Preparing to Prepare

Yesterday was the most important day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah, the New Year holiday ten days before, is effectively a preparation for Yom Kippur. And the entire month before Rosh Hashanah, Elul, is baked full of traditions meant to ready us for Rosh Hashanah. In other words, Yom Kippur is so important we have to prepare to prepare and then to prepare! For over a month! 

And what is the essence of all these preparations? 

Reflection. Yom Kippur is often translated as the “day of atonement.” It’s a day of holding ourselves accountable, of taking a real good look at our actions over the past year, of doing what we can to right wrongs, of resolving to do better in the future. It is a process at once deeply personal and communal. But doing that emotional work with honesty can’t be done in a day. We gotta prepare to prepare. 

Asking questions has been a big part of this year’s preparation for me. What does it really mean to hold myself accountable? How much responsibility do I place on my own shoulders when it comes to big systemic wrongs like climate change? Inequality? What does it mean to apologize for those things? What does resolving to do better actually look like? Is it ever enough?

I share all that not to now pose answers (sorry! don’t have them!), but to give you some sense of where my head has been, to share why the goal I’m sharing with you all for this CPA Incubator is all about reflection. I also want to apologize to all of you that I’m publishing this a day late! I’m so sorry! Thank you for reading this now.

And Here it is!



  1. Identify: In the next 6 weeks, write a new draft of my personal theory of practice


  I have been drafting different versions of what I learned in grad school to call my “personal theory of practice” (PTOP) for over a year. My last version dates back several months, and a ton has happened since – I graduated, I spent six weeks in a Jewish meditation program, I began work with CPA – to name a few. I’ve learned a ton, and my PTOP needs an update!

What is a PTOP, you ask? A PTOP is an articulation of my best thinking at this point about the values, intentions, methods, ongoing questions, and reflections that guide my work as a professional and as a human. 

2. Benefits: The basic theory behind this is that we all have theories, sets of experiences, values, and methods that inform our actions. Many of these remain tacit and unexamined (think behavioral economics). Articulating a PTOP is a process of shedding light on my own personal theories, which allows me to check my assumptions and develop aspirations. The PTOP can then be used as a tool to help make decisions and to cross-check against actions, to better align intentions with the actual effects I have in the world. In the context of my CPA work now, I find that having all this articulated can really help communicate about my work with CPA in a way that builds trust. It also, as I do this work of building, gives me a tool to ensure my work and my values continue to align and that I’m more fully harnessing the lessons I’ve learned from past experiences.

3. Challenges: Time and prioritization! Reflection is often the first thing to go when time runs short because it is not as urgent as other priorities. I’ve definitely been feeling that this last month. A great example is me publishing this post after the deadline :/

4. Skills and knowledge required: I have all that I need for right now. I am enough! The PTOP is perpetually in draft form, as I’m always learning.

5. People to work with: All of you! As well as other colleagues, teachers, and friends. We exist in relation to one another, so personal reflection needs to have a social component.  

6. Plan of action: I will set aside 1 hour each week to write, in addition to time spent on CPA prompts and in conversation. 

7. Deadline: end of this incubator!

Author: carrieswatkins

Carrie is pursuing her Master's degree in City Planning at MIT

8 thoughts on “Preparing to Prepare”

  1. Hi Carrie! I really appreciate the exploration of reflecting, preparing to reflect, and preparing to prepare in your post! I also love the concept of a PTOP. I have always struggled with personal vision statements or values statements (or writing goals…); PTOPs sound more applied. What’s typically the format? When you say that the PTOP is perpetually in draft form, do you have a regular cadence of updating it every few months (as you mentioned the last version is from several months ago)? Can you write a PTOP on different topics, or is the PTOP most effective as a singular summary of your collective values, intentions?


  2. Carrie, I am inspired by your goal!

    You mentioned that time and prioritization is definitely a challenge. What measures are you taking to face that challenge? Is it worth having a more detailed plan of action with specific deadlines for each component? What other support or motivation do you need?

    You also stated, “The PTOP is perpetually in draft form.” Given this reality, how do you measure achievement? How do you know that it is done, for now? What milestones can you set for yourself?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Carrie! Happy holidays! (For the record, please don’t apologize for being late since there’s no way you should feel pressure to do homework on a high holy day for goodness sakes!!)

    So this is sort of a weird direction to take this comment on your post but I really want you to meet my friend Seleeke who also lives in Boston. He’s an MIT grad with an interest in planning (we went to the same public affairs grad program) currently working in planning but also engaged in lots of good social justice stuff (including working on Palestinian rights things) anyways I think you guys could be great friends. Not that that is what this is about. But it happens to be true.

    I also really like the idea of a PTOP. I would be super curious to read the existing version and then see how it’s changed. Makes me want to do it.

    When did you first write one? What inspired you to do it? Who are the authors/thinkers/artists that you feel are most shaping the evolution of this guiding document for you now? Who were they when you first wrote it?


  4. Hi Carrie!

    I love how mindful you are of finding time and energy to dedicate to reflection. Definitely something I’d like to do more of.

    I love the idea of the PTOP, but I think, if I had to find an incisive question that may help your reflection process, I’d ask you to think first about your overarching goals as a human in this world in terms of a legacy (like 3 bullets that would go on your epitaph).

    Then, I’d bring it down to the concrete things you would create to make move the needle on those overarching goals. I guess I’m trying to get to the root of your “whys”.

    Why are you even doing this? Then to that, I’d ask why. Then to that, I’d ask why again like 3 more times until it gets to the root of who you are.

    I think this realization, articulated or not, is what should guide your PTOP and your work moving forward just because, I believe, we’re at our best and most effective when we’re true to ourselves.

    I have absolutely adored your demeanor and joyfulness during our last session and I can’t wait to see more of you moving forward.



  5. RS. Such spot-on feedback from everyone! Thank you, all. A huge common thread I heard across responses is “sooo what exactly does this look like?” Both about the process and the output. When I facilitate workshops on PTOPs, I leave the what does it look like/how vague because it’s important people define that for themselves. And, thank you for all calling me out and helping me see that NOW is the time to start defining it for myself! I need to provide enough of a framework for the output that I can set goals around it, and I need to create some framework around the process. I really like Juan’s idea of asking “why” a bunch of times. I’m going to try that out as a writing exercise!

    In the past, my PTOP drafts have come out in different ways. Around November of last year I was in full thesis-prep mode, and my PTOP ended up coming out like a research proposal, replete with abstract, research question, methods, implications/impact, and an annotated bibliography. While most of it was written in paragraph form, I drew the abstract with watercolor pencils. Another part of another another draft was a letter that I wrote (never sent) to adrienne maree brown.

    Now. I’m going to let the form emerge. One idea that’s on my mind is how to make it fractal-like, how to make a section about my intra-personal theories, then interpersonal, then communal, societal, etc.

    Stay tuned!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Carrie! I’m late, but I’m here! I found your reflections on the connection between Yom Kippur (an expression of the spiritual life) and the idea of preparedness in our material, personal journeys both profound and inspiring! To start with, do you mind if I share your post with a friend who’s not in the Incubator? I think she’d really appreciate this and maybe even want to have a follow up convo with you.
    Folks have already asked and you’ve already responded to questions related to form and the elements of the PTOP. I also appreciated Yessica’s questions regarding self-accountability. I hope that your participation in this supportive network will give you the extra push that we need at times to hold ourselves accountable and see things through that we might otherwise let sit as good and important but ultimately dormant ideas in our minds :).
    I think it’s great that you included an actual time commitment (1/hr per week + CPA Incubator time) for working on your PTOP. I’m a big fan of at least the idea of scheduling “retreats”- blocks of time that you carve out with a friend or two and dedicate to writing and reflecting. I think that once you start to really dig in, you’ll find that 1/hr per week may not be enough to get as far in your reflecting, so I just offer that up as a suggestion.


    1. Definitely share with your friend! Thanks for your thoughtful response. I LOVE the idea of a writing “retreat” with a friend.


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