Chattanooga professional Amy Donahue is a self-described Type A overachiever who found herself approaching her 30th birthday with many life goals checked off her list and wondering what was next.
“There’s a lot more that’s going to happen, [and] of course, I have professional goals,” the River City Co. communication specialist said. “But what else is there officially on my list? I wanted to create this challenge to do a full year of goals to push myself and, as corny as it sounds, stretch my wings [with] goals I was defining for myself. I really wanted to challenge myself.”
She set out to accomplish 30 goals before her 30th birthday and documented the process in a blog, which serves two purposes: It is a record of her journey and it makes her goals public, which kept her more accountable, she said.
Her 30th birthday was Sept. 18, 2016.
Although a death in the family forced her to leave two items unchecked before the deadline, she ultimately completed the other items on the list.
And, last week, she took all the lessons she learned from her experience and taught a class at The Chattery about setting and achieving goals.
Donahue’s list—which you can see here in its entirety—included challenging and scary activities, such as running a half-marathon as a person who still doesn’t consider herself a runner (even though she completed the goal).
“It scared me to think about running 13.1 miles, but I wanted to do things that scared me,” she said.
Another anxiety-inducing pursuit was to perform in front of a crowd. She’d been a singer growing up, but in college, other priorities took over. As years passed, Donahue psyched herself out about the idea of singing in a serious setting, as opposed to a karaoke performance, she said.
Some of the goals took months of work, such as hiking 100 miles. Others were faster and fun, such as drinking Dom Pérignon champagne.
Some of her projects overlapped.
While in Iceland, she worked on the task of taking better photos, with the ultimate goal of getting “one really awesome picture.”
In Napa Valley, she checked a hot air balloon ride off her list.
Her mission meant that she’d have to fail sometimes.
She charged herself with holding a plank for five minutes, and that effort demanded multiple attempts.
“It took a lot of determination to stick with it,” she said. “It’s hard. It doesn’t matter what shape you’re in. A plank is a very effective move because it’s very challenging.”
Once, she made it about four minutes and 30 seconds before she just couldn’t do it anymore.
“There was a lot of failure on that one,” she said.
How she did it
Once she had her list, she created a calendar for the year on a blank sheet of paper and outlined what she wanted to do and when.
For a busy professional, fitting everything in might have been the biggest challenge, she said.
She encourages people to double up on goals when it works. For example, shooting photos in Iceland ended up being the path to getting her best picture.
But other situations required planning and focus on only one thing at a time. When she trained for the half-marathon using Hal Higdon’s plan, she wasn’t able to hike, too.
“Hal has got you covered every day, and hiking isn’t part of it,” she said.
Although Donahue mapped everything out, it’s inevitable that life will bring unexpected experiences.
A death in the family required her to cancel her initial trip to Napa Valley, which is where she was going to do the hot air balloon ride.
“I had to make the decision—’Is it more important to finish the list, or is it more important to get it done before my birthday?'” she said. “For me, it was more important to finish the list.”
What she learned
—Small victories are important. Adding challenges that could be completed in a day or short amount of time gave her a confidence boost.
—A support system is a must. Donahue’s husband was involved in almost everything she did.
“If you don’t have a spouse or significant other that’s on board, you’re going to have to look for a support system somewhere else,” she said.
She suggested finding groups of like-minded people or looking to family and friends for accountability and support.
—Use the tools at your disposal. Donahue learned to code a website using the Treehouse program that she gained access to for free through The Public Library.
The library also came in handy when she researched her genealogy.
When she learned to knit, YouTube became her best friend, she said.
—Be specific. Some people don’t keep up with their New Year’s resolutions because they aren’t specific enough, she said.
—Create goals that are realistic and enjoyable.
Making a list of 30 things you want to accomplish but absolutely hate probably won’t be fun or achieved, she said.
—Handle the curveballs.
“At some point in the process, life is going to throw you a curveball,” she said. “My advice is [to] stand at the plate, take the curveball and reset.”