It's Week 2 of Fall Term at Stanford. The unclaimed hours on my Google Calendar are disappearing. Things are getting real.
I've been thinking, for months actually, about how I will define "success" for my time at Stanford. There's one school of thought that says: you're here, you made it. Don't work yourself to death, don't overdo it, don't over-plan. There's another school of thought that says: you're here for 9 months, go all out. Do everything. Get better.
I'm aligned with the second school of thought. Designing my approach to this year and this experience has been thorough and intentional, and part of it has been deciding what I need to do in order to feel like my time here has been successful and meaningful, that I've maximized this opportunity and squeezed all the juice out of it. Here are the five basic metrics/guideposts I'm using to organize my life; they're kind of like my northern star. If I'm making progress on these things, I'm on the right track.
1. Be in the Best Shape of My Life
This might seem unrelated to the Stanford experience, but it isn't. I am more focused, more confident, and have more energy when I'm exercising. Being in good shape is the key to all the other stuff I want to do while I'm here.
If I'm not in the best shape of my life when I leave Stanford, I will be disappointed in myself. Getting in shape has been a "goal" of mine for years, but it's only been the last two where I've started to take it seriously. In high school, I played sports year round, and I've always had a relatively quick metabolism, so I stayed in pretty good shape without much effort. In college I did almost literally no exercise, aside from a few pick-up basketball games. I never went to the gym to work out, and I never ran. A couple years ago I started running races, 5Ks and 10Ks, and for the last year I dabbled with different exercise routines. Kirk taught me a simple, easy to do gym routine, so I used that for my three month summer gym membership. Now I'm at Stanford, with two world class exercise facilities, beautiful weather, and no excuses in sight. I'm seeing a personal trainer once a week, doing two six mile runs (with significant elevation gains), and working out on my own once a week -- that's the plan for now, but I will adapt throughout the year.
2. Create a Body of Work (both academic and non-academic)
This is all about productivity, execution, and beating my Resistance. It's why I'm writing every day, and it's why I'm committing to working hard -- really trying -- in my classes. Writing every day on this site is without a doubt enriching my life, making me happier, and driving my productivity. It's basically been a shortcut for replacing useless time-killers with something meaningful.
In terms of academic work, I will be writing a lot. Four reflection essays and one final paper in my History of School Reform class, two papers in my Policy, Organization, and Leadership Studies Class. Weekly labs/observations in my Creativity and Innovation class, and two papers in my Leading U.S. Schools class. I won't be approaching these in the same way I approached most of my undergrad essays (which, in my defense, I oftentimes didn't find interesting or relevant). I'm going to think hard and try to create useful material that reflects my knowledge and understanding. I want to be proud of what I create.
3. Develop a Deep Understanding -- and Blueprint for Improving -- Oregon's Graduation Rate Problem
Oregon, my home state, ranks 48th in graduation rate. Most people I've talked to, both in Oregon and outside, find this unbelievable. It's one of the biggest challenges Oregon faces, and I want to use my time at Stanford to better understand the problem, and I want to use the resources of this institution to develop a useful, practical plan for how we can fix it. My capstone project (called my "POLS Project" -- a requirement for all students in my cohort) will synthesize what I learned into what I hope will be a document with some real-world utility. My academic advisor and project sponsor are both incredibly talented, renowned thinkers and doers in the education world. I'm really excited about this.
4. Have a Plan for What Comes Next
I am, and have always been, a planner (as evidenced by this list). But for the first time, I am entering a period of my life without a plan for what comes next. I don't know what I will do after Stanford, or even where I will live. I'm okay with that, because I know that I can't predict what opportunities will arise over the next year (the amount of opportunities that have popped up just in my first few weeks here -- internships, connections, events, fellowships, etc. -- has been awesome). That being said, I want to have some options sketched out and, as the year goes on, have a sense of not only what my immediate next step is after Stanford, but how that connects to my overall career aspirations. I want to be able to hit the ground running by the time my studies are completed.
5. Build Meaningful Relationships
Social, professional, academic -- all of it. I won't spend my time huddled in a windowless room in the library. I won't put my head down and walk home after class. I want to really get to know my cohort, my professors, and my advisors. I want to learn everything I can from them, and I want to help them however I can as they navigate their own paths. Fortunately, my POLS cohort is making the social part easy, and I'm not worried about the rest. I want to have great memories of my time here. I also want to be able to call some of the greatest minds in the education world for ideas and advice and to ask questions about challenges that I'll face throughout my career. I will know I've been successful on this front if it's hard to say goodbye to Stanford when I leave.