About a year ago, I wrote this post about identifying things that are important to me. Now that a year has passed, I’d like to take the time to reflect both on what I wrote a year ago and how I’ve been doing for the past year.
When I wrote my post a year ago, I was struggling to figure out what was important to me. I was lost and felt that I needed to search for more meaning in my life and be more deliberate about how I spend my time. While I certainly don’t think I have everything completely sorted out today, I do feel much less lost now. I have a good sense of what is important to me, and I’ve taken strides toward realizing some of the goals I laid out a year ago.
I broke the things I consider to be most important to me into the categories of self-improvement , meaningful work , and quality time with friends and family. I’d say I still feel that way today.
With self-improvement, I was specifically focused on health, productivity, and mindfulness.
- Health : I set my health goals to be both “not sick” and “in shape.” I would say I’ve done reasonably well on both of these goals. Some parts of the year were definitely much better than others. I have been eating well, including experimenting with a vegan during the week diet. I also ran a number of races, including my first half marathon, and I’m getting ready to train for my first full marathon in November.
- Productivity: I did not have formal goals for this last year, but I would say that I have definitely accomplished a lot this year, both research-wise and in general. I became an official PhD candidate, and created a second revision system for my thesis this year. However, while I do have times of hyperfocus, I also have times where I’m burned out and don’t get much done.
- Mindfulness: I’ve done OK at being more mindful, but not great. I have been keeping up with my reading (although I am a little behind now) and I am blogging about once a week, but I definitely haven’t spent enough time on myself and reflecting as I’m realizing I need to be.
I think I did OK in the area of self-improvement. There are concrete aspects that I think went really well at different times, but I definitely have found myself sacrificing being more productive in exchange for my health and my mindfulness.
With meaningful work, my goals for the past year were to focus specifically on research, building skills / learning, and community.
- Research : I became a fully qualified PhD candidate this year, and am in the process of securing funding for the rest of my PhD. I’m getting ready to write my formal thesis proposal, in which I will lay out my plans for graduation. All in all, I think I made a lot of progress on research this year, although I still need to push myself a bit to get the project clearly defined and move forward in the next few years.
- Building skills / learning: I’ve been doing well at learning new things, including participating in a number of book clubs, and taking a course on Queer Theory and Politics. I have also gotten a lot more involved with the Quantified Self community and learned from a number of amazing people there.
- Community: I have done a lot more for community this year. I am a member of EECS REFS and was just accepted as a Graduate Residence Tutor at Senior House. I am now a co-organizer of Boston Quantified Self, and started Boston’s Quantified Self women’s meetup group.
I think I did really well when it came to focusing on meaningful work. However, I think I’m stretching myself thin on my involvement in community, and need to refocus my efforts on research now that I’m getting closer to graduation in 2-3 years.
Quality Time with Friends and Family:
I didn’t give myself a specific goal or metric for this category (I’m thinking about what one might be, but I’m not sure yet). In the past year, I’ve made new connections and built relationships that are important to me. I started last summer in “make all the friends possible” mode and met a lot of new people. However, I’ve struggled to build up these new relationships and to maintain existing ones. There have been a few people I’ve drifted apart from because we don’t fit well into each other’s lives anymore, but more often than not I haven’t maintained relationships with those I care about because I’ve been too busy.
I think I came a long way in the past year as far as discovering more about myself and working on what is important to me. However, I’d say that I succeeded most in working on what is meaningful to me at the cost of time for myself and for those I care about.
Last year, I felt I didn’t have enough meaning in my life. I was reasonably happy with myself and my relationships, but struggled most with my work and needed a sense of purpose. Now, I think I overcompensated and am happy with more of my work, but feel like I’ve committed to too much and need to step back and find some balance in my life. Everything I’m working on feels meaningful and important, but I need to pare down so I can focus on doing a subset of things well, rather than a larger set of things suboptimally.
Things to consider:
Overall, I still identify with my main areas of self-improvement, meaningful work, and quality time and their associated sub-goals. Moving forward for the next year, here are a few things I’m going to be more mindful of:
- Long-term vs. short-term: meaning is important to find, but it also important to consider work that is meaningful in the short-term vs. work that is meaningful in the long-term. Short-term work keeps me motivated now, but long-term work is what I can point to after I graduate. I find that the short-term work I’m doing is motivating for me, but can cause me to avoid dealing with the harder, but potentially more rewarding longer-term work.
- Few vs. many: Doing more work makes me feel that what I’m working on has more meaning, but doing more work also means making less of an impact on each thing I do. Focus may be more important than diversity.
- Balance, not meaning: I did a good job at finding meaningful work, but at the cost of balance. This year I should focus more on balance and worry less about meaning: there is only so much I can do and rather than trying to do more things, I should focus on what I’m already doing that has already a lot of meaning.