We talk a lot about making plans – planning coursework, planning research, planning career paths. Mapping out a course of action is crucial to success in graduate school. Often, however, we expect the rest of our lives – meaningful relationships and communities, fulfilling avocational pursuits, healthy bodies and minds – to naturally slot in around our busy schedules.
You probably don’t have the capacity to pick up ten new hobbies while pursuing a rigorous course of study, but some attention to the things in your life that are fun, relaxing, creative, or social will give you the stamina to support your work in other areas, help you enjoy your life now, and build a foundation for the future.
In the same way that we encourage self-reflection as the first step in mapping academic trajectories and making career plans, it can be helpful in other areas of your life. Reflection helps you set intentions and make plans for the things you actually want, not the things that everyone else is doing, or things that seem like professional or social norms.
I’m here to convince you that now is the perfect time to do that self-reflection. Not because we are at the start of a new year, but because we are right in the middle of one. New Year’s resolutions always seem out of place on an academic calendar. January is more of a pause, not the fresh start we see advertised in every grocery store checkout.
However, here in the middle of the year, you know what is working and what is not working. You have a sense of your actual capacity; you are poised to reflect on what is going well and what you might want to experiment with. With the basic framework of the upcoming months in place, but before the semester really takes off, you can assess what you need, what you need to change, what you want to keep doing, how you want to take care of yourself and others, and whether there are any systems, rhythms, or schedules that will help your life be what you hope it is.
Below are some questions inviting reflection on the non-academic or professional parts of your life. Not all of these questions will resonate with everyone – see if any of them catch your eye. Maybe you’d like to write a reflection, or maybe you’d like to talk about some aspect of this with a friend. Maybe you’d like to think about these things with your calendar in front of you so you can pencil some things in right away.
Some Questions for Reflection
How’s it going? (To help you see the big picture)
- What has gone well so far this academic year? What has been challenging?
- Is there anything that I have control over that I could change to make my life better?
- Is there anything I’d like to change about my routine?
What kinds of things do I need? (To help you prioritize your needs)
- Do I have some things that are fun in my life? Is there an activity or hobby that I’d like to try? Is there anything I’d like to explore or learn?
- Am I taking good enough care of my body? Do I need to get any care? How am I eating? Do I have an exercise that I enjoy?
- Are there people I’ve met that I’d like to get to know better?
- Is there a spiritual practice or community I have been curious about and wish to explore?
- Have any service or volunteer opportunities caught my eye?
- Are there any student or community groups or events that I’m interested in learning more about?
How can I experiment? (To help you put these ideas into action)
- When and how could some of these things happen?
- Are there spaces in your schedule that might work?
- Do you need help from anyone else or more information?
- What’s your next step?
With these questions, you'll have a solid starting point for reflection that will serve throughout the calendar and academic years. Embracing self-reflection as an essential part of your toolkit helps you craft a life that uniquely reflects your goals, hopes, and needs.