career, goals, student loans

Towards Unknown Shores

Happy New Year, everyone!

This post is going to be a bit personal, so I’ll first give a quick update: in December I successfully defended my dissertation, which marks the end of over five years working in the same lab. It also means I’m unemployed. In other words, this particular New Year happens to coincide with a major life transition for me: I’ve finished one chapter and am in the midst of figuring out the next one.

This blog has been personal from the start, in certain ways. One of my goals has been to talk openly here about things that I think are tough and important to discuss, including coming to terms with one’s past choices (see The Myth of the Yacht and The Mysterious Case of the Poorly-Defined “Living Expenses”) as well as the nature of fear and anxiety (e.g. Take Courage and My Message to Others in Debt).

But it’s about to get personal in another way too. I’ve shared relatively little thus far about my current journey with finances and student debt, but that is about to change. And I will share my student debt numbers, to answer those of you have been asking about this. However, I’m going to hold off on that for a tiny bit longer, as I’d prefer not to share my numbers without also sharing a plan regarding how I’m going to change them, and I won’t be able to formulate a plan until I have a job and a salary. But as soon as that happens, I’ll give you some more information about what I’m facing. I’m scared to talk about it, and a little self-conscious…but I’m also excited.

Like seriously: I’m really, really, truly excited to start paying my loans back. A lot of the anxiety I’ve had about my loans during the past five years has been exacerbated by not being able to actually do anything about them—my grad school stipend was definitely livable, but it didn’t involve a lot of money left over for debt repayment.

I’m still planning to post on the types of topics I’ve been writing about thus far, namely the various psychological, philosophical and emotional aspects of personal finance and all things related to those topics. But those posts will be interspersed with posts about what’s going on with my own finances and debt repayment.

I have literally no idea what’s going to happen this month in terms of my job search. I do have some savings. Not a lot, but enough that I’ll be okay for the time being. I do, amazingly, have health insurance. And that means that I have the incredible gift and opportunity to take a small amount of time now to reevaluate and regroup. I’ve taken very, very little time off during the past five years, so this is kind of an unfamiliar situation for me. And I want to be extremely conscious about what I do with this precious time. I want to spend it wisely.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of New Year’s resolutions, and I think that at least for now, I just want to focus on intentions (I prefer that term over “resolutions”), and just for January 2016, since it’s hard for me to see beyond that point right now. So here they are:



  • Apply for full-time jobs. More specifically, apply for at least 15 jobs per week.
  • Send out at least two freelance writing pitches this month. I’ve never done this before, but I really want to try it. (And if by chance you or someone you know might want to hire me to do writing or editing work, I’d love it if you would contact me here.)
  • Tie up the remaining loose ends in my lab (mainly formatting my dissertation to send to the university library and revising some papers for publication in journals).


  • Fully assess my student loan repayment situation (more updates on this in future posts!).
  • Spend less than $300 this month on food. I realize this may not sound too difficult, but it will actually be slightly challenging for me. Even during the month when I cut out takeout completely, I still came in over $300.
  • Participate in at least two paid research studies. This is a great way to earn extra cash if you happen to live near a lot of universities and/or hospitals as I do. I have two lined up so far and will look for more.

DAILY ROUTINE (I’m okay with adjusting this as necessary, but this is my intended routine for the majority of days, until I get a job.)

  • Get up at 6, aka my normal non-vacation wakeup time.
  • Start my day by reading a book for 30 minutes while I have my coffee—thanks to Cait for that idea.
  • Check my blog and blog email only briefly—I’ve been noticing recently that time spent “blogging” can easily turn into mindless Internet surfing time.
  • Spend the bulk of the day working on my job search, either at home or at the beautiful public library around the corner.
  • If it is above freezing outside, go for a run at some point during the day. Yes, I am a total wimp who will only run if it is above freezing. Otherwise, bundle up and go for a walk.
  • At some point during the afternoon or evening, spend 30 minutes working on the Python course on Codeacademy, as well as 30 minutes brainstorming an idea that I have for a new website, to see if it is feasible.


  • No complaining. I don’t know how well I will succeed at this, but I really want to be conscious about not saying negative things about people or situations (unless I’m talking about a difficult situation to a close friend in a truly constructive way).
  • I simply love this post by Leo Babauta. I want it to be part of my manifesto for blogging and all other creative endeavors.
  • Check out this post by Amanda about making a list of 100 Dreams. I tried doing it and could only come up with TWELVE (??). I want to keep working on the list and get to 100 by the end of the month.

Wow, that’s a long list of intentions! It will be interesting to see how the month plays out, and whether or not I have a job at the end of it (fingers crossed).

That’s it for now. See you on Twitter!

What do you have planned for January 2016? Tell me about it!

44 Comments on “Towards Unknown Shores

  1. I love the challenge of no complaining, and I also love that post by Leo. I’m so guilty of feeling like other people’s successes need to be mine. “He or she is getting 10k views a day to their blog because of Pinterest, so I guess I have to do Pinterest.” Or some other form of success envy. But that may or may not be my real goal, ya know? Good luck with everything in the new year, and try to savor the time off as best you can!

    1. Yeah, Leo’s post truly blew me away. I’ve read it quite a few times during the past few weeks. There’s so much information out there on the Internet about how to be “successful” blogging, and it can be very alluring to want to think in this way, but I want to put more focus into trying to be as genuine and non-envious as I can. (Not that these things are mutually exclusive with being “successful”, whatever that even means.)
      Thanks for the good wishes! 🙂

    1. Thanks so much — I’m working on it! It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with goals, isn’t it? I have too many to keep track of at this point, so I’m trying to focus on the ones that are the most important. 🙂

  2. Fantastic plan, Sarah! I think you have selected all encompassing goals that will really allow you to flourish in many areas. 🙂 For 2016 I have a framework of goals, but I am focusing more on balancing between allowing myself to grow as well as taking care of others (I’ve been guilty of focusing too heavily on one or the other). I am looking forward to it, and can’t wait to hear about all of your experiences! Congratulations the next new chapter is always exciting!

    1. Thanks, Alyssa! I hope I can stick to these intentions this month.
      Balancing taking care of others and taking care of yourself sounds like a GREAT goal — very healthy. And both are so important. I hope it’s going well so far!

  3. Happy new year, Sarah!

    This is an *awesome* list of goals – I think the goal to structure your days of job searching is probably one of the best intentions you could have set! I’m the worst for letting days “off” and days “blogging” quickly turn into unstructured messes, so I’m super impressed that you’re planning to cut that off at the pass.

    I’m off to check out that post on Zen Habits! I can’t wait to hear more about your job search – I know you’ll find something amazing 🙂

    1. Thanks, Des! Yeah, the zen habits post is pretty amazing. I keep reading it again to try and really implant it into my mind.
      Isn’t it amazing how quickly “blogging” can degenerate into random unstructured messes? 🙂 It’s been happening to me more and more, so I really want to be conscious of putting a stop to it (as much as possible). It will be interesting to see how it all goes!

  4. Yay congrats on finishing one milestone and starting another! I can’t wait to see your creative plan to pay off those loans too! 🙂

    Your list of intentions has inspired me to add more to mine – like that list of 100 Dreams!!

    1. Thanks, Jaymee! I hope I can formulate a creative plan as soon as possible. 🙂
      Yes, the 100 Dreams thing is really cool — and I was shocked that I could come up with so few. I would definitely recommend checking out Amanda’s post about this if you haven’t yet.

  5. I wish you the best with the job search. That sounds scary but exciting all at once! Because my life’s work is all about behaviour change, I am selecting one “goal” to work on at a time. Once it is habit/has been achieved, I will add another. I am starting with increasing my exercise this month and I am next tackling eating 2 veggies at dinner.
    I wish you luck with your intentions.

    1. Thanks so much, Kristen! We’ll see what happens…. 🙂
      That sounds pretty smart to implement one change at a time until the habit sticks. Have you by chance read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg? Perhaps you have if your work is in behavior change
      (and I’m really curious to know what your work is about). But if you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend it. It helped me to understand a lot about why I do the things I do and how I might start to think about changing my habits.

  6. Good luck Sarah. Are you looking for academic jobs (e.g. teaching)? If you need any assistance maybe I can help. I have been on several search committees in different parts of the university. Not saying I have all the answers, but I would certainly open to helping.

    1. Whoops, just realized that I replied to the post and not to you! Sorry — here’s my reply from a couple days ago:

      Thanks so much, Jason, that’s so nice of you. At the moment I’m actually looking for clinical jobs (my field is a bit unusual in that there is both a research component and a clinical component, and I chose to pursue both). Then, after I get some clinical work under my belt, I may pursue tenure-track university jobs. I’m still not 100% sure what I eventually want to end up doing, but I’m hoping that having a change of job and situation will help me to figure that out.
      Thanks for the good wishes. 🙂

  7. My one piece of job advice is that you must work every connection you have. Call or email everyone you’ve ever met who is working in your field (including the ones who don’t live in Boston) and tell them what you’re looking for. By all means, also cold-apply to jobs, but do not wait to start working your network (if you haven’t already). And be expansive about what your “network” is (not just your friends or peers, but also senior people you met once, whatever.) If you’re like many people this will seem hard and challenging at first, but try to think about how you would feel if someone wrote you a polite email saying “Hi — we met at XX and I hope you don’t mind me contacting you. I just finished up [details] and I’m looking for [details]. If you have any suggestions on people I might get in touch with in this area, I’d really appreciate it. Hope you’re enjoying the beginning of the semester [or whatever]. Best, YY.” Odds are, you would be happy to pass along a few names if you could, right? Assume the people you write to will feel the same way. Worst case scenario, they can’t or won’t help. Best case scenario, they get you an in at a place you really like.

    1. Ah, yes, this is great advice that I vaguely already knew, but you’re motivating me to spend more time on it ASAP — so thank you.

      The tricky thing for me right now is that I’m looking for jobs outside my field (in addition to jobs within my field), which makes the whole process that much more complicated. I have lots of contacts within my field, but not that many in other areas. I need to do some more thinking about that for sure. They do say that the majority of jobs are gotten through connections…

  8. Good luck on the job search Sarah! As a fellow unemployed person, I know how challenging that can be! It’s a whole job in itself! Admittedly, I didn’t look as hard between Thanksgiving and New Year. I look forward to the long days of scanning the job boards with you!

    I am excited to hear more about your progress! Having a routine has definitely kept me sane. I could have easily just laid back and watch TV while collecting unemployment but that just isn’t me. Even if I’m not currently working I’m keeping myself busy with my daughter and work around the house.

    1. Thanks, Vic! Yes, the holidays are such a tough and weird time to be looking for a job. I was definitely sending out resumes, but I had the feeling that people were off at holiday parties and not reading them! 🙂 And yes, I agree that a routine is key. (Too bad mine was thrown off today because I somehow didn’t heard my alarm!)

  9. I’m eager to see where the job search takes you! It’s an exciting time:) I also really like the idea of two freelance pitches a month. That gives you time to really craft them – and not put so much pressure on yourself to pitch pitch pitch. OH! And the more I work on my 100 Dreams list, the more ideas come out of the woodwork – or the dark recesses of my mind:) I keep the list in one place, and when something comes to me, I add to it. It’s a work in progress now…

    1. Thanks, Amanda. 🙂 Yes, the 100 Dreams definitely works best as a work in progress for me. I’m still shocked at how few I could come up with during that first attempt.
      Yeah, I’m interested to see if I can get any freelance gigs. It is daunting (trying to figure out exactly where to send the pitches is particularly challenging for me because I’m not familiar with enough online magazine type sites), but I’ve got nothing to lose! 🙂

    1. Thanks for the encouragement! 🙂 Yes, once I have the job stuff figured out I’ll be able to set some other goals, which I’m looking forward to doing!

  10. Such a well defined daily routine – I got excited just by reading about it! And I froze a bit after reading you plan to go for a run if the temperature is above freeing because my threshold is around 20 degrees above freezing.

    Really interested in the website idea you are thinking about developing. Hope it works out soon so we can read about it 🙂

    1. Haha, thanks, Fehmeen! I have to admit that I don’t LOVE the idea of going running if it’s 33 degrees, but I’m trying to tell myself it’ll build character. 🙂

      Thanks for your interest re: the website. If I do start it, it will take a lot of work and time and planning up front, but I’m excited to explore it a little more and see if it’s a possibility.

  11. You have been very successful at being very intentional in all things this year and I’m excited to see how that plays out for you with the blog and your life. I am sure this year will be a very exciting year of breakthroughs for you. Good luck!

    1. Thanks so much, Kalie. I have to admit that I stole the word “intentions” from a yoga teacher a few years ago — she said she was making New Years Intentions instead of resolutions, and it just made so much sense to me, so I’ve stuck with it ever since. 🙂

  12. I’m excited to learn more about you! Like what did you get your PhD in? And what kind of job are you seeking? And what else do you do for fun besides write a wonderful blog? 🙂 I love your list of intentions, especially not complaining. That’s high on our list, too. It’s so NORMAL to complain, but so bad for us — let’s wish each other luck on this one! And looking forward to seeing whatever numbers you feel comfortable sharing. (I assume you know about options like loan consolidation and such? So figuring out how to tackle them is really just about how quickly you can pay them off?)

    Sending lots of good vibes for the job search!

    1. Yes, complaining is seriously problematic. I really believe that whatever we choose to say — whether negative or positive — has an important impact not only on the people who hear it, but also on the person who says it. So I would rather choose to say positive things if/when possible. I’m actually realizing now that this intention was probably subconsciously influenced by your decision not to complain about work anymore. 🙂

      Ah yes, the mysterious details of all of our real lives! I may talk about my work a bit more in the future, but it depends on what type of job I get. I’m looking for jobs within my PhD field, but also (shhhhh) for jobs way outside that field. There are almost too many version of my resume right now for me to keep track of, haha.

      Oh, and other hobbies include yoga, poker (super small-stakes games only, don’t worry!), and drawing. 🙂

      1. Poker! So interesting. I was in a home game ages ago, and Mr. ONL played online for a while, but that feels like a past life. (Fun fact: multiple people in my old home game are now on network television shows. Crazy.) Totally respect that you have to set limits about what you share, but I’m happy to devour whatever morsels you throw out to us. 🙂

        1. Wow. You will definitely never see me playing poker on television. My strategy involves way too much magical thinking for me to actually be any good. 🙂

        2. Haha — thankfully (for them!) they are not playing poker on TV. 🙂 And I bet a little magical thinking is a good thing in a (low stakes) game of chance!

  13. Congrats on getting through your dissertation defense! I think your January intentions are all great, I especially love how you are keeping things structured even though it would be really easy to talk yourself into taking a few weeks ‘off’ before diving into the job search. I’m sure you’ll land an excellent job in no time!

    1. Thanks, Jordann! Yeah, I think structure is key. And I may have already sort of taken some time off over the holidays. 😉 So yes, the job search is in full gear now! (And let me tell you, it really is a full-time job in and of itself, as they say…)

    1. Wow, thanks, that’s really nice of you. I do need to get myself out there and figure out how to pitch ideas! I’ve been thinking about it for months, but need to actually take the next step and try it out.

  14. I’m so happy for you, and this post was such a great read. Congratulations on all that you’ve accomplished so far. All of your goals are not only pushing towards great financial success, but I love them more than anything because they are attainable. You haven’t set yourself up for any failures, just challenges. Excited to see where your 2016 takes you 🙂

    1. Thanks, Alyssa! Yes, I hope the goals are attainable. Some of them I’ve been sticking to more than others, but I feel good about it overall! 🙂

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