Focus Your Drive

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When you choose what to do, you do not always have to know the perfect choice. You only have to know that the next choice is sustainable. Evaluate whether the choice keeps your goals in play, is consistent with your boundaries, and supports your courage, research, and collaboration. Then, acknowledging the risk, choose decisively.

A PhD without a Plan

Now, I have an earned doctorate of philosophy in social work. But, I was once an undergraduate social work student thinking about getting a job. I never thought about going on to a Master degree, and certainly not a PhD, at least not right away. The question on my mind was, “Can I get a job?” If I could, that would be the end of college for the time being. I would work and make money, and… I did not know what else.

I knew that I wanted to be a college teacher. I asked a professor about this idea during my junior year in school. He said that it would take me another 8 years to achieve that goal. It seemed too long. But, I had another conversation. Another professor told me about the option of completing my Master degree in one year, instead of two. I knew that a Master degree would enhance my earning potential, so I decided to risk.

It was the near the end of my year-long Master degree program when I learned about a PhD program in social work. My department head knew of a program that wanted to emphasize social workers with technology skills. “You would be perfect,” she said, “and I’ll write you a recommendation.” I applied, interviewed, and was admitted.

I had not planned this journey step-by-step, but I knew what my ultimate goal was.

I knew that it could be accomplished with an advanced degree. I could measure progress with each milestone by taking the more certain choice of staying in school. I was open to new information even when it defied convention. A de facto plan formed from the certainty and focus of my goal. I accomplished the goal of becoming a college professor, a task that reportedly would take 8 years, in 5 years.

[This blog post is excerpted from the forthcoming book COACH Method CEO: Introducing a Method for Individual Justice, Institutional Innovation, and Community Sustainability. The full text is scheduled for release Fall 2012.]