My first year of business school is coming to a close next month, and it’s hard to believe that I am almost halfway done. This time last year, I was still agonizing over what program to attend. It has been a whirlwind, but it has been exciting. The other day I was thinking about all that I had accomplished in the past year, both inside and outside of the classroom. Although I am proud of everything I’ve been able to experience, if you know me well, you know I am never satisfied. I like to keep myself busy, which helps to distract me from my limitations.
One of the challenges with this disease is to keep an open mind to the vast possibilities of life. It is easy to feel like doors are closing, and that opportunities that able-bodied people get to experience are no longer possible for me.
I haven’t been perfect about escaping this mindset, however one helpful exercise for me has been to take time each week to let my mind wander. Nothing is off the table. I write down anything that comes to mind, seeking to focus on what excites me or makes me happy – dream jobs that I want, people I want to meet, places I want to go, ways I can help make the world a better place. It gets me thinking about what is exciting in life, and what brings me joy. Happiness is, after all, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and what gives life great meaning and satisfaction.
I then backtrack to see how I can accomplish these goals. Are there specific skills I need, or people I need to network with? What are the steps to get me to my goal?
This idea came about from a work meeting of all things. At my previous job, we would have weekly company-wide open forums where any subject would be fair game. There would be a set agenda, but after that the floor opened up to anyone who had questions. Many ideas came out of this session, which was only possible when the limits of a formal meeting structure were removed.
That got me wondering – how could I apply this limitless thinking to my own life? Could I reprogram my mind to see the world again in terms of anything being possible, vs. focusing on what was no longer possible? It started out as a quick brainstorming session one morning, and grew from there. It became an exercise that forced me to fight my way through the brick walls in my mind, to paraphrase one of my favorite quotes from Randy Pausch.
A lot of positive developments have come out of this simple exercise. It was one of these sessions where I first considered making a push to write regularly, and to blog with the MDA. The exercise forced me to think about people I wanted to meet in the muscular dystrophy field, and I proceeded to meet almost all of them. It also helped me to map out the ideal business school experience, and what I wanted to achieve once I graduated. There are still many ideas I have yet to discover, which is exciting in and of itself.
All it takes is 15-20 minutes, once a week. I like to sit at my kitchen table in my apartment, look out over the city, and brainstorm while having a cup of coffee. It is a quiet, peaceful time (as long as my neighbor isn’t blaring electronic music). I stretch my mind and think about everything I want to accomplish, no matter how small. It could even be a reminder to myself to take out the trash. It can be anything. Sometimes I sit there and nothing comes to mind, which is ok too. I feel better for at least trying.
On the weeks where I forget to do this, or am too busy and reactive to the different demands placed on me as a business school student, I get antsy. I usually look forward to this block of time. If anything, it allows me to unload all the thoughts I’ve accumulated throughout the week. Each week is such a whirlwind that I don’t have time to write down ideas that come to mind or people I want to talk to until the weekend.
These mental “open forums” are surprisingly simple and effective. I believe it can have an impact in anyone’s life, not just someone in my situation. I know others have come up with similar tactics, so I’m not pretending to have invented this, however I do know that everyone has ultimate goals and dreams they want to achieve. Everyone knows what makes them happy. To clarify exactly what happiness entails, and the steps necessary to achieve it, is liberating. Instead of cluttering the mind, it is now written somewhere, enabling the dots to be connected.
It is a freeing experience. When you focus on what makes you happy, the possibilities are endless. When you believe that anything is possible, cures are not far behind.