Is there such a thing as writer’s block for goal setting?

In 2016, I defended my doctoral dissertation and earned my PhD. It occurred to me that problems such as the factorial invariance of the bystander attitudes scale wasn’t meaningfully connected to sexual assault survivors I served, at least not beyond the vague notion that knowledge-building and research can support addressing social problems. Yet, the connection felt flimsy. I fell off of a cliff. Not a literal cliff, but an existential one. What the $#*!- was I doing with my life? I have been without a clear vision for my life or the world for what seems like a long time. So, I’m finding The War of Art‘s concept of “Resistance” very helpful as I begin to write this, as I have been grappling with exactly that for what feels like a very long time… Is it possible I have a version of Resistance to even setting goals? Hmm…

Personal Goal: Run the University-sponsored 8K in February

  1. Identify: Train for and complete the 8K on February 15, 2020.
  2. Benefits: Sleep better as a result of the training; feel more fit and healthy; accomplish a specific goal; and spend time with U community members
  3. Obstacles: I hate getting up early and training will require me to do so; I forget to add exercise to my daily to do list so sometimes I won’t even remember to train for that reason; it is sometimes extremely hot and humid, so I’ll need to have an indoor training location option that does not require me to workout in front of my students (e.g. at the U gym)…
  4. Knowledge and skills: download and post the recommended 8K training plan; get advice from friends who are runners on exercises they found helpful on non-run days; figure out if this will require any additional gear
  5. People and Groups: I have tried in the past to get co-workers to train with me. Unsuccessful.
  6. Plan of Action: Email chair of the race, today to see if there is an incentive plan or other recommendation he has for getting fellow Barry colleagues to train/run with me. Print training routine and post plan in my calendar by the end of the week.
  7. Deadline: the race is February 15, 2020 and the training guide I read recommended an 8-week training plan, so I have until December 1 to make sure I can easily run two miles in anticipation of the start of the training plan.

Professional Goal: Get my university (“U”) to sign on as an anchor institution for the emerging Miami-based Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) by June 1, 2020.

  1. Goal: Get my university to sign on as an anchor institution for the emerging Miami-based Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) by June 1, 2020 with a commitment to collective buying of at least one of the following categories: waste management (trash/recycling/composting); electricity; solar power; copier services; cleaning services; purchasing supplies; or gas.
  2. List the Benefits: I see sustainability as an economic, environmental, and human benefit. If the University has a more eco-friendly campus that employs local businesses to meet our purchasing needs, my students and their families will have more/better jobs while they get a formal education and we will be addressing the threat of climate change through concrete, mission-driven action. In turn, that is likely to make my students better students and better social workers, which will make me very happy!
  3. Obstacles: University has a combination of large corporate vendors and small offices with big tasks, so it will take some time to get a clear picture of this landscape; institution is in transition with a lot of new senior leadership; confusion about who does what/who is on board for making a positive change.
  4. Skills/Knowledge: be able to articulate the benefits of CPA for the U as an anchor institution; understand the marketplace and costs; understand state regulations pertaining to solar; identify stakeholders’ needs and interests and leverage these for full participation; recognize relationships with reps of current vendors and negotiate with these in mind; work with CPA colleagues, especially JF, to identify a pool of local business owners who could become the service providers across domains of interest/need to the U.
  5. People and Groups to work with: JF, an amazing colleague and strategic thinker; look together for community partners who could be business leaders providing services to U.; determine whether U facilities or procurement staff could become advocates for change; understand perspective of current VP of finance.
  6. Plan of Action: Coordinate with JF on next steps and work. Do my homework on university needs. (Does it make sense for me to focus primarily on gathering data internal to U. in the form of conversations with possible allies for the remainder of this semester?) Work on my elevator pitch about CPA benefits to U. Get advice from Felipe and others on how to identify institutional needs without causing unnecessary conflict. Schedule a call w/Felipe and JF about strategy.
  7. Deadlines: schedule a call by the end of October w/Felipe and JF. Gather anecdotal intel from 3 colleagues (LP, DH, CR) over the next 3 weeks re: procurement; waste removal; other unanticipated/burdensome costs for their areas of work within the U.

First, gratitude for your questions! SO helpful!!!

And then, this…

Reflection Script: In a nutshell, I need to keep pushing myself to “land the plane”, as one of my high school English teachers liked to say. Landing the plane is about being as specific and clear as possible about goals and outcomes, while also finding ways to move from my internal processing to seeking external support and connection on the problems I’m trying to solve.

I don’t know if it is necessary to rehash the specifics, but I am adding my full reflection based on the incredible feedback I received…

Professional Goal: Get my university (“U”) to sign on as an anchor institution for the emerging Miami-based Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) by June 1, 2020.

What would be the benefit to you for accomplishing this goal? What’s your motivation for doing this?

When I interviewed at U, I loved the sense of welcome and fun among the social work faculty. I ignored the advice of my PhD program director at Rutgers, who was floored by the low pay of the U, and told me NOT to take the job. I thought, I believe in the U’s stated core commitments to knowledge and truth, inclusive community, social justice and collaborative service. I had been at elite PWI’s (predominantly White institutions) and wanted to work with more first generation, linguistically, culturally, and racially diverse students for whom a college degree could make a huge difference in their lives and in the lives of their families. And, I do not own any assets other than my car, and I am not responsible for caring for children or aging parents yet, so I figured, what’s a little low pay in the face of an opportunity to work with students in a context where the work would make a real difference?

Now that I’m here, I see the U accepts students who are have not been academically prepared for college, but then does not provide adequate transition support, so many students drop out, with only large loans to show for their efforts. I see that faculty and staff have attempted unionization but been thwarted (even by fellow faculty members) and many have not even had cost of living adjustments in a decade or more, depending on how long they have worked for the U. I see that, according to the most recent faculty survey, the morale is extremely low, but people stay because they believe in the mission. People stay because they remember what the institution once was, but are too overwhelmed juggling outside work (for which we need to have written approval) with work demands to take action. The gap between what the institution is and what it preaches is so wide, it has taken me these two years to even write all of this without being overcome by my own cognitive dissonance.

So, my motivation for the co-op is to test whether the institution can live its core commitments through concrete action. There is hope, I am told, because we have a new U president. And I want to know, is hope an obstacle in this situation? Or is it real? Can we live our core commitments or are they just window dressing to draw in “customers” who will ultimately leave saddled with debt and despair?

And underneath it, for me it is, is my leadership/vision welcome? Do the contributions I feel able to make matter to the community that will receive them? Whether it’s the co-op or restorative justice practices or bystander intervention training, when I see what is needed and offer it, is it able to be received or is the resistance so great that I should go elsewhere?

Do you know anyone in a leadership position that can be a thought-partner?

Yes, I can talk with the chair of the Faculty Senate. She is trustworthy and has spent enough time at the U to know the history, both of which make her rare and a valuable institutional thought partner.

Have you considered getting data on the current benefits and pain points the U has?

Great question! The data I have so far:

  1. Alumni participation rate: 1%
  2. Enrollment: 19% decline from 2012-2018
  3. Need: 69% of our undergraduates are Pell Grant recipients and 38% are first generation students, yet still use a tuition-driven model
  4. Strengths: “personalized attention, values-based education, comprehensive university, diversity, location of campuses”; University-owned parcel of land in Miami Shores that has not been developed…

I am still unclear about the procurement processes, other than that Waste Management is the vendor and their services are not particularly well-received, but their staff do have close relationships with U staff.

Personal Goal: Run the University-sponsored 8K in February

It helped me to find another motivator such as, “if I run in the morning, I can go to happy hour or have dinner with friends after work.” Tracking mileage and time also helped with training. Have you considered adding details regarding your runs such as the number of miles and the number of days a week to your plan of action?

Yes! I love these suggestions! For my clinical social work students, I encourage them to consider the client’s internal motivations for change. I preach what I most need to learn.

Just like with writing, I find that I hate to exercise but I love having exercised. (Resistance?) Being in my early 40’s, I’ve been thinking a lot more about how the time I have in life is not infinite (enter existential crisis). So, the motivation for running is both tied to this deeper sense of mortality / doing the things I can do while I am able to do them so that I have no regrets/ coupled with a desire to thwart the effects of aging, illness, and dysthymia. Yessica’s suggestions are so helpful because they are concrete, specific, and offer daily rewards as well as accountability.

This reminds me, I once had a boyfriend who would gloat about how fit he was. I got tired of hearing him brag so I challenged him to a race, a mid-distance sprint, with 6 weeks to train. He agreed. Panic set in. And then a friend agreed to help me train, running sprints and hills in our Brookline neighborhood in the dead of winter, me cursing while he jogged or ran beside me, shouting directions (“keep breathing!”) or affirmations (“look, we can see the sun rising!”). And then it was time to race. We were on a neighborhood track in a relative’s neighborhood in Montreal. In the beginning, he shot ahead and I wondered if this was all a mistake. But, the training had given me an extra burst of power I didn’t know I had. I won that race, much to the shock of my then 6-foot muscle-bound beau.

This combination of tests of physical endurance and unconditional positive regard make for optimal training conditions. So I will do my best to mimic those conditions (minus the frigid temps) in training for the 8K in February.

7 thoughts on “Is there such a thing as writer’s block for goal setting?”

  1. Sheila, I love the specificity of these goals. Your analysis and plans are very convincing – I would absolutely bet on you to hit these! I’m also a runner. I’d be happy to check in on your progress on training if that’s helpful.

    I appreciate how you tied together what CPA might mean for your students. “My students and their families will have more/better jobs while they get a formal education and we will be addressing the threat of climate change through concrete, mission-driven action. In turn, that is likely to make my students better students and better social workers, which will make me very happy!”

    Do you see a connection between CPA’s mission and work, and the learning paths of your students? What could the process of building CPA teach your students that would reinforce what they’re learning at U? For example, have they organized around an issue before? Have they had a chance to build something that redistributed power downward, away from large institutions that usually make decisions with little accountability? What would it mean for your students to play a role in convincing U to spend money in a way that aligns, presumably, with the values it espouses?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sheila, I loved your goals!

    I absolutely love running, but always hated getting up early to train. It helped me to find another motivator such as, “if I run in the morning, I can go to happy hour or have dinner with friends after work.” Tracking mileage and time also helped with training. Have you considered adding details regarding your runs such as the number of miles and the number of days a week to your plan of action?

    Regarding your second goal of getting the U to adpot an achor mission, have you considered getting data on the current benefits and pain points the U has? Identifying these elements can help you identify opportunities and craft your value proposition. It might also help you uncover any “incentives” that the U gets by going with the large (and oftentimes extractive) vendors. Do you have any champions in procurement? Do you know anyone in a leadership position that can be a thought-partner? It would also be interesting to uncover any barriers the U has that prevents more PoC or locally-owned businesses from doing business with the U.

    Lastly, I would suggest working to identify the lowest-hanging fruit. Is there a quick win that can help you gain trust from others?

    I look forward to hearing about your journey!

    Like

    1. Yessica, thank you for your encouragement, suggestions, and strategy! I have been asking my colleagues when they vent, “So, how do decisions get made here? Who could you/we talk with about your concerns?” and so far, no one is sure. I think you are right that I should look for an in-house thought partner who is in senior leadership. I’m not sure who among the ones I know would be most reliable, but I will test this out in the next couple of weeks. (And, yes, running so I can drink a glass of red wine and eat a piece of chocolate after dinner without remorse is a specific motivator I can use :-))

      Like

  3. Sheila. Brilliant opening.
    “I fell off of a cliff. Not a literal cliff, but an existential one. What the $#*!- was I doing with my life?”
    I’m so grateful for your vulnerability, self-awareness, and clarity.

    In the “List the Benefits” of your University goal — I saw some vague generalities — what would be the benefit to you for accomplishing this goal? What’s your motivation for doing this?
    (i recognize this may not be clear at this point — just thought I’d give it a nudge … 🙂

    For example later on, this seemed like one of the benefits: “JF, an amazing colleague and strategic thinker”

    Why do you think you were having writers block with the goal setting?

    “I have been without a clear vision for my life or the world for what seems like a long time.”
    Can you say more about this?
    What’s underneath this?
    What would doing the hard work first and dance with your fear look like in this context?
    Thanks so much for being here.

    Like

  4. Sheila!! This was so empowering to read!

    Like you, I also work, with meandering success, on physical training related goals, and often find it challenging to sustain them in the long run, so I’m entirely there with you.

    I’d challenge you to think: what’s on the other side of this goal for you? If it indeed is important to you, what possibilities does it open for you when you achieve it?

    Is this part of a longer-term vision you have for your physical well-being? Why this and not anything else? I guess I’d like to see more of you shine through as opposed to it sounding like a goal that many people have for very generic reasons.

    Regarding CPA: I ABSOLUTELY LOVED to see the goal to get Barry U on board by June 2020. I also can’t help but feel deeply honored and empowered to see how highly you think of me and how committed you are to crack this puzzle, as I feel it is not a trivial challenge to get a big institution on board like this, especially as a potential founding partner. As I read through your action plan, I came to agree with the underlying notion that we need to take a step back and consult with Felipe/team as to how to organize the U to join.

    I’m confident we can get it done, but I’d suggest the action plan include a map of key stakeholders and where we think they lie in the concentric circles we spoke about (allies, neutral, enemies) and how to move them further inside/stop them from sabotaging us.

    We first need to find out who these key stakeholders are. How could we venture out of our comfort zones to make it happen?

    With deep warmth,
    Juan

    Like

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful and probing response, Juan Francisco! I will start working on that map! And, I have been sobered by my experience at U. thus far. It is a combination of White southern politeness, religiosity, and Florida wild for sure, all couched under the banner of “social justice”. So, on the surface, it would seem like it would be a no-brainer to join the co-op, but I am cautious after having witnessed interpersonal and institutional responses that are antithetical to the espoused mission. And you’re right, the only way to really test the reality is to get uncomfortable. 🙂 Much gratitude for you!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s