Forget Goals; Find the Happy Place!

I'm usually a goal-setting fiend. But for some reason, as New Years rolls around and everyone's talking about goals and resolutions, the old goal-setting routine just hasn't seemed very exciting to me. If you're in the same boat, try coming up with a visual representation of what you want in 2009 instead. A little background: In college, my friend and I had a great stress-relieving technique. When things got rough or we became frustrated, impatient, angry or sad, we would tell each other to "go to the happy place." The happy place was an imaginary blissful scene of our choosing (with a little humor mixed in). At the time, my happy place was on an island with Vin Diesel.

Today I found a new happy place while driving (when I get my best ideas). I was thinking about what I wanted for myself in 2009. All of a sudden I got hit with an image -- bear with me because it's a little cheesy. I was standing on top of a mountain, clear blue skies, hands raised in the air, breathing deeply with my eyes closed and a smile on my face. BOOM! That's my vision for 2009. To me, it stands for fearlessness, endless possibility, the feeling I can do anything, and stopping to enjoy the world at the same time.

Create a Visual Representation for Your Life in the New Year:

  1. Close your eyes. Where's your happy place? What image or visualization represents how you want to feel in 2009? Give yourself some quiet time to reflect. Once you connect with that vision, setting goals will be easier and more meaningful.
  2. Next, figure out how to capture your vision. Write it down, or try making a vision board (a collage or visual representation of your dreams and goals).

If you're looking for another alternative to goal-setting as you get ready for 2009, try some of the following exercises (from previous posts):

If you do want some goal-guidance, check out:

Happy New Years Eve, and may good things come to all of you in 2009!

I've Got a Case of the Tomorrows

Procrastination is the bad habit of putting of until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday." -Napoleon Hill

I'm in the middle of a two-week vacation - the longest break I've ever taken from work without travel - and I'm feeling more tired and unhappy than I expected. Today I figured out why. I've got a case of the tomorrows.

In the weeks leading up to this heavenly, unscheduled vacation I fantasized about all the wonderful things I would be doing. Working on my book in random coffee shops for hours each day, hanging out with friends and family, re-committing to my gym routine, thinking big and setting goals for 2009. Well I'm halfway into this vacation and I've got a case of the tomorrows. My days are filled with errands and oversleep, and in the remaining hour or two I try to squeeze in a few of the things I *really* want to do. I keep saying "I'll get to that tomorrow," or "I'll start tomorrow," or "TOMORROW I'll get to spend exactly as I want."

Today is a classic example. It's tomorrow. Waaay past tomorrow actually. Monday, Day 8 of my vacation, and only just now at 4:00 p.m. am I finally sitting down in the coffee shop, finally using my brain, finally doing some writing. I didn't go to the gym, I didn't wake up early as planned. I started feeling lethargic, impatient, and ANGRY. Why? Because I'm mad at myself for not living up to my dream vacation! For putting everything off until tomorrow. Pretty soon I'll be back at work, and the last thing I want is to look back on these two weeks with regret at all the things I didn't do. Now, I know the glass is also half full - there is plenty I have done, but I'm still going to take a minute to figure out how I can turn up my satisfaction dial just a touch.

Here's an exercise for you, timely given the impending and inevitable New Years Resolutions. What do you make a habit out of putting off until tomorrow? What five things, if you started TODAY, would improve your quality of life?

Things I'm repeatedly putting off until tomorrow, that if I started now would improve my mood:

  • Waking up early (between 6:00 - 6:30), NOT snoozing!
  • Starting my morning gym routine back up, daily yoga
  • "Front-loading" my day so that I do my favorite activities early, errands in the afternoon
  • Setting aside 3-4 dedicated writing hours
  • Balancing my activities within the day, so I do a little bit of everything (see friends, family, exercise, etc)

As part of this exercise, take a closer look at what's currently stopping you from starting today. How can you give yourself a boost to ensure these things are more likely happen? Some ideas:

  • Partner with a friend
  • Set a reward for yourself
  • Start small - pick one thing that would make the biggest difference and start there
  • Don't let yourself off the hook! Push through initial feelings of resistance or "I'll do that tomorrow..."
  • Write a plan the night before of exactly how you want to spend the next day or the next weekend

Other ideas? Do tell!

We shall never have more time. We have, and always had, all the time there is. No object is served in waiting until next week or even until tomorrow. Keep going... Concentrate on something useful.” -Arnold Bennett

7 Great Money Management Websites

An interesting article ran in the New York Times today: Lose Confidence in Your Bank? Try the Web. The article says that despite people's growing mistrust in banks, they are placing more trust in online financial management tools. Unlike the economy, registrations are up not down, and people are getting smarter and more disciplined about how they manage their money (which is a very good thing). Below I've shared the financial tools mentioned in the article and a few other helpful sites. Seven Great Online Money Management Sites

Mint Mint pulls financial information from all of your accounts (for example: checking, savings, credit card,  investments, mortgage); shows spending trends, allows you to create and manage budgets and sends weekly or monthly financial summaries via email. You can also text Mint to receive an instant update on your account balances, or download its free iPhone app for instant access.

Credit Karma Allows you to check your credit score for free as often as you'd like.

Smarty Pig A "social savings" account that allows you to share savings goals with friends.

Wesabe In addition to online account management features, Wesabe describes itself as "part money management tool, part community."

Cake Financial A system to specifically help you manage and view investment accounts.

Thrive Also similar to, Thrive brings all your credit card, checking, savings, retirement, and investment accounts into one place so you can "easily see what you have, what you owe, and where you can grow." Rudder Rudder's best feature is it's detailed financial summaries - delivered straight to your inbox. Account management features are in line with the other websites above.

Happy Birthday to Life After College! A Letter from the Editor

Today is the one-year anniversary of the Life After College Blog - wuhooo!!! It’s been a huge year. I spent some time reflecting on major milestones for me and the blog, my favorite posts, why I started this website in the first place and how it relates to my larger life purpose (as I currently see it). A Few Milestones and Favorite Posts

On a personal levelI launched this website, bought a house, broke up with my boyfriend, completed training to be a life coach, became a manager at Google, held a personal 90-day No Car Challenge, ran a marathon, turned 25, bought myself a diamond ring, and signed on to lead and develop a workshop for women with five other amazing coaches in 2009. Those of you who I’ve corresponded with over email know that my personal mantra is “live big!”...I’m pretty sure this is it!

It’s been a big year for my blog too. It’s the first site that comes up if you Google “life after college” – and I get 500 hits from that exact search every month (not to mention the 500+ variations on that query). In the last month 2,800 people visited the site from over 81 countries, from Canada to India to Malaysia and Japan. In the last year I've gotten over 14,000 visits from 108 countries. I've written 80 posts and have 37 subscribers that I'm aware of (23 via email and 14 through feed readers - now go tell your friends so we can double those numbers!) While these traffic statistics may not be a lot compared to the big boysI am proud and humbled that people are actually interested in what I have to say.

Check-out a few of my favorite posts if you just started reading (or want a refresher):

Why I Started Life After College

I started this website because when I dropped out of school to help start a company with my mentor and five other college professors, I was clueless. I was smart and resourceful – but clueless, lonely and lost. While I was struggling to understand health insurance, my 401(k) and how to be a good employee, my friends were still partying and taking finals.

So I read and I researched and I set goals for myself. I became a student of personal finance, time management, organization, productivity, website development, career success, leadership, personal growth, goal-setting, vision, entrepreneurship, diet & exercise, learning & development, mindfulness and the art of happiness. I read books and took courses in all of the above. This year, as I went through 116 hours of coaches training, the connection between all of it became clear to me – I am fascinated by human potential. Personal growth isn’t a hobby – it’s a passion.

My Purpose on this Planet (as I Currently See It)

I believe my purpose, and by extension the purpose of this website, is to help others (young professionals and beyond) become their own best selves – to wake up and be fully present and alive in their lives through simple and practical exercises, structures and tips.

My purpose is to help others expand beyond limiting ideas of what’s possible and live big! To share my passion for personal growth with the world so that I can help people lead rich, balanced, happy and fulfilling lives. Per the motto of this website, no one ever said life is supposed to be easy – but then again, neither is anything worthwhile.

With that, Happy Birthday to Life After College, and thank you to all of my precious readers – new and old – for being with me on this journey!

All the best,


A Simple System to Achieve Your Goals

So this might seem contradictory given my post 'Enough.' last week about appreciating exactly where you are, but I just came across a GREAT resource online called "A Simple System to Achieve Your Goals." The author, Paul Myers, has developed an e-book (29 pages) and accompanying workbook (34 pages) that walk you through brainstorming exercises to help you set goals for the life you'd like to have. Examples of exercises in the workbook include:

  • If your life could be anything you wanted it to be, what would it be right now? (friends, house, leisure time, work, learning, vacation, etc)
  • Permission goals (things you could do right now but haven't given yourself permission for)
  • Things to get rid of (habits, people, etc. that you would be better off without!)
  • Inventories (skills, contacts, finances, interests

Myers says "Someone once remarked people spend more time planning a two-week vacation than they do planning their futures. From what I've seen, this is almost universally true. The exceptions are the true successes in life."

I couldn't agree more! How much time do you spend on goal-setting or "lifestyle design" versus watching TV? While there is a time and place for big picture planning and I don't advocate obsessing over goals, all of us could probably give a little more time to our most important work - figuring out what we want for our lives (and others') and going for it!

Click here to download the free guide and workbook to get started.


Breathe in and say, "What I have is enough." Breathe out and think, "What I am is enough." Breathe in and say, "What I do is enough." Breathe out and think, "What I have achieved is enough." -Barbara Ann Kipfer

If I gave you a dollar for every time you thought yourself "not good enough" in some way, how much money would you have earned last week? Last year? In your lifetime? From my observations, there are three kinds of "enoughs." Materialistic - money, things, possessions; Relationships - friends, family, significant other; and Personal - success, looks, smarts, etc. All of the examples in these lists could go on forever. And it's possible I'm missing a category entirely.

What seems a common thread to me is the (at times persistent) nagging thoughts that we all experience around the concept of "enough." I mentioned this briefly in my post titled "You Already Have Everything You Need," where the bottom line was to stop delaying your dreams or your happiness until some future state of perfection - that you already have all of the skills, resources and talent you need.

There's a lot of buzz in the personal-growth genre about the concept of being present. Books like Power of Now, Wherever You Go There You Are, and Mindfulness all point to the importance of being awake to your life. Enjoying the present moment because it's all you have. If you are constantly longing for the past of waiting for the future, your entire life will be spent - well, longing or waiting. Joy is fleeting if we don't stop to appreciate where we are now, and remember that who we are and where we are is enough.

So instead of waiting for the future - for some future state where you suddenly have enough or are enough, be the future. Live and embody it; act as though it were here. It is. There is no there, or better state. Make the most of this one - it is right where you should be - and the only place that's real.

A Lesson in Microcredit and 'Loans that Change Lives'

As you think about buying gifts this holiday season and the impact on your investment accounts amidst the turmoil in the economy, consider that many people in third world countries don't even have access to the most basic financial services, like savings accounts. Imagine trying to start a small business to support yourself and your family with no access to credit or financial services. Enter the world of microcredit, the extension of very small loans (microloans) to the unemployed, to poor entrepreneurs and to others living in poverty who are not considered eligible for even the most basic loans.

Microcredit is an extension of microfinance, which Wikipedia defines as "the provision of financial services to the poor." Microfinance is an emerging movement that "that envisions a world in which as many poor and near-poor households as possible have permanent access to an appropriate range of high quality financial services."

I've become fascinated by the idea of microcredit because it empowers people to create their own wealth. Rather than donating $10 to feed someone for a week, you donate $10 to help seed a budding business that can potentially sustain their family and the community for a much longer span of time. It goes with the adage, "give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for life." If I were to switch careers, I would explore teaching basic finance to recipients of microloans because the whole concept is fascinating and meaningful to me.

'Loans that Change Lives'

With all that background information out of the way, I'm incredibly excited to share with you a site called, which lets you dip your toe in the world of microcredit by loaning money to an entrepreneur in the developing world - from countries like Tanzania to Mexico to Peru.

Kiva is "the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world." So experiment with a different kind of donation this year - a donation that helps someone start a business and one that you get back - allowing you to start the cycle all over again.

How Donations Work:

  1. Lenders (you) browse entrepreneur profiles and donate as little as $25 via PayPal or credit card.
  2. Kiva's partners distribute the loan, and in some cases provide training for the recipient.
  3. Over time, the recipient repays the loan (you can choose to opt-in to email updates)
  4. When the loan is repaid, you can loan to someone else, donate to Kiva's operating expenses, or get your money back.

Click here to check-out some entrepreneur profiles, or read journal entries that chronicle recipients' experiences.

Be Thankful

Alright - I know this is National Post-to-Your-Blog-About-Gratitude week, but hey - what's one more? You can never have too much gratitude in your life. :) Before I jump in, a big thanks to all of you out there who are reading this right now. I am so thankful to have you in my life! Gratitude is something I work to cultivate every day (not just around the holidays), but it's during these weeks when I'm spending a lot of time with family and away from work that it seems particularly prescient. With that, I wanted to share a passage I found that's stuck with me.

Note - for the two subscribers I had this time last year, you may have seen this before! ::wink wink::

Be Thankful Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire, If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times. During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things. A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks.

Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive. Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they can become your blessings. -Author Unknown

Lao-tzu on Leadership

With the greatest leader above them,people barely know one exists.

When a leader trusts no one, no one trusts him.

The great leader speaks little. He never speaks carelessly. He works without self-interest and leaves no trace. When all is finished, the people say, "We did it ourselves."

-Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching

Low Stakes First Dates - Guest Post by Benjy Feen

My friend Benjy just launched his blog, Unsolicited Advice on Demand, and I liked his first post so much that I wanted to share it with all of you! Besides, I don't exactly consider myself an expert on dating and relationships (if you've noticed by the lack of blog posts on the topic :). Without further ado, I'd like to welcome Benjy and his guest post!   Low Stakes First Dates (by Benjy Feen) Click here for the full article

Picture this: you take a thousand dollars out of the bank and go to Las Vegas. You put on your finest clothes and hit the nearest casino.  You buy a $1000 chip and stride over to the roulette wheel, looking fabulous and confident.  You put the thousand dollar chip on your lucky number,  and the wheel spins…and you spend the rest of the weekend alone in your hotel room, wondering why bad things have to happen to you.

That’s how lots of first dates feel: with everything riding on the outcome of this one big chance, romance and excitement quickly give way to confusion and dejection.  Sound familiar?

Don’t bet everything on the first date: lower the stakes. Low-stakes First Dates: The Basics

I was introduced to the idea of low-stakes first dates by — who else? — a woman with whom I was about to go on a first date.  I’d started meeting women through dating websites, often exchanging boastful, flirty email for weeks before one of us finally felt confident enough to ask the other out.  What happened then was usually a rushed and awkward first date, and you could almost see our expectations hanging in the air like cartoon thought balloons.  One day I sent off a particularly over-the-top flirtation, and got this response: “Hey, cool your jets.  No need to build things up before we meet.  We might not even like each other. Want to go get a beer tonight at 7?”  I learned a lot about low-stakes dating on our first (and only) date.

Have the first date as soon as you know you want to have one. Don’t spend six months trading witty e-mail banter. Once it’s clear that this is someone you want to know better, make a date.

Flattery feels good, but it raises the stakes. As much fun as it is to flirt, it does make it harder to keep it low-key.

Good first dates A good first date is a shared experience of something that leaves room for casual conversation and offers opportunities to tell stories and articulate thoughts, but doesn’t last too long.  How about lunch?The date needs to have a definite end: some natural and obvious point at which you two will go your separate ways. If you have dinner together,  linger over dessert instead of going onward to a bar.  Arrange to meet at the restaurant, rather than being picked up — and therefore dropped off — at home.

Bad first dates Going to a party where your date won’t know anyone. You’ll either snub your friends, snub your date, or spend your time managing your date’s experience. Or maybe all of your friends will absolutely love or totally hate your date… which raises the stakes.

Situations that prevent you from speaking or looking at each other. Movies and theater don’t make good first dates, since sitting wordlessly in the dark for two hours is a lousy way to get to know someone.

Situations that can’t gracefully be adjusted or ended once they start. A four-hour sunset cruise is a great date… until you get seasick, or your date casually makes a racist remark.

Stuff you’ve never done that they absolutely love (or vice versa). This is a tricky one, for a few reasons. There’s a good chance of awkwardness if one of you is a fish out of water.  Even if you have fun, you’ll be dealing with the novelty of the experience instead of, you know, being on a date.  Save the fun-but-risky dates for later. The next day:  Communicate Clearly

You don’t have to sit around waiting for the other person to call you, but do sleep on it before making that call yourself.   Talk to a friend to find out how you really feel about the date.

How DO you feel about the date? What did you like? What wasn’t so great? What would you want more of, and what would you want to avoid in the future? Noticing how you feel about these things will deepen your understanding of what you (a) really want, (b) gotta have, and (c) won’t tolerate. That kind of self-knowledge is a key to romantic happiness.

As you reflect on these things, you may be tempted to downplay the downsides by focusing on your date’s redeeming qualities, but that’s not how it works: some flaws are deal-breakers, no matter what. The reverse is also true: a good date needs to have qualities you really like! An absence of huge defects should not be your standard of excellence.

If you’re into it, say so.  Say it simply and leave room for — ASK for! — your date’s opinion on the matter.   Remember, the stakes are low.  If your date isn’t interested in you, this is a great time to find out: leave room for that possibility while being clear about your own interest.

In the unlikely event that your date isn’t interested in seeing you again:  hey, no big deal.  Congratulate yourself for having kept it low-key. When you’re ready, make a date with one of the other several billion people out there.

If you’re not into it, say so kindly and unambiguously.   Don’t specify a particular reason for not being into it.  As a near-stranger, your opinions will bear a lot of weight, so be charitable to your fellow human and just say that you didn’t feel that certain romantic spark that you’re looking for.  Good luck and best wishes,  sincerely, period.    Vague mild disappointment sure beats specific intense disappointment.  This is your last chance to disappoint gracefully — while the stakes are still low.

If you’re both interested, make a second date!

Click here to continue reading the remainder of the post (Benji's advice on second dates).

If You Are Not Learning, You Are Obsolete

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty." -Henry Ford   

We all know the old adage, "You learn something new every day." Well, that's not enough. Let me rephrase that - it's not enough to get ahead. If you learn something new every day, it means you're keeping up with everyone else. Especially because for many people, learning happens passively. Someone mentions a random tidbit of trivia in conversation. You hear an unfamiliar word and Google it. That's playing defense - you'll never get ahead if you don't take a more aggressive approach and actually set a longer-term game-plan for your personal learning.

Looking for job security? Learn new skills. Become an expert in an area related to your field. Create a plan for developing universal skills that will serve you well in any company: leadership, creative thinking, project management. The most successful people (in life and work) are those who proactively pursue learning every chance they get, through books, blogs, podcasts, journal articles, magazines, etc. Companies must constantly evolve and innovate to stay ahead and continue making a profit. The world and its technologies get increasingly more complex every day. If you are not learning, you are obsolete.

Six Questions to Help You Set a Personal Learning Strategy

  • Plan ahead and think strategically about your team and career: what job-related skills will you need six months from now?
  • What one area, if you made measurable improvement over next three months, would have the biggest impact on your success in your role?
  • They say "dress for the job you want, not the job you have." What's the job you really want? What skills or knowledge do you need to get there?
  • Look at other people in positions at or above your level who are successful - what skills, knowledge and behaviors do they have that you don't? What will it take to narrow that gap?
  • Learning doesn't have to be job-related: what really excites you? Art? History? Creative Writing? Politics? Dedicate time every week to stretching your brain, just like you would any other muscle.
  • What did you learn this week? Schedule time to reflect about what you've learned on a regular basis. (I find this much more effective if you write it down and commit to a certain amount of time for reflection, like 15 or 30 minutes)

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." -Mahatma Ghandi

How to Create a Peer Support Network

I love coaching. I love it because of the way it helps me get laser-focused on what's important, and because I know there's someone on the other end of the line really helping me become my own best self by asking powerful questions and challenging me to think outside of the box. I also feel more committed to actions I've told my coach I'll take than ones I just decide to do on my own. So what's the problem? It's not a problem, per se, but I can't possibly afford the amount of coaching that I want to have in my life right now. The solution? Peer Coaching/Support Networks. I've piloted a few of these in the last several months and I am absolutely loving it.

One that's really working right now is a health/nutrition program two friends and I set-up. It's a month-long program focused on health and fitness goals. We created a shared "journal" on Google Docs, and a tracking spreadsheet to track the following things every day: how we feel (mind and body), five target actions (ex: running 2x/week), five restricted actions (ex: dessert no more than once a week) and a daily mantra. This is adapted from a program my friend Liz shared with me called Get Clients Now if you want more details on what we've modeled ours after.

How it Works: We have weekly Sunday calls to review our tracking spreadsheet and talk about how the week went - wins, problem areas, and what we'll focus on the next week. If we have extra time, we discuss broader challenges or questions (what to do about Thanksgiving, for example; or how to get back on track if we screw up). It's so amazing to have this support network - and I really have to credit it for getting my butt to the gym this morning (and last week)! It gave me exactly the extra push I needed since I knew I'd have to report back to my friends at the end of the week.

Benefits of Peer Support Networks

  1. They're free!
  2. They provide great structure and support for pursuing your goals
  3. You can get to know people through networks made of friends-of-friends
  4. Support networks will hold you accountable and (hopefully) not let you give up when you fail
  5. It's a great way to benefit from rich, topic-based discussions and share tips and best practices with each other

How to Create Your Own Support Network

  1. Choose a topic (not mandatory, but helpful) or central theme that you're looking to get support around (health/fitness, leadership, relationships, etc.)
  2. Enroll some friends! Give them an overview of what you're hoping to do, then collectively decide on goals and format for the program (everyone should have a stake in how it works)
  3. Set-up some structures:
    1. Set a start and end date
    2. Schedule Weekly or Bi-Weekly Calls
    3. Create shared documents to review together each week
  4. Have each individual identify goals, what they're hoping to get out of the program/support network
  5. Hold an intro call to discuss those goals and decide on format
  6. Start the program! Adjust documents, schedule as necessary
  7. Hold a post-mortem when it ends - what worked? What didn't? What would you do differently next time?
  8. Start over! If it works, why end a good thing? - I stumbled across a website,, that seems to support this very type of program. I haven't done much research or tried it yet, but you might be interested in giving it a shot. The site paraphrased it's mission as a "buddy system for life." The following is text from their How It Works page:

"Noomii helps you and a friend achieve your big goals in life. With our unique pair coaching system, you become a life coach for your friend, and your friend life coaches you in return. It’s simple, fast, and fun. And the best part is that anyone can pair coach – with no prior training or experience. It's easy - and we show you how!"

The best thing about support networks is that they can be whatever you want - get creative and experiment! You'd be surprised at how much you and a few friends can accomplish.

Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself: October

You guessed it! Time for another peek into what really makes me tick when it comes to reading blog posts, and better yet - what I hope you'll get value from reading too. Consider me your own personal Google Reader for the day. There are several themes I want to highlight this month: with the economy in a nose-dive, it becomes critical that each individual really look inside him or herself to grow, stay relevant, make smart decisions and plan for the future without worrying too much about it. Uncertainty often breeds fear, and fear can be paralyzing. Don't let that happen to you! Consider what is in your power to change, and try not to worry too much about the rest. On that note, here's is this month's "Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself" list:

This quote is somewhat random, but I really like it and thought I would share as part of the October round-up:

"Creativity is about freedom. In order for people to be free to create, they need to feel free to fail. You can’t fear failure. If you want to create a world that values creation above everything else, first and foremost you have to take fear out of the equation. You have to create a culture that can accept failure, live with failure, not be fearful of failure." --Donny Deutsche, TV host for "The Big Idea"


I finished my marathon! And I'm alive! And I ran the entire time! Okay - so I'm really excited about this - can you tell?! I spent 6 hours and 20 minutes today pounding pavement, mostly having fun but also in pain and ready to be done for pretty much ALL of the last TEN miles. To distract from the intermittent pain, I spent time talking to myself and thinking about what this experience has meant to me. I started brainstorming for the blog post I would write and the "10 tips" or lessons I learned (yes, I'm a nerd and my friends made fun of me for it). But then I remembered about the letter I wrote to myself in July, four months ago when I started training, to be read on the day I finished. It's another one of my "sticky goal" techniques that I forgot to mention. In a way it feels really private, but it's also the most meaningful description of how I feel now, post-race. Plus - I'm too exhausted to actually use any new brain cells right now :).

I'll share the letter I wrote to myself if you promise not to crack TOO many jokes about me being schizophrenic:

July 6, 2008 Dear Jenny,

If you are reading this it means you finished a marathon. It means you have crossed into an entirely new realm of possibilities and potential. CONGRATULATIONS!! You must be tired and worn out - and glowing with accomplishment. I can't even imagine how you must be feeling; what I can tell you is what this will mean to me if you finish:

1) That you can do anything - even things that seem scary, impossible and torturous 2) That you pushed beyond all of that, physically and mentally, and through that gained incredible strength, perseverance and toughness. 3) That you are my hero!

From where I sit now (in a coffee shop) I get tears in my eyes when I think about crossing the finish line. I will be so blissfully happy and proud. My longest run was 11 miles this past weekend. I'm nervous about the rest - about the next four months - about keeping my committment. And then I think about the finish line again and I think about crossing over a line that symbolizes a quieting of any remaining self-doubt. I will have crossed the line to greet and embrace a new me - one that can do anything.

Congratulations again on an absolutely enormous accomplishment - now go celebrate and reward yourself!

So I celebrated with a big cheeseburger and fries with some of my closest friends and family. Before I sign-off and zone-out into couch potato land, I also want to say thank you SO much to Julie, Tara, Mark, my Mom and my Dad for cheering me on throughout the race and at the finish line. Your support means the absolute world to me!

Setting (and Cashing in On) a Frivolous "Reward" Goal

Five years ago I set a very specific, written goal. Filling up an entire page of my journal with big expansive text, I wrote the following: "On October 9, 2008 (my birthday) I will buy myself a diamond right-hand ring worth at least $2,000." Oh, the frivolity! I set a number of other more serious goals at the time (almost all of which have since been met), but this one symbolized independence, indulgence and a reward for what I knew five years ago would be a job well done. So here I am now, ready to cash in, and I can't believe this day that I planned five years ago is actually here. Here are a few thoughts on my experience and how you might benefit from doing something similar. About a year after setting my goal and manifesting my vision by cutting out pictures from magazines, I realized I hadn't actually taken any practical steps to make it a reality. So I set-up a separate savings account and had money direct deposited once a month to start building this fund. No matter what, I refused to cash out to pay for other things (the condo, my credit card debt).

Once a goal has had five years to simmer and solidify, it means something. And writing something so specific made me steadfast in my resolve to stick to it and reward myself, no matter how frivolous it seemed at times! Actually, the fact that I've saved a little bit at a time over such a long period makes it seem less frivolous because I've earned that money and am not paying for it with borrowed debt. It taught me the value of automatic saving, and seeing that I won't be spending my retirement savings anytime soon, it gave me something to look forward to.

Steps to Create Your Own Long-Term Reward Goal:

  1. Identify something meaningful to you; something that's rewarding, exciting and outside of your comfort zone of what you might normally do or buy.
  2. Write a goal for 2-5 years out with the dollar amount attached (Ex: On January 1, 2011 I will purchase an airline ticket to Africa for a two-week safari, at a total cost of $X,000)
  3. Divide your target dollar amount by the number of months from now until your goal's target date.
  4. Start a separate high-yield savings account for your goal (I really like ING Direct which allows you to create multiple linked accounts with individual names).
  5. Set-up a recurring, automatic deposit of $X/month (based on your earlier calculation) from your regular checking account; I suggest a few days after the first of the month. This allows your new savings account to take on a life of its own and grow without you having to pay attention to it every month. Plus, you'll get the benefit of compound interest.

So what's the point of all this? First, saving for a reward goal will reinforce the structure and benefits of goal saving and sound financial planning while also giving you something fun to look forward to. Second, it feels so much more gratifying to earn an expensive gift or trip through regular, consistent saving rather than buying it on credit. Finally, it's much more exciting than saving for retirement and certainly has a faster turnaround time! Just make sure your first priorities are still retirement and your emergency savings account; saving for a reward goal without these defeats the whole purpose of smart, responsible saving!And with that, I'm going to go enjoy my birthday :)

Lessons from a Day of Bugs

Yesterday was the day of bugs. I'll tell you how this relates to my blog in a minute. For starters, in the morning as I went to grab my bike and leave for work, a small brown spider scuffled across the inside of my helmet. Panicked, I dropped the helmet and to my terror LOST THE SPIDER. If I don't find this damn thing, the next time our paths cross he'll be crawling on my face. After five minutes of searching desperately to no avail, I gave up, hoping the spider had spontaneously vanished into thin air. Skip ahead ten minutes. I'm merrily riding on the bike path (now on month three of the No Car Challenge - can you believe it?) and who do I see?! The spider! Crawling on my handlebars! I grabbed a branch and whisked him off into a nearby tree. I think it's the first time I have actually saved a spider.

Now fast-forward to the ride home. First a bug flies into my mouth. Then one goes up my nose. THEN I ride straight into a swarm of gnats. All the meanwhile I'm squinting, spitting and ducking just to get home without filling up on bugs for dinner.

All these bugs got me thinking. (You knew I'd get to the point sometime, right?) Last week I had a rough week at work. I felt like emails and tasks kept flying at me and I could barely swat them away before getting bombarded by the next swarm.

Not to be confused with eating frogs, sometimes you have to ride through bugs with your head down to actually get home. You can't always get from A to Z without a few annoyances here and there - the ride isn't ALWAYS sunny and enjoyable. The bugs (and seemingly random tasks) keep things interesting - and keep us on our feet. We should learn to tolerate and maybe even enjoy them! I got a pretty good laugh out of the bugs yesterday, even though at the time it didn't seem very funny. Sometimes we forget to keep our sense of humor amidst the craziness of work. And rather than being paralyzed by fear, sometimes you just have to grin and bear it. Close your eyes, put your head down, pedal a little faster, and make it through the week.

You Already Have Everything You Need

It's not what you've got, it's what you do with it."

What if I told you that you already have all of the skills, resources and talent you need to pursue what you really want? What if you already knew all the right people? What if your current job was the perfect one to equip you with the lessons you need for your future goals and dreams? What if your next opportunity was already available to you?

Let's try it this way: Stop for a minute. Tell your inner critic to go take a walk.

You already have all of the skills, resources and talent you need.

So what's next?

VIA Signature Strengths Survey

I'll be the first to admit - I've become an assessment addict lately. I've taken every self-assessment I can get my hands on, starting with Myers Briggs, the book StrengthFinders 2.0 and most recently a fantastic online tool called the VIA Institute on Character - Signature Strengths survey. In the past, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my weaknesses and areas for development. These assessments have helped me realize the incredible power available to me if I actually tap into my strengths and turn up the volume on innate talents. To that end, I found the VIA Survey to be incredibly helpful, rich with data and free!, which is why I'm sharing it with you. The survey contains 240 questions "designed to reveal individual character strengths" and takes about 30 minutes to complete. Once you finish, it spits out a report with a ranking and description of your top five "signature" strengths. You can also expand the report to show all 24 characteristics, ranked in descending order of how much of each strength you possess. The idea is that your top five strengths are the ones to pay attention to and find ways to use more often.

If it's of any interest to you (perhaps some of these have come out in my blog posts), according to this report my strengths are:

  1. Hope, optimism and future-mindedness
  2. Creativity, ingenuity and originality
  3. Perspective (wisdom)
  4. Judgment, critical thinking and open-mindedness
  5. Love of learning

Click here to take the VIA Signature Strengths survey and uncover your own strengths - you might be surprised by the results!

Now Those Are Some Powerful Dots!

I first saw this image on a blog called Power of Mortality: it's a picture of 936 "blobs" or dots that represent the average number of months in a person's life. Seeing it visually is very powerful - it caused me to really question what I'm doing with the minutes, days, and weeks contained in each little dot. Click on the image to see it closely for yourself: 936 Blobs

As Patrick, author of Power of Morality, puts it: "Remember that 936 is just the statistical norm. It’s not a number that you are guaranteed, owed or otherwise entitled to."

Sticky Goals

Setting goals is easy. Pick something you want to do or have and follow the SMART formula. Sticking to the goals you've set is an entirely different story. Some goals are slippery - they never really seem graspable, and before you know it you've forgotten all about them. Really meaningful goals are sticky - they take on a life of their own, and you can't help but work on them consistently and tirelessly until you reach them. I ran 21 miles this past weekend (yes, me!), something I never thought would be possible, and it got me thinking about sticky goals - and how I've been able to stick to my marathon training.

The following strategies have helped me stick to my goal and get to the point where running the marathon actually seems possible and enjoyable. I give all of this information with the caveat that I have *not* actually achieved my ultimate goal yet (finishing the marathon in October) – but I feel successful (and like I've learned a ton) having even come this far.

How to "Stick" to your Goals:

Get Inspired I had been tip-toeing around the idea or running a marathon for almost a year before I finally committed to doing it in June. My friend Laura trained for a marathon on her own last year, and I was completely awestruck and inspired that she could do it at all, let alone on her own. That got me thinking, then someone – a complete stranger - gave me the last little push I needed.

Mark, author of the blog Marathonomy, read a blog post of mine and commented about running. I wrote back to thank him and told him I "was still too scared to train for a marathon...can't tell you why." He wrote back with a link to the following video: Running My First Marathon - and I was so inspired that I made a decision to commit right then and there, and haven't looked back since. What struck me most about the video is that the woman running wasn't an Olympic marathoner - she was just like me, and if she could do it, then so could I!

Even though I’ve never felt like a natural-born runner (did I mention I was the last one to finish the 25K earlier this summer?) I’ve also been inspired by my Dad, who ran several marathons in his lifetime in cities like London, Greece, Paris and San Francisco. When I find myself questioning my motivation, I ask him to tell me stories about his experiences (one involved getting booed by thousands of people as he passed an 80-year-old man at the finish line).

Getting (and staying) inspired - whether by videos, friends, family or a cause that's important to you - is an incredibly important part of sticking to a goal - its what recharges your battery when you're ready to quit. Set-up Regular Accountability As soon as I committed to my goal, I called my Dad and let him know. I also wrote 10 questions on a piece of paper, and asked if he would help keep me accountable by reviewing them with me every Sunday. Questions like, "Did you do your long run?", "What did you learn from running this week?" and “Are you having fun?” help keep me on track and focused not just on the goal, but on the process too. Plus – I know I can’t get away with completely quitting – otherwise what would I tell my Dad on our Sunday call?! Visualize Success I can’t stress enough the importance of visualizing success – seeing yourself from the perspective of someone who has already achieved their goal. It creates a positive reality to work toward, and cements what success will be like. I designed a SELF magazine cover and taped it to my bathroom mirror to visually represent my goal. I also wrote a "feature" article as if I were being interviewed about the diet and exercise habits that led to my success, and how great I felt as a result.

When my morale dips during a run, I reconnect with my original vision - picture myself crossing the finish line at the actual marathon, surrounded by friends and family, and how elated and proud I will feel. Consider the Alternative - Not Sticking to Your Goal The alternative to sticking to my goal is giving up. When I think about giving up, I think about how that would make me feel. I would feel deflated, discouraged and disappointed.

As challenging as it can be to get motivated sometimes, I know it would feel far worse to let myself down. If my mom taught me one thing throughout my years of sports and after school activities, it's that I am not a quitter. I learned the value of sticking with something even when it gets rough, knowing it will make me a better teammate, and ultimately a stronger person, in the end. Avoid the 'All or Nothing' Trap Maybe you've experienced this before: giving up on a goal after just one slight misstep. On a diet: I ate something I shouldn't have for breakfast, so the whole day is shot and I might as well go completely overboard for the rest of the day. Or, I didn’t go to the gym on Monday, so the whole week is shot and I might as well not start again until next week.

I call this the ‘All or Nothing’ trap - its the feeling that if I can't do something 100%, I shouldn't do it at all. Or if I veer off course, I might as well stop and let everything fall apart rather than make an adjustment and get right back on track. There's a Wikipedia article about Perfectionism that references this negative type of thinking, “where [people] believe that an achievement is either perfect or useless." So how does this apply to running, or sticking to your goals? It's important for me that if I miss one run (or more!) that I keep going and start right where I left off. Take Your Goal One Hour, One Day, One Week at a Time At many points in my early weeks of training, I got completely overwhelmed at the thought of running 21 miles on my own, let alone a full marathon. At that point I felt like 8 miles was my max. I had to constantly remind myself not to worry about the future weeks – just next Saturday’s long run. I told myself I’ll have plenty of opportunities to worry about those longer runs later, so why start now?! And little by little, week by week, I built on the previous weeks' accomplishments and was able to achieve just a little bit more, to the point where the next leap didn’t seem so impossible anymore.

The same goes for when I am actually on the long run – I take it one step, five minutes, one hour at a time. I don’t worry about how I am going to finish, or if I can make it the full 4:45 minutes. I just GO.

The point here? Don’t let yourself get scared away by the magnitude of your goal. What makes it sticky is that you break it down in to smaller steps that seem more possible, and that build on each other to create confidence and stickiness! Plus, once you've built on your goal over time (and told friends, family and your blog readers!), you're truly invested and it's a lot harder to just give up and walk away. Don’t Forget About Gratitude Rather than complain about how miserable I am during my run, I focus on everything I am thankful for. I’m thankful that I am able to run at all. That I am healthy and strong. That my body is willing to put up with me throughout this crazy training process. That I get five hours outdoors, to think and be alone. I am thankful that I get to enjoy nature – the blue sky, the birds, the water and the people-watching. I am thankful for the huge boost in self-esteem I feel after I finish a long run. I am thankful for my supportive friends and family, who encourage me every step of the way. I am thankful for my blog readers (especially those who made it to the end of this long post!), who help encourage me and keep me accountable, and who allow me to have an outlet for sharing this great experience.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts or tips for how you stick to your Big Scary Hairy Goals - and have them stick to you!