The Six Million Dollar Self-Improvement Report Card

The whole concept behind The Six Million Dollar Scholar is that I’m rebuilding myself, and in so doing becoming a better scholar and person. As a result I’ve written many a post about my adventures in healthy living, good habit formation, etc. It suddenly dawned on me tonight that I’ve never checked back in on any of the subjects I’ve tackled.

Below is my report card. Like the proverbial spaghetti thrown at the wall, some of the changes I blogged about stuck, and some didn’t. But—also like the proverbial spaghetti thrown at the wall—the process has been quite fun.

Maintain a daily journal

PASS. With the exception of one day—the day before I presented at the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association’s annual conference—I have not missed a day. Twenty three days of journaling might not be much, but it’s about twenty days better than I’ve ever done before, so my “diary hacks” seem to be working.

Meditate every day.

NO PASS. I didn’t stay “mad centered” for even a week. While I think Headspace is an interesting app, I honestly don’t think meditation (or at least meditation as described in everything I’ve ever read/seen/heard) is for me. The fact of the matter is, I spend a lot of time being quiet and letting my mind go where it wants to go already, so I don’t get a feeling a gratification from formal meditation that’s significant enough to keep me coming back. I still aspire to meditate, but I’m throwing it on the backburner for the time being to focus on maintaining the good habits I have been successful in cultivating.

Force fun on a regular basis.

INCOMPLETE. This one won’t make much sense unless you read my previous post, “Forced Fun is Still Fun.” I’ve sent off all but one measly square of my adoptive niece’s baby quilt to be crocheted, but since returning to California, I’ve not touched my knitting needles. This is not a good thing, but at the same time, I’m only just now beginning to feel truly settled in at home again. A lot’s happened recently: I got a new roommate, gave a presentation at a professional conference, became *completely* absorbed by the murder of Mike Brown, got a nasty cold, and have been dealing with some medical issues that—while not debilitating—are logistically, emotionally, and physically exhausting. So yeah, I haven’t had the energy for my hobbies recently, but that time’s been devoted to sleep, which I’ve needed badly. I’m still a big proponent of forced fun… and as soon as my life settles into a routine, I’m going to reincorporate it.

Open a credit union account.

NO PASS. This is why a report card’s so important. I totally forgot I’d committed to doing this, and it’s something I can do on campus, with very little hassle. There’s no excuse for not getting it done. Shame on me.

Figure out the “budgeting” thing

PROBATION. On the one hand, I did exactly what I said I would do. I downloaded Mint, and have started tracking my spending. I’ve discovered some trends that surprised me in the process, like, who knew I spent so much at Target? Just seeing my spending in pie chart form has encouraged moderation in some areas. I’ve been eating out rarely, if at all; this includes going to places like Peet’s and its pocket-draining siblings. I’m also NOT buying clothing under any circumstances. But of course, in other areas, I feel like my spending is out of control. My laptop needed fixing this week, I dropped over a grand to attend last week’s professional conference, my medical expenses have gone way up, and just yesterday I purchased two expensive pieces of furniture to help ameliorate the chronic pain I’m currently dealing with. So yes, I think I have a much clearer picture of my budget. Is that reflected by my account balances? No comment.

Pay off remaining credit card debt

NO PASS. See above, and then feel free to chuckle a bit.

Take a personal finance class

PASS. Sort of. I’m not enrolled in a class of any kind, but I’ve started listening to the Money Girl podcast recently, and I can now say I understand what a Roth IRA is, which charitable contributions are tax deductible, the importance of renter’s insurance, and how to save money planning a vacation. (Okay, I might have occasionally dozed off while listening—wow money can be boring—but I totally know where to get information when I need it.) I also reviewed my credit, and made decisions about student loans for the coming year. So I’ve been learning quite a bit, but in an open-air classroom, so to speak.

Lose weight.

PASS. I actually never wrote about this particular goal on SMDS, but reviewing my report card is a bit depressing, so I’m ending on a high note. I’ll probably write on this topic later… suffice it to say I’ve lost six pounds in under a month, and I’m really proud of myself.

So there you have it folks, a heaping serving of realness. This was actually a really good exercise for me, so I would encourage you to do the same, and share it with the rest of us! Accountability is a truly beautiful thing.


“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

She’s Back, and She’s Mad Centered!

Good morning from beautiful Southern California! It took close to nine hours of traveling, but I got home last night. I miss my mother and brother already, but I can’t say I miss Tampa weather in the slightest. Sleeping with my window open last night was a real pleasure.

My homecoming was awesome for three reasons: (1) I’d cleaned the holy hell out of my room before leaving, (2) in anticipation of a new roommate’s arrival, my apartment had been thoroughly cleaned and  painted, (3) said roommate doesn’t arrive for a few days yet, so I was able to come home to total silence, and (4) I discovered I’d frozen an amazing dinner for myself before leaving, and as a result ate healthier than I have in days, despite having a completely empty fridge.

This is all really good news, very little of which I imagine is especially interesting. I mention it though, because it feels like a groundwork has been laid—partially by me, and partially by cosmic forces beyond my comprehension—for success in one of my newest adventures in self-improvement:

I’m upping my mindfulness game.

I'm gonna get some alright!

I’m gonna get some alright!

This is a big deal for me, because meditation’s never really been my bag. When I was preparing for my PhD advancement exam—coincidentally the first and only time I can remember experiencing panic attacks over schoolwork—I picked up guided meditation out of sheer desperation. Honestly, though, after a few weeks, guided meditation just became another kind of background noise in my quest to fall asleep at night. Once I got through my exams, I was pretty well done with it.

Thing is, I’ve always wanted to be the type of person who meditates on the daily. The type of person for whom it’s not a means to an end, but an end in itself. I want to be freakin’ serene, already!

The Headspace App

The Headspace App

So I’m giving it another shot. I downloaded an app called Headspace, which offers a free ten day training in meditation. I’ve already messed up, in that I’ve not been using it every day, as it was designed… but whatever, I’m going to finish strong. In addition to ten minutes of guided meditation, the app has these nifty little animations each day that explain meditation in an accessible way. None of the topics discussed as yet have been new to me, but they feel new because they lack the crunchy granola flavor to which I’ve become so accustomed.

This being my first morning back on the West Coast, I’m starting my day heavy—perhaps too heavy—with intention. Today is the day I begin a real meditation practice. Today is the day I set the sleep schedule to which I will adhere for the entire academic year. Today is the day I establish a writing routine, as opposed to the haphazard scribbling that’s characterized this blog (and all my other writing) up to now. Oh, did I mention I started journaling last night?

So yeah, I’m overdoing it, and I know some of these grandiose plans will fall away by, say, tomorrow, but, being a stubborn person by nature, I find setting my intentions to be deeply important. Even if the implementation is a bit on the wonky side, if the desire to be more mindful is firmly affixed, something good is going to come of it. I might not become the next Deepak Chopra, but serenity, even serenity lite, will work.

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.