Making Each Day Count

Set Goals, Internalize Them and Then Make it Happen

We all know what went wrong during the ‘Year that Was’. People tend to remember the bad stuff. When I first started teaching again in the 1990s, I used to read each individual review of my performance by my students.

What I found was that if I had 60 students, 50 of them loved the work I did, 6, 7 or 8 of them couldn’t care less one way or the other and there were always 1 or 2 that hated the classes.

Now I am a pretty highly rated Prof: one of the proudest days of my life was winning the student-nominated Educator of the Year Award in 2002. But student reviews are anonymous so if a student didn’t like the class, the material, or the lecturer, they could write some very personal and hurtful things.

At one point, the University Administration was talking about making these individual reviews public—in essence giving students a forum to vent, anonymously. I opposed this—it would be like your local newspaper accepting and publishing anonymous Letters to the Editor—which would lead to character assassination of public personalities and give license to the worst characteristics of human nature.

I suggested that the Uni could, instead, release overall scores for each Prof—I am not against performance measurement including publication of those results—people are motivated by competition and Profs would no doubt compete to get better and be better. The Uni decided to do neither.

From time to time, I would see fellow academics wandering around campus with grey, drawn, haggard, stricken expressions and I would know that they had just read a devastating review. I would tell them: “Just look at your overall score. See where you can improve. That’s what I do. The individual reviews? Just shred them without ever looking at them because it won’t matter if you read 50 terrific comments—you’ll only remember the one bad one.”

Years ago, my Dad, Professor O. J. Firestone, seeing me downcast, told me to write down a balance sheet of my life: “Put everything that went right on the left hand side of a piece of paper, Bruce, and everything that went wrong on the right. Add all the things that you are grateful for on the left too. Then call me.” I did it and there were a lot more things on the left side and I felt better after that—it got me through a low point in my life. Thanks, Dad.

So as we near the end of 2010, I am going to suggest to my kids, who are now about the age I was when OJ gave me that advice, do the same thing. I’ll also give them my list of what I can celebrate and be thankful for this year and it’s a lot.

Personal Balance Sheet of your Life
Personal Balance Sheet of your Life

(I created the above form for you to use. Click on the image above or on this link to get a full size image:

The other thing that I will suggest to them is that they prepare a list of goals for 2011. Humans are uniquely good at setting and achieving goals. I have seen top ranked downhill skiers set their goals for a run and achieve split times that are within 1 or 2 hundredths of a second of their targets for the top and bottom of sections of a mountain. It’s amazing.

For those who read this blog, you’ll know I am not keen on long term planning—too many things change every day for detailed ‘battle plans’ to be of much use. I believe success comes from knowing where you are, where you have been and where you are going. The latter is best served by setting goals for yourself and referring back to them from time to time thereby internalizing them. After that, seize the day.

Prof Bruce

Postscript: There are two lines from the James Cameron film, Titanic, that people seem to remember: both of them uttered by a young, exuberant Jack Dawson played by Leo DiCaprio. The first comes out when Jack climbs up on the bow of the ship (a completely unlikely event in that this part of the ship would undoubtedly have been off limits to passengers), spreads his arms and shouts: “I’m the King of the World.” The second comment is made when Jack is sitting for dinner with a group of first class passengers and he tells them his personal philosophy is to: “Make each day count.”

I have adopted and slightly adapted the latter for a personal motto: “Making each day count.” By substituting ‘Making’ for ‘Make’, the line is now more inclusive; instead of telling you to make sure you do something to make each day count, it now reads: let’sboth do something together to make our (shared) days on this planet count for something.

ps. I think James Cameron would have been better off to use the line “Make each day count” rather than “I’m the King of the World” when he received his Oscar for Best Director in 1998.

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Bruce Firestone

Bruce Firestone

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