Written by Jennifer Mackinday
We had a plan. There was always a plan during my brother’s recovery after suffering a Traumatic Brain Injury during combat operations in Iraq. We made appointments, scheduled testing, and kept a record of daily progress toward the physical improvements carefully set forth by our medical care team.
A plan for improvement is a must.  Our care plan, like most, focused on physical goals. Walking, talking, eating, and toileting – these are all common goals established in health care plans for patients who suffer severe TBI. If there is no plan, there is no direction on how to proceed. 

Jennifer’s family, from left: Son Grant, Brother James, Jennifer, and Jennifer’s husband, Rob 
Without a plan, there is often minimal progress. But we found ourselves, like many military families, without a care plan that included goals for improving my brother’s quality of life. There are so many stages of recovery that it can be easy to focus on short-term physical recovery and forget to plan for the crucial question your veteran will face:
“What do I do with my life now?”
The thing about plans is that if you don’t make them for yourself, then what real incentive is there to achieve them? After your veteran returns home, you have to make critical decisions and set achievable plans to maximize improvement and quality of life. Without a consistent plan to implement strategies for improvement, how can a recovering military family expect results?
American author Henry David Thoreau wrote, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”
James and Jennifer
Our family decided that the clear path to recovery must include goal setting, then the hard work. After nearly a decade of focusing on physical recovery, our family’s objectives had clearly changed. As my brother’s primary caregiver, I had become centered on his needs and support. Meanwhile, my husband and son excelled at self-sufficiency. For us, the first goal was clear. Each of us needed to set achievable individual goals, and our family needed a common goal of improved quality of life with a focus on family-centered activities.
To maximize the benefit of goal setting, our family got specific. We couldn’t just set a goal of improving our quality of life. We needed to be SMART. That’s a fancy mnemonic acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound goal setting. Spending the best part of my career in marketing, I had heard about SMART from numerous bosses, leadership seminars, and motivational speakers. But it wasn’t until NOT having goals in my life that I truly learned the reason for purposeful goal setting.
Improvement will only come if your plan involves conviction. You have to be dedicated to spending time working toward the goal and tracking your progress in order to succeed.  Self-accountability provides motivation to continue the effort!
So how are we doing achieving our goals as a family? Well, my brother enrolled in an equine therapy program that challenges his communication, problem-solving, and relationship skills. He’s focused on building confidence and strength through the development of patience and faithfulness–the center of equine activities. My son enlisted in the Marine Corps, and is learning that personal goal setting is a lot like mission planning in the military. My husband has rekindled his interest in all things landscaping, and is spending a lot more time outdoors, where he’s learned is the best place to realize how small your problems are.
James (L) and Grant (R) on the day Grant graduated from Boot Camp
For me, setting personal goals is tough. I’ve spent a huge part of my life taking care of others. When I read that statement, it’s perfectly clear that the best goal for me to set is one that only I can reach, that only I can control. As one of my favorite writers Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” My goals have to be attainable, and in the SMART way of doing things, they also have to be measurable, relevant and timely.
Therefore, I’ve decided to run the Marine Corps 10k in Washington D.C. on my birthday. In honor of all the service members and their families who’ve sacrificed so much for our dear country, and in salute to my own precious son who joined the Marine Corps, fully knowing the consequences. But I’m also running for me. Each one of the steps I take training for those 6.2 miles this October 25th reminds me that I can do anything. I achieve any goal that I set for myself as long as it’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
And I didn’t learn that from a former supervisor, or a motivational speaker, I learned that from my caregiving. Deep inside of me I have the strength that’s to be rivaled, and if I believe in my goals, I can accomplish anything.