Goal Setting

“You just think you can’t do it then you do it.” (Success Stories Series)

(Reprinted from Heartland Community College, July 2011 “Alumni Spotlight” – Normal, Illinois)

Bett Atkins

Name: Bet Atkins
Class: Heartland Class of 2005
Degree: Associate’s in Arts

Interviewer: Colleen Reynolds, Director of Alumni Relations and Outreach


Colleen: The alumni spotlight shines this time on an alum who’s a single mom of seven kids who turned to Heartland at age 45 to start a new career, one that recently led to an award for her compassion.

Bet: Hi. I’m Bet Atkins. I graduated from Heartland Community College in 2005 with an Associate in Arts degree.

Colleen: I know that you’ve gone on and received your nursing degree as well.

Bet: I have. I graduated from Mennonite College of Nursing at Illinois State University in 2007. I’m currently employed at Advocate Bromenn in the I.M.C.U. I’m a day nurse and love my job.

Colleen: I.M.C.U., what does that stand for?

Bet: It stands for the Intermediate Care Unit. Originally, I was hired to work the step-down unit, which is one south, right outside the ICU. Last year, they merged my unit with the medical unit and made us one big unit. We were all together up on the fifth floor now.

Colleen: I’m going to take you back to the beginning of your academic career and ask you what led you to Heartland?

Bet: I knew that there were going to be some changes in my life and I knew that I would need to care of my children. I was a single, or I figured I was headed to be a single mom and I was. I started during the summer of 2003 and took two classes, then bumped up to full-time and took everything that I could take so I could graduate.

Colleen: So had you been out of the classroom for awhile?

Bet: Oh lord! I have been out of the classroom since really when I graduated from high school all those years ago in 1976. I took some college courses, got married, was a stay at home mom for a long time. I managed a bookstore in Peoria for awhile, and I loved that job. I just figured that it wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. I had the opportunity to take care of my grandmother when she was dying in 1979 and that cemented the idea that I wanted to be a nurse. I figured one day I woke up and I thought I’m going to be 45 this year and if I don’t do it now, I’m not ever going to do it and that at least I wanted to try. If I can’t do it and manage the kids and take care of everything else, then okay but I’ll have known I had given it my best shot. I just started those classes and taking those classes. I had great support, had a lot of fun. I had great professors. I loved Edie Wallace, Ali (Abu-Amr), Steve Rummel. Just a lot of encouragement from the professors here and a lot of encouragement from my church family.

Colleen: What else about your experience here helped you succeed and get that Associates degree and then move on?

Bet: I think most of it was probably self-esteem. Heartland gave me a big boost in my self-esteem. You just think you can’t do it then you do it. Then you think okay I can do this and I can move on to the next step. It was just like I could get tutoring if I wanted it. I used Project RISE at times. Heartland had the daycare which there were times I needed those services. Like I said before, I worked part-time in the Financial Aid office as a student worker and met lifelong friends there. There are people that I love there that really encouraged me and wanted to see me achieve my goals. It’s easier when you have someone from the back pushing you. It really is.

Colleen: It sounds like you felt supported as a whole person, not just in the classroom.

Bet: I really did. I met people here that I love and would consider that they would be lifelong friends of mine. There were other students my age that were middle aged who were doing career changes. You tend to stick together and help eachother. You’re not eighteen or nineteen, just out of high school. You have full-time responsibilities as parents. Some of them worked outside jobs so going to school had to be the priority.

Colleen: So you went on and obtained your nursing degree. Where did that lead you?

Bet: It led me to Advocate Bromenn. I love my job. It’s fabulous. I can work three days a week, twelve hour shifts. I can pick up extra shifts if I want. It gives me time to be a mom which is a priority. When I leave work, 99% of the time I feel like I’ve accomplished something, that I have helped someone else. I feel like I had so many people help me as a single mom going to college, raising kids and a granddaughter that it’s kind of like payback and paying it forward that you go and take care of people. You know that they’re not at their best and you do what you can to make their day easier.

Colleen: Well then you must be very good at what you do because you received a compassion award in the first quarter of this year. Tell me about what that meant to you to receive that kind of an award or recognition of what you do everyday.

Bet: It was really nice, but I’d be just as happy to going about my own business at work. It’s very nice to be recognized by families. It was a family who thought that I had gone above and beyond taking care of their loved one. That’s amazing that they took the time to write the company and the hospital recognized me. I’m very appreciative of that but that’s not why I do what I do. I do it because I love people and I want things to be good for people. I want their outcomes to be good. I want to be able to set an example to newer nurses and my peers. What we do is very hard both physically and emotionally. You can get through the day by making someone’s life better just by being kind and loving. I think that to do what we do as nurses we have to genuinely love other people or you couldn’t do it day after day.

Colleen: Is there anything that you learned here at Heartland that has translated to what you do everyday, either academically or just about people?

Bet: I think all of my classes at Heartland prepared me for the next step at Mennonite. They gave me a good base foundation to build on the skills and knowledge base that I learned at Heartland. I think that just being back in a diverse population that was a lot of fun. You get to hear ideas and think about things that you have not thought about in a long time. I want to be as open minded as possible about everything. What I learned here helped me to be a better nurse. I loved my time here.

Colleen: You almost get a little misty-eyed when you think about it.

Bet: I actually do. For me, it was a really hard time in my life. Heartland gave me something to focus on, just class after class after class. It kept me from sitting there thinking my life is terrible. If you have something to focus on and if you have a goal and if you do your best to attain that goal, it might take you a little bit longer, you might be 45 years old in class with a bunch of 18 year olds, they were all great.  They accepted me. It was like they were other children of mine. I felt that it was such a good thing for me. It was the best move I could make. Everybody was just so supportive. It’s just such a great cultural experience here. There’s things to do and outside of classroom events. We’re lucky we have Heartland.

Colleen: Is there anything else you would like to say to students attending Heartland today?

Bet: I’m not anybody special. I’m just Bet. If I can do it, you can do it. I occassionally run into single moms who were floundering andI tell them my Heartland story. I went to Heartland when I was 45 and I had kids at home. If I can do it, you can do it because there is nothing so special about me. It was just determination and wanting to be able to provide a good life for my kids. It was my kids who were my driving force. I want them to have a good life and Heartland enabled me to move to the next step which was at Mennonite and then be able to get my job. I just can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

Colleen: Bet Atkins, we think there’s something special about you. We’re happy to have you in our latest spotlight. Good luck and continued future success.

Bet: Thank you very much, Colleen.

Too many choices?

(Photo copied from likeadayoff.blogspot.com under “Google images”)







by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

Recently, I received an e-mail from a Non-Traditional Student (NTS) who said he was at a confusing place right now in both his academic and professional careers.  He had started back to college a couple of years ago after over two decades of entertaining the idea.  He took a few courses, did well, and was energized by the opportunities that were beginning to present themselves to him.  Does he quit the job he has held for over 20 years?  Does he fulfill a lifelong dream of opening a restaurant?  Maybe go into real estate?  How would this all be expressed on a resumé?

Sometimes when we discover that we have options – that we no longer are tethered by our current career choice – we can become overwhelmed with the sudden deluge of choices.  We can go from feeling that we are at a dead-end to facing so many forks in the road that we are frozen with indecision.

This is a “good problem.”  What these forks in the road mean is that you recognize that you have the ability to create your future.

But, what if you feel that you may have taken the “wrong” road?  Here you are, an NTS who is finally getting back to school.  You feel that time is already slipping through the hourglass so you think you cannot afford to make mistakes.  Well, you can take yourself off of the hook here.  There are no mistakes or failures – only results.  There is a story of the great inventor, Thomas Edison, that goes:  “Edison tried over 9,000 times to create the incandescent light bulb.  When asked if he felt like a failure, he replied, ‘No, because I now know over 9,000 ways not to create the light bulb’.”

This is learning.  This is experience.  Live your life without regret for the choices you have made thus far.  Because, without those choices, you would not have the information to make the decisions you need to make today.  So what if you take the road that did not get the results you expected.  Now you know.  Now you can make a more informed decision.

If the dilemma of “too many choices” is new to you – enjoy it!  It means that you have created numerous possibilities for yourself.  Think of it like a restaurant menu.  Your future should have many options.  After all, do you want to keep returning to a restaurant that has only one item on the menu?

The Fuel of Self-Doubt

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.


The other day I had lunch with a colleague.  We reflected on our experiences in our respective doctoral programs – she at Columbia University and me at the University of Utah.  Even though we were enrolled at different times and at different places, we shared one important thing in common – self-doubt.  We both felt that while we were in the programs, that we shouldn’t be there and that we would probably never complete the required exams and dissertation.

Some of the self-doubt came from the lack of support – or “negative support” – from  family members.  Our pursuing our education was resented by some of the people closest to us.  In addition, we compared ourselves to our cohorts and felt like we were out of place.  We subordinated ourselves to the opinions and performances of others.

In the companion book to this blog – also entitled You Can Do College – I recount all the self-doubt I had from the time I entered into the local Community College on through to the last weeks of my Ph.D. program.  The doubt finally evaporated when I earned my last degree and actually held the piece of paper that confirmed my achievement.  (I wonder, though, if the self-doubt would return if I decided to pursue another degree.)

Self-doubt appears to be a part of the process.  We put ourselves into new situations and new environments.  This takes us outside of our comfort zones.  Let’s face it – it just feels weird.  We are immersed into a learning environment where it means that we are no longer the experts in our field.  As Non-Traditional Students, we are generally the oldest in the class and wonder if we will be able to keep up with the concepts, with the technology, and with the other students.  We give ourselves all kinds of reasons to doubt our abilities.

Still, one must persevere.  In spite of all of the doubts, my colleague and I finished every program we began.  There was no coasting through, however.  The road we took was littered with stumbling blocks – time management, family needs, money, work issues and so on.  Some of the other stumbling blocks, though, we put there ourselves – most of which were born out of self-doubt.  Yet, we completed everything we started, making our accomplishments even sweeter.

Is this where you are?  Are you doubting your ability to return to school?  Are others adding to your own insecurities by discrediting your academic ambition?  Does it seem that you will be out of place in a college learning environment?  Enrolling into a program will not make those insecurities go away, but, as you earn good grades, your insecurities and doubt will lessen.

Perhaps self-doubt is the fuel that helps us to push ourselves.  You have probably said to yourself at one time or another, “If I can do this, I can do anything.”  The key word is “do.”  Don’t spend so much time overthinking your enrollment into college that you delay taking action month after month, year after year.  One thing is for certain:  getting a higher education is a no-lose proposition.  You can never be worse off for having attended college.  So, let the doubts be what pushes you – and then you will feel like you can do anything.


Cooking Up a Future (Success Stories Series)

(Reprinted from Cuyahoga Community College Alumni Spotlight, retrieved 5.16.11)

Alicia Marotta

Alumni of Cuyahoga Community College often credit the College for the professional success they have after graduation. While some say the College helped them determine their futures, others used their experiences at the College as a tool to achieve goals they had already set for themselves. Alicia Marotta is an alumna who took advantage of the affordable education offered at Tri-C [Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland, OH] to help her accomplish a lifelong goal.

“Since I was five years old, I wanted to own my own restaurant near my home. Tri-C helped me achieve that goal,” said Alicia who graduated in 1997 with an Associate of Applied Business Degree in Hospitality Management with a concentration in culinary art. She put her degree to work when she opened her own Italian restaurant, Marotta’s, in Cleveland Heights. Alicia not only created the entire menu but she also oversees all business aspects of the restaurant. “Owning a restaurant is a lot of hours and hard work, but the rewards are excellent. The best part is being my own boss.”

“My experience at Tri-C was the basis of my career,” stated Alicia. “The culinary art courses prepared me to be a chef while the formal education

I received helped me to run my own business. Richard Fulchiron and the faculty of the Hospitality Management program are well versed in culinary arts and they want to see everyone in the program succeed.”

Alicia also knows the importance of scholarship support — she was a recipient of the Tri-C Foundation’s Hospitality Management Scholarship. “Receiving a scholarship was very helpful. I had to work full-time and go to school part-time and the scholarship allowed me to take more courses and graduate faster. Without it, I don’t think I would have been able to continue my education.”

Just a Cliché?

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

Recently, I asked my Facebook friends to post their favorite sayings.  I received a dozen or so, and was delighted by the spirit, courage and joy that were common threads among them.  Below are listed the submissions:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin Roosevelt

“Do What You Like, Like What You Do” – Life Is Good (TM) motto

“I don’t think there’s anything better you can do in this world than bring light wherever you go.” – Oprah Winfrey

“You can either be happy about something or unhappy about something… I choose to be happy.” – Tamela Sparks

“If you say you can or if you say you can’t; either way you are right!” – Henry Ford

“Nobody can ever take your integrity away from you. Only you can give up your integrity.” – H. Norman Schwarzkopf

“Just because no one realizes what a gold mine you are, doesn’t mean you shine any less.” – T. D. Jakes

“Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.” – Unknown author

“Yoga may not be a way of lifting life’s burdens from our shoulders, but it surely makes the path under foot for carrying them a lot smoother.” – George Cox

‎”Do it trembling if you must, but do it!” – Emmet Fox

‎”A person should set his goals as early as he can and devote all his energy and talent to getting there. With enough effort, he may achieve it. Or he may find something that is even more rewarding. But in the end, no matter what the outcome, he will know he has been alive.”

- Walt Disney

What is so amazing about the quotes is their positive energy and hopeful message.  Some of the authors are famous and some are not-so-famous.  In all cases, the words are inspiring.

This is a list you might want to save.  Put it on your refrigerator, or some other place where it is handy.  Then, on a day when you need to be particularly motivated, turn one of these “clichés” into your special mantra for the day!

Going It Alone

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

It is pretty tough to get through hard times all by yourself – be they financial, emotional, spiritual or physical.   If your goals are not understood by others (or even worse, pose a threat), you can begin to sense a distance beginning to form between you and some of your friends, or even members of your family.  So you start rethinking those goals.  The demons of doubt visit you and your self-confidence can begin to erode away.  When do you stay true to your dreams, and when do you back away?

It is a dilemma indeed, and one that can be thrust upon you and catch you by surprise.  You assume that everyone will be rooting for you.  Unfortunately, it does not always work out that way.  If you have decided to train for a marathon, friends and family may be split about supporting you.  Some may be cheering you on with every milestone.  Others may question your decision from the time you buy your first pair of running shoes.  Or, maybe you are from a family that tends toward obesity, and you make the decision to maintain a normal weight.  Some family members may marvel at your success and ask your advice.  Others may begin to single out the traits of yours which they find disagreeable, and belittle you for those traits (when they are really threatened by your weight management).

What if you decided to return to college?  This decision could impact your circle of friends and family even more than running a marathon, maintaining weight or quitting smoking.  A goal of returning to school requires a different type of commitment.  It requires you to go outside your comfort zone.  In the process, you begin to change as you achieve goals along the way (e.g. completed courses) and absorb new knowledge and hone your critical thinking skills.  Your friends and family may think you “talk differently.”  I know of one person who, upon completing his educational goals was chided by a family member for “trying to be an intellectual.”

So what do you do?  First, “follow your gut.”  If you want to pursue a lifelong dream, you should do it.  Second, it is your life.  Only you live with you 24 hours a day.  Only you are inside your head wondering about the future and, perhaps, wishing you had made different decisions in the past.  Think of it this way, you can never regret achieving a goal, but you may regret not trying.  And, what if some friends and family members do distance themselves?  Remember, their problem with your goals is not your problem.  Often non-supportive friends and family are being non-supportive for other underlying reasons.

Finally, you should seek out those people who do encourage you.  It is easy to focus on those who do not understand your dreams, especially if they are your siblings, your best friend, or even your parents.  Align yourself with positive people.  Hopefully, in time, the ones who have stayed away will see how happy and accomplished you are, and will start coming back into your life.

A Letter to Yourself

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

There have been several references in this blog to the “Day Zero Project,” an interactive site that helps you create 101 goals to be accomplished in 1001 days (dayzero.com).  One of the suggested activities is to write a letter to yourself to be opened in 10 years.  What would you put in that letter?

There are many different approaches you could take and questions you could pose.  You could think about where you want to be in 10 years – 2021.  Or, consider what you hope to have accomplished?  Or, describe what things move and inspire you today?  Or, explain how you feel about your life today?

We take snapshots of our lives.  These photos capture one second in time.  A letter to yourself is open-ended in time.  You can reflect on moments and eras  – your lifetime, past, present and/or future.

Unlike a journal, which keeps your thoughts and feelings up-to-date, a letter to yourself is a singular event with the idea of its being opened in a decade.  You get a chance to talk to you!  What will the person in the future know that you do not know now?  In 10 years, what will you have forgotten so that the letter will need to serve as a memory trigger?  How will your feelings have changed?  What goals will you have accomplished?

If you have decided to return to school – for whatever degree or program – in 10 years you not only will be done, but you will be underway using that degree!  Whatever changes you have decided to make now, in 10 years those changes will have been incorporated into you – and, instead of those changes being a part of your future, in 10 years they will be part of your present.

It’s exciting to think about writing the letter.  What will you say?

Choosing an Image

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

Sometimes we see ourselves the way we appear in other people’s eyes.  They are mirrors reflecting back an image that they see.  This can be quite beneficial to us in that such a reflection can shake us out of our own denial about an addiction or other serious emotional and physical problems.

However, the image others reflect can also be one that they perceive because they are in denial.  They cannot accept that your hopes, dreams, intelligence and perseverance are different from theirs.  Perhaps they want you to remain where you are because your presence validates what they believe is true about themselves.

For instance, if you have ever quit smoking, lost weight, become vegetarian, or gone back to school, you know that people often start treating you differently or try to sabotage your success by being non-supportive.  They might say things like “Oh, you’ve tried to give up smoking so many times before, why do you think this time is different?”  Or, “What do you need to go back to school for?  Isn’t working with us good enough?”  They might even call you names like “Joe College” or “Jenny Craig.”

In light of this peer pressure and its corresponding need to be feel a part of something, it is easy to concede to that reflected (and distorted) image.  It may be a path of least resistance to maintain the status quo by remaining who you have always been.  Change brings uncertainty.  If you change, the people around you may be reluctant to embrace your new goals and dreams because they do not know how these goals will affect you as a person, as their friend, or maybe even as their spouse.

And, perhaps even you are uncertain as to the change that will become a part of you.  How will you feel now that you are no longer a part of the “smoking circle” that goes outside during break?  Or, the one who gets the salad at lunch instead of the hamburger?  Or, passing up going to a movie with friends or family because you have schoolwork to do?  The fact that you have rearranged your priorities is a demonstration of a new way of thinking.  And, when you begin to think differently, you act differently, and those differences become a part of you.

So, if there are goals you want to reach, and a transformation you want to make, you may have to make a decision.  Which image will you choose to see:  the image others reflect, or the image you want to become?

It’s All in Your Head

by  Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

Two of my favorite expressions are :  “If you say you can or cannot, you are always right.” (Henry Ford) ; and “You must do that thing you think you cannot do.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)  Both of these observations are of the impact of thought on our actions.  The first challenges our propensity to turn thoughts into action and thus, for good or bad, those actions become self-fulfilling prophecies.  The second challenges us to not let our thoughts hold us back.

I contemplated these words as I listened to the status update of Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head 10 days ago in Tucson, Arizona.  By all accounts, she is making remarkable progress, going beyond what one could reasonably expect given the gravity of her injury.  I believe that the secret to her amazing recovery (in addition to a remarkable medical team who has been ministering care over the last week and a half) can be found in the words of her husband, astronaut-Commander Mark Kelly who said:  “I have her on a schedule” of recovery.  It was at that point that I realized that Ms. Giffords would most certainly fully and completely recover.  It is apparent that goals for her healing have been set and are beginning to be realized.  Today, a mere 10 days after being critically injured from a bullet entering and exiting her brain, Ms. Giffords sat in a chair and ultimately stood.  She looked at get well cards that had been sent to her and even scrolled through the photos on her husband’s iPhone.

No one believes that the path back to and through her recovery will be an easy one.  Yet, with a team effort of positive thinking and goal-setting, it appears that the road to recovery may happen more quickly than people had anticipated.  Commander Kelly and Ms. Giffords are asserting that “she can.”

When you look at someone whose life was changed in a second, going from one of public service to private challenges, it gives you pause to reflect on your own life.  What thoughts are holding you back?  What are you saying you cannot do?  How can Ms. Giffords’ healing serve to inspire you?

One of Ms. Giffords’ favorite songs is U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day.”  Whether or not today will be a beautiful day for you is your choice.  After all, it’s all in your head.

Setting Your Sights on Sites

By Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

Early in December I wrote about a fabulous site called “The Day Zero Project.”  Apparently, I am not the only one who thought it was fabulous.

It appears that it originated in New Zealand a few years back.  The company overview, as stated on its Facebook page, is:  “Day Zero started out in 2003 as a simple way to collate lists people had created for their 101 Things in 1001 Days projects. Today it has evolved into a community website where people post their goals and get inspired by the ideas and challenges of others.”  It certainly has.

Shortly after writing my blog entry, the site, “dayzeroproject.com” went down.  As it turns out, traffic to the site had become too heavy for their server to handle.  (Note:  It is highly unlikely that those two things – my blog entry and traffic to the site – are related in any way!)  The creator of the site posted an entry on Facebook that was reassuring to those who have availed themselves of the site’s motivational format.  He said: ”I am very dedicated to this project and have a lot of plans to make the site even better in 2011. I understand this has come at a terrible time as many people are working on their goals for the New Year, but keep writing your lists and you will be able to post them online when the site returns.”  People seemed delighted and relieved to hear this news.  Fortunately, some of the site’s participants printed out copies of their lists so they can still keep crossing off their “goals achieved” while waiting to make these entries official on the site.

It is exciting to know that so many people have immersed themselves in goal-setting – from grandiose travel dreams to nice “walk in the rain” dreams.  However, the Day Zero Project is not the only site out there.

Another one of my favorites is “Couch to 5K,” or, C25K.com.  This site has a program to take you from couch potato to a 5K runner (jogger?) in 9 weeks.  When I went to this site’s page on Facebook, I was surprised to discover how many of my “friends” have been participating.  Like the “Day Zero Project,” the goals contained within this plan are little increments – so subtle that your success almost sneaks up on you!

And this is, after all, the way goal-setting works.  Sure, you can courageously state that you are going to get rid of all of your unhealthy habits in 2011.  ABC’s “Good Morning America” has an ambitious list on their site, http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/healthy-years-resolutions/ or, “Five Health Goals for 2011 and How to Meet Them.”  These goals are:  1.   Lose weight;  2.  Eat better;  3.  Quit smoking;  4.  Exercise;  and 5.  Take preventive measures.  Whew!  These are wonderful goals, but are they too lofty, or are there too many? These 5 goals can actually be broken down, or coupled with others on the list.  For instance, if losing weight is a goal, then that can be coupled with exercise and eating better.  And, before you begin any weight loss regimen, you should get a checkup from a physician (i.e. #5 on the list, “Take preventive measure,” or know your numbers).  By coupling these items, once again, the success of reaching your goals will be incremental.

A new year is just that – a time for renewal.  It is an opportunity for a fresh start, the proverbial clean slate.  If none of the above sites appeal to you, search around.  There are many sites that are advocates for you to help you achieve your goals, and in the process, your dreams.