjoy the process of synthesizing what I read helped to make the re-researching process feel not only less painful, but actually fun. Once I shifted my perspective, I wrote a stronger prospectus and submitted it for approval!
Top Lesson Learned: Remember to value all of the research and writing tasks that happen behind the scenes. Drive and fascination are important, but situating my writing in conversation and context makes it ever stronger.
To Remember in 2019: List out all the steps required to complete a writing/research task before I begin; try to make research feel fun; set limits and boundaries around how much I will do in one sitting; identify beforehand which tasks can be “good enough” and which need extra attention and effort; allow myself to be a novice once in a while.
2. Begin Drafting my Dissertation
I came at drafting my dissertation from an interesting angle: I decided to write my dissertation’s third chapter as my capstone paper for my Graduate Certificate in Advanced Feminist Studies. (An interesting thing about dissertation chapters is that you can draft them out of order or move between working on different ones!). Although I was excited to “feed two birds with one apple” (think of all the time and effort I will save!), trying to force one document to serve two different purposes proved overwhelming.
I dealt with my writing overwhelm in Week 42: “How to Handle Overwhelm,” and I decided to focus exclusively on the paper as a paper. Now that the paper draft deadline has come and passed (my draft was approved! Hooray!), I have shifted to focus on revamping the paper into my chapter as a separate document. Fingers crossed to have a draft of this chapter by the end of 2018!
In addition to working with my overwhelm, I found a few particular writing tools and prompts that aided me in writing my paper and my chapter. I practiced accountability and goal setting in Week 38: “Keeping a Dissertation Journal,” and I focused my writing efforts through Week 40′s “One-Inch Picture Frame” and Week 35′s “Mind & Concept Maps.”
Top Lesson Learned: Allow my skills and interests to guide my creativity. Take the time to create concept maps when I feel stuck—they always help, and I love making them!
To Remember in 2019: Make a plan to write OFTEN; adjust my work schedule to prioritize dissertating during my prime brain time (early mornings); find the path of least resistance, and take it; remember to calm my nervous system when I feel overwhelmed with the hugeness of a project; ask for help from my dissertation chair and friends; remember that research counts as dissertating; write raccoon reports and revise later.
3. Improve my health and wellness
When 2018 started, I had no idea where my healing journey would take me—all I knew is that I has been in pain for almost a year, without a diagnosis, and it terrified me.
I am still without a clear diagnosis, but I am no longer terrified. In fact, I’ve worked hard to develop practices that help me to keep my pain levels lower and to shift my perspective from hopelessness to mindfulness. This perspective shifting has greatly affected my mental health, too.
In order to get to the lighter place I am now, I had to first address my struggle with perfectionism (see Week 21: “Perfectionism & Pain”) and my addiction to work (see Week 23: “Workaholic Tendencies”). I learned how to catch myself when I turned to black and white or catastrophic thinking in Week 25: “Embracing the Gray Area.” Two practical tools that aided my physical healing this year were moving my body and the energy in it. I detail a few of my practices in my Week 17: “Movement” post, and since then I have added massage therapy, reiki, and yoga to my practices. Although I sometimes forget to do it, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) never fails to help me calm my nervous system and feel more present and safe.
Top Lesson Learned: It’s a tie:
- I have limited amounts of physical, mental, and emotional energy, so it is essential that I prioritize how I expend them and that I set healthy boundaries around my output. The Spoons theory was very helpful to me in setting boundaries and explaining my pain to the people in my life (detailed in Week 30: “Managing Energy Expenditure”). I also have the upmost praise for the “Must-Do Method” (Week 36), which showed me how to accomplish more by doing less.
- I will try my damnedest to not attach a story to my pain. Instead, I want to learn to thank my body for trying again every day, and I want to celebrate my strengths and my successes. I covered a number of ways to do these actions in Week 22: “Negative Self Talk.”
To Remember in 2019: More yoga, more reiki, more massage; try adding cardio back into my exercise routine; keep practicing not attaching a story to my pain; set and maintain healthy boundaries around my work; build a work schedule that allows me to take breaks and stretch; catch myself and shift my perspective when I start giving myself a hard time; ask for help doing tasks that are difficult or stressful; prioritize healthy eating; drink more water.
4. Pay off debt and save money
You may have noticed that I shared less about saving and paying off debt as the year went on. I have a complicated relationship with both scarcity and wealth, which prompted me to keep this part of The Tending Year closer to my chest as I hit milestones throughout the year. As the year comes to a close, I’m finally ready to share.
I come from a working-class background and I moved out the beginning of my senior year of high school, so I have been financially supporting myself since I was 18. I opened my first credit card at the age of 23 and used it to apply to around 10 MFA programs in 2010. In the nine years between then and the start of The Tending Year I amassed over $10,000 in credit card debt across two cards.
And this year I paid it all off.
It was an emotional experience, twisted up in traumas around scarcity, yes, but also around my desire to believe that it was okay to want to feel safe (for me, that means financially stable). I hold space for my confusion and my process of learning, because I haven’t figured out all of the answers yet.
So, how did I pay off my credit cards? Well, to start with, I stopped using my cards entirely. Next, I used federal student loans to pay off a large portion of my credit card debt. The math was simple: my student loan interest rate percentage is much lower than either of my credit cards’ interest rates. I am still accruing interest, but in the long run, I will accrue less, and I can choose to pay off the student loan interest now. Finally, I dedicated more of my earnings toward paying the cards off sooner. I was able to do this because I have three jobs. Graduate students have a 20 hour/week contract at my school, but I work an additional 20 hours/week as an office manager and as a writing and web consultant. Working more hours means I bring in double the pay of my colleagues, but the tradeoff is that I have less time to dedicate to writing my dissertation (and all the other aspects of living!). As I said above: I have a complicated relationship with trusting my foundations will stick, but I am trying to learn how to make that relationship healthier.
Everyone, I cannot recommend Hadassah Damien of Ride Free Fearless Money enough. She is the financial coach I see once or twice a year, and she suggested that I create new checking and saving accounts for different purposes. I have two checking accounts with respective debit cards: one is for regular spending and one is for bills. I have four savings accounts: one is for a Feminist Fuck Off Fund (aka what I would live on if I needed to quit my job before I could find a new one), one is for saving up money to supplement my smaller summer paychecks, one is for travel and conference expenses, and one is for “special,” which changes depending on what particular thing I’m saving for. When I get a paycheck, I allocate a particular amount of money into each account. If I’m under some financial pressure, I allocate less, but I find that adding to the FFOF feels amazing (this is the first time in my life that I have a real savings account that I do not touch!). I talk more about my saving practices and my experience with monitoring my spending in Week 10′s “Conscious Input and Output” post.
Top Lesson Learned: Financial literacy is something I can learn, but it’s up to me to make it happen. I deserve stability and foundation (as do we all).
To Remember in 2019: Redo my budget to reflect my current spending on healing appointments; figure out when my large expenses (like website design) renew; recalculate a set amount of money to go into savings accounts every payment; do market research; offer productivity coaching in exchange for trade and money; save up money to move in with Sweetie; spend money with intention.
I encourage you to look back at your own goals for the year and write down one lesson you learned from each one and write down what you’ll do in 2019 based on that lesson. If you didn’t set explicit goals in 2018, can you reflect on what you did accomplish? Remember, productivity is not just about the product, so be sure to celebrate the processes you began and the lessons you are still learning!
I’d love to hear your 2018 goal check ins, so feel free to email me them or post them on the Instagram post for this blog post!
*Please note that the original version of this blog post was published here.
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