Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 27, 2020

Setting goals during a pandemic

By AMELIA ISAACS | October 31, 2020

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I turned 22 on Monday, and a friend casually asked me what my three goals are for the next year. This probably shouldn’t have caught me so off guard — Jan. 1, the first day of school and your birthday are the only three acceptable times in the year to set goals, after all. But eight months into the pandemic, I haven’t thought about long-term goals all that much.

At the end of last semester, I made a list of things I wanted to achieve over the summer. I had a tangible list of programs to apply for and jobs to research, as well as lists of movies and shows to watch, books to read and skills to work on. Unsurprisingly, the list that has the most ticks under it is the one made up of movies and TV shows. 

I did achieve a lot of what I set out to do at the beginning of the summer, and I know that having everything written down definitely helped me to feel a sense of accomplishment in a time when it felt like nothing was changing or progressing. I made spreadsheets about jobs and fellowships and graduate school options. I updated my resumes and, most importantly, I’m pretty close to hitting 500+ connections on LinkedIn.

But I also did a lot over the summer that doesn’t fit into a checklist. I saw friends from home and worked on a novel that didn’t exist before the pandemic. I got my first byline in a local paper, and I found an exercise routine I actually like for the first time in three years. And since the fall semester started, I haven’t tried to tick off any of the many things still on that list.

I reached a point where it was no longer helpful to look at what I had once thought I would be able to accomplish. There was no point in beating myself up for not achieving goals that I set months ago. I didn’t need to add another stress to my life when there was so much happening in the world already.

Over the past few days, I’ve been trying to think about what my goals are for my 23rd year. I immediately think of career goals. Then I think about how no one knows what’s going to happen on Nov. 3 or in the days, weeks and months after that. I don’t even know what country I’ll be in after I graduate, so how can I set career goals that actually serve me in some way?

Setting goals that may or may not be realistic seems, if not pointless, just very unhelpful. I usually find it helpful to set numerical goals, but now is not a usual time, and for me at least, I don’t think that’s how I’m going to feel like I’ve progressed over the course of the next year.

So instead I’ve tried to think about setting goals for how I want to be as a person rather than what I want to achieve. It’s a really abstract thought and not one that I can set out deadlines for or break down into subsections. I still have daily and weekly goals and checklists to get through — after I’ve finished writing this I’m going to go cross it off my daily to-do list — but I’m not going to set myself goals for the next months or the next year like I normally would. 

I’m trying to be more self-reflective about my flaws, which it turns out is very easy to do when you have to spend a lot of time with yourself, and also spend some time looking around at the people that I respect and admire to figure out what aspects of their personalities I want to emulate in my own.

My general outlook on the world right now is, for the most part, pretty bleak. I know that’s not great for my brain, but it’s difficult to escape that mentality. Putting time and effort into changing that, rather than achieving an arbitrary goal that I set myself months or even days ago, will help me so much more. Because if I really think about where I want to be in a year’s time, the only thing I can be truly certain of is that I want to be happy, healthy and hopefully still surrounded by the people I love.

It’s okay to let go of the goals you set before the world changed. It’s okay to make new goals, and it’s okay to change them again in the future. It’s also okay not to set goals and to allow yourself just to get through the next year in one happy, healthy piece.

Amelia Isaacs is a senior studying English and Writing Seminars from London. Her column consists of general life musings and occasionally explores the mostly weird but often wonderful experience of living on this side of the Atlantic.

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