Last year, I began a New Year’s tradition of assigning a theme to the year to come. (I thought I might have better luck with themes than I had had in the past with New Year’s Resolutions). That first year, 2017, was the year of Happy. Indeed, with the theme on my mind and wooden block letters spelling out the word on top of my fireplace mantle in case I needed reminding, I spent the year being more intentional about happiness. I read research on happiness, I reflected on what makes me happy, and I spent more time in activities that produce happiness (hint: experiences, not things, make us happy).
As 2017 drew to a close, I could safely say that I’d spent more time that year happy. I had also defended my dissertation, graduated with my Ph.D., and strategically determined that I would forgo the job market until after my family’s ‘international’ move from Montreal to Philadelphia. I wanted to settle my family into our new community and re-energize after graduate school. I did that, and I also spent a lot of time writing up my research in the time that I was happily unemployed. However, by early 2018, I grew restless with being a "housewife." I loved being able to better support my husband’s clinical-research agenda and attend to my seven-year-old, but I’d left myself behind. It was time to re-engage with my dreams. So…
2018 is the year of Dreams. This year is about making my dreams come true. The weird thing about dreams is that they are so vague and fuzzy when you try to define them in the present based on what you thought about them in the past. New experiences along the way can change
what you thought a dream meant. It was in my sophomore year of undergrad that I defined my professional dream. That year I realized I wanted to be a professor when I grew up. Yes, that does seem quite specific, but believe me, I was quite fuzzy about what that meant up until my second year of doctoral training (almost 20 years later)! I saw around me so many more ways of being a professor than I was aware of before, and many of those ways didn’t fit the version I was dreaming about. As I considered the different versions of ‘Professor’ I encountered, I realized there were some aspects of this career that were more important to me than others.
I wanted to be an engaging instructor and facilitator of learning, a mentor to students, a team player, and I wanted to work with bright, interesting people. I didn’t much love spending so many hours alone writing at home every day. I had met plenty of ‘Profs’ who were just the opposite – they want to spent more time researching and writing and less teaching. So the first lesson about dreaming is to broaden your mind about the many ways a dream can manifest and explore those options. Being a ballerina could mean being a performance artist or teaching little kids to dance. Being a CEO might mean leading a fortune 500 company or it could mean leading a small entrepreneurial team in a non-profit. Explore, or at least reflect, but then become clear about what your version means to you. It is easy to get side tracked into believing in someone else’s dream, especially if it goes by the same name as your dream. In order to re-engage with my dream, I needed to get more clarity on what my version of Professor looked like. For me, being a professor is about teaching. My research is near and dear to my heart, but I wouldn’t want to do only research.
The second lesson is about fit. Different organizational environments and cultures offer different avenues for pursuing a professional dream. I had become confused and disillusioned about my dream at some point. However, when I took some distance from my dream, I realized that the only way to realize my version of this profession was to find a work environment that espoused my values and prioritized the same way I do. I was standing in line at Trader Joe’s one day and I saw a card that quoted George Eliot. It said “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” I immediately thought, “that’s right, it’s the year of Dreams! I just have to find the place where I can be who I might have been.”
Organizations have vision statements. People have dreams. These work in about the same way. Visions and dreams guide us to a desired future state by helping us focus on what matters and, sometimes, permitting us to let go of what does not. These motivate us to select short-term goals that will help us eventually reach that image of the future. They make us notice the card quoting George Eliot, not the other ones. They help us think beyond today and look forward to a more interesting tomorrow.
There is still time left in 2018. Dream.
Heather Cluley is a visiting assistant professor in the Villanova University Human Resource Development Program. Heather earned her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior at John Molson School of Business, Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. She has an MS is in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and BS in Public Health Education and Psychology. Connect with her on LinkedIn!
Photo by Javardh on Unsplash