My Year Of Growth And Disappointments

The academic year 2017–2018 is done.

Time to reflect.

To keep track of my progress, I conduct monthly evaluations. They are metric-based and are designed to answer the question: ‘Am I making enough progress towards the goals I’ve set?’

This annual review goes beyond assessing goal-attainment and covers the deeper stuff. It reminds me to look back on the past academic year, harvest self-knowledge, be happy about my victories and evaluate my failures.

Before the summer break starts, I’d like to share my annual review with you. I hope you’ll find my insights and lapses useful.

I owe the format of the review to James Clear.

1. What went well this year?

Expressing myself. I’ve always been uncomfortable with believing that I write something to that other people should read — something that adds value to their life. As James remarks in his 2016 review:

“If you’re going to interrupt someone with your words, you better be damn sure you have something good to say to them.”

This year, I became convinced that I really do have something good to say. I am more confident in expressing this attitude and more comfortable with giving and explaining my opinions about topics that matter to me.

There’s a difference between confidence and arrogance.

Academic philosophy. I came into the PhD program after a gap year and during the first term I wasn’t hitting the level that I wanted to reach. I had to improve. To accomplish that, I started coming in at uni before 8 AM to put in the work, and it paid off. I got straight As, wrote my best paper ever and even got invited to speak at a conference.

It’s a myth that some people ‘just got it’ and others don’t. Everyone has to put in the hours.

Saying I’m ‘not good enough [to be a PhD student]’ misunderstands the situation. What I should say is: ‘I’m not good enough yet’.

Writing. I started blogging in Dutch about 18 months ago and discovered that driving traffic to your own website is hard. So, in March I joined Medium. It has a large audience, which means that, in the long term, a lack of readers means that your work is not good enough. No excuses.

I’m happy to report that the blog has exceeded my expectations. Within four months, I become ‘top writer’ in six categories and more than 1.000 people decided to follow we. Wow.

It turns out that I really enjoy thinking and writing about practical philosophy,happiness and self-improvement. What started as a side-project became the most exciting thing in my life.

Tracking my Medium progress in my journal (yup, that’s in Dutch)

Honesty. It’s easy to pretend that all is well. I’ve done that for the biggest part of my life. Who am I to bother other people with my struggles? Just buckle up, man.

I improved in this area by not hiding the bad things anymore. When I felt lonely in Budapest, I didn’t “buckle up” but told people honestly. When I was no longer happy with my PhD topic and was struggling to decide how to proceed, I didn’t “buckle up” but told people honestly.

Of course, nobody laughed at me or thought I was “failing”.

2. What didn’t go so well this year?

Pressure. In June, I had to defend my first-year paper in front of the entire faculty. At this ‘moment suprême’, I was unable to myself. The quality of my arguments, the sharpness of my sentences, my confidence during the presentation — it was still OK, but I have been better. On the occasions that really matter, pressure adversely affects my performance. I need to reverse that negative influence.

Research enthusiasm. Over the spring, I noticed that thinking about my PhD-research made me feel bored. realized the topic didn’t interest me as much as I thought it did. Why did I want to do this super complex, abstract research? Because wanted to or because I thought others expected me to? I was thoroughly disappointed when I had to admit to myself that my decisions had been affected by such external factors a lot more than I thought they had.

Self-talk. I have received some feedback from family and friends that I’m very strict for myself. I was unaware of this. However, I have since noted that, indeed, my self-talk is a bit judgmental at times. I struggle with holding myself to high standards (this is non-negotiable for me), while at the same time being my own friend. On the long term, this is going to cost me happiness. I need to improve my relationship with myself.

Comfort zone. I need to get out of my comfort zone more when it comes to meeting new people. I’m eerily successful in convincing myself that “I don’t really care” about that and in filling up my schedule with goal-related stuff so that I have an excuse not to go out that much. This is not a sustainable long-term strategy.

Family. I was planning on e-mailing my family every other week. That didn’t happen.

3. What am I working towards?

Increase self-image. I need to accord more value to what I think of myself as opposed to what others think of me. I suspect that an exaggerated concern for the opinions of others is the root problem for my mistake in choosing a research question, my succumbing under pressure, and my judgmental self-talk.

Find dissertation topic. I don’t know what I want to write my dissertation on. I’m excited to dive deeper into the literature on value theory and metaethics and use enthusiasm as a guidefor making decisions about my doctoral project. In the ideal scenario, there will be more overlap between PhD-research and blog-research.

Writing. So many questions. What’s my long-term plan here? What do I want to do with the blog? Is steadily posting on Medium all there is to it? What’s out there in the big, scary world beyond Medium?

Well, friends, that wraps up my annual review.

I enjoy sharing what I learned, and although this post was a bit different than usual, I hope you found it useful.

Thanks for reading.

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