Years ago, when I was still a passionate Corporate America rank-and-filer, I read a Harvard Business Review article about setting “Big, Hair, Audacious Goals,” called Bee-Hags (BHAGs). I’ve never forgotten it. While there are new millennium arguments that negate this approach, I still believe it works.
In 2005, while recuperating from an emergency surgery, I created a type of vision board. I wanted, for instance, to teach at a university. I wanted, of course, to be published. These were a couple of my BHAGs. I had no idea how I would achieve them, but they were always in the back of my mind. It took a while, but I had a conversation after a local university’s writing conference (which I attended because I wanted to hear the keynote speaker, Francine Prose, whose work I admire) with the conference organizer. I asked about the university’s new MFA program, because I wanted to teach in it. The organizer, however, thought I wanted to apply for it. I explained, I already had an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College. He said, “Oh, we’re always looking for people to teach Children’s Lit.” That conversation occurred in the spring of 2011. I was hired sight unseen to teach Children’s Lit that September for the spring 2012 semester. I still had a full-time job and taught at night. That segued into teaching creative writing during the afternoons and my boss allowed me time off to do that. Eventually, the desire to teach and pursue my own interests outweighed the desire to write legal copy, and so I left Corporate. One BHAG in the bag: teach at the university level. So far, I’ve taught Children’s Lit, Intro to Creative Writing, Advanced Creative Writing, Fiction Writing, Creative Nonfiction, Intro to Lit/Composition II, Business Writing, Book & Magazine Editing at this university. I served as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Nonfiction in 2015-2016, a full-time position. Last year, I started teaching at a community college closer to home as well, teaching English Composition I and II.
Another BHAG: Get a master’s in history. The university offered tuition waiver for adjuncts wanting to pursue a degree. I figured, I was there anyway, so I might as well go for it. I did, for free. The university waived tuition, and the fees were covered by educational credits I earned as an oral history intern at the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. In the spring of 2017, I began teaching in the history department and so far have taught The Holocaust and American Ethnic History. I may be teaching additional history courses this spring at two community colleges.
Yet another BHAG: Get a PhD. A local, top-tier state university told me two years ago I was too old to pursue a doctorate. This professor in the Judaic Studies department said, off the record naturally, that I had missed the boat, that my application would never be accepted because I was too old. They measured their program on the placement rate of their doctoral students in tenure-track positions and I would never get one of those positions. I didn’t apply there or anywhere, because I felt what she told me was true, and I knew age discrimination did exist (although illegal). This year, an email from Tablet advertised a new, online PhD program in Holocaust & Genocide Studies at Gratz College. I applied—and was accepted to start this summer. It was the right program at the right time.
Some of my BHAGs still seem unattainable. Like losing a gazillion pounds and lowering my A1C (I’m diabetic). And, book publication still eludes me, although I do now have a poetry chapbook and I’ve authored more than 25 books for young readers with educational publishers, and true, I’ve authored two picture books, one of which earned 2015 Honor Book for Older Readers recognition from the Sydney Taylor Book Awards. Still, I’m getting closer.
Still to come: Teach in an MFA program. There may be others I still need to ruminate on. But my question for you: What are your BHAGs? What is it, deep inside you, you really want to do/accomplish?