Life is what happens to you While you’re busy making other plans.– John Lennon
One of our critical thinking initiatives concerns planning. For the college student, planning is a pretty crucial skill. There is the assumption that one has a reason for coming to college: becoming an accountant, getting your grade point high enough to transfer, even, in the old days, to find a husband. Having that long-term goal firmly implanted in your mind can help get you through the days when you’ve studied until 2 a.m. and have to get up for an 8 a.m. class. It can help when math formulas are so mixed up in your head that you can’t see straight.
But sometimes those long-term goals are so far ahead in the future that they no longer seem especially motivating. That is why having shorter-term goals are just as important. They give you happy successes on the way to your larger goal.
Goals can keep you on a path, but one thing to remember is not all paths are straight. And that’s okay as well. One of my life goals, for as long as I can remember, was to earn a doctorate in English. Now, no one could have taken a more roundabout way than I did in achieving that goal. My first degree was in Journalism. My first Master’s Degree was in reading education. I had actually started a degree in education administration, because it would be more practical, when I realized that I could not face any more of those classes. I decided to take a literature elective one semester to give myself time to think. Within ten minutes of the first class, I knew I was where I needed to be. So for the next few years, I took classes at night while working during the day. I wrote my thesis on Virginia Woolf and then I had a Master’s Degree.
I told myself that was enough. And a few more years went by. But still, the goal of having a doctorate and not just a doctorate in any field kept flashing in front of me every so often. So at an age where most folks are more than finished with their formal educations, I packed up my car and moved to western Pennsylvania for two summers. The first week I was there, I totaled my car. The second summer, I lived in an apartment across from a fraternity house and read Shakespeare with a throbbing bass for background. I reviewed Spanish and learned enough French to pass the reading examinations. I spent a year fighting procrastination and a long-distant advisor who was very kind but a procrastinator in her own right to write my dissertation while working full-time. But I did it. In 2003, I officially became a Ph.D.
Planning is good, and plans can keep you on track. But remember, just because you go off the track at some point doesn’t mean you won’t have another chance to jump back on and complete that goal. If that’s what you still want. And if not, you have every right to make another plan and start over.