If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else. ~ Yogi Berra
If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. ~ Lewis Carroll
If you don’t know exactly where you’re going, how will you know when you get there? ~ Steve Maraboli
What all of these sage men seem to be saying is that without a strategic roadmap in the form of well-established goals, you’re pretty much lost, disoriented, and wandering aimlessly along life’s backroads. Many people fall in and out of jobs and careers this way too, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Setting short- and long-term career goals helps you devise an achievable strategy for the trajectory of your career. The clarity of vision you gain lets you move forward from step to step with the momentum and confidence that come from knowing exactly what your next move is.
Why set goals?
Having clear, achievable career goals is a key element of job satisfaction. Not only are you as an employee likely to feel more fulfilled, but the successful completion of your goals makes you more likely to receive raises, promotions, be more productive, and be more likely to stay with the company than workers who don’t set goals, reports Business News Daily.
Business News Daily cites a 2017 survey conducted by Accountemps of more than 1,000 U.S. office workers aged 18 or older. According to the results, 93 percent of employees believe goal setting is important to their on-the-job performance.
Getting clear on your career objectives becomes even more important if you find yourself in an unfulfilling job. Sometimes that’s due to the “ending up someplace else” syndrome Yogi Berra warns of. Creating an alternative career path in this situation is the light at the end of the tunnel that can give you the motivation you need to pursue a more rewarding destiny.
Try these practical tips to navigate clearly on your career path.
Define your long-term goals
Just as if you were setting out on a cross-country road trip, envision your final destination first. This gives you the end goal that all the other steps will be moving you toward.
- Do you want to be a published author?
- Would you like to be CFO of a Fortune 500 company?
- Is marine life conservation the passion you want to dedicate your life to?
Dream big and dream deep. Once you have your ultimate career or job in mind, you can plot out the mile markers on the road that will take you there.
Create short-term goals
Now you’ll work backwards from your final outcome by making an action plan. List out the steps that will ultimately lead you to your end goal. When setting short-term goals:
- Make them small, specific, quantifiable, realistic, and time-bound goals. Attach a deadline to each goal to keep you on track and out of procrastination. Use the SMART method for goal setting.
- Prioritize these smaller goals so you can focus your attention wisely and avoid feeling overwhelmed by having too many goals.
- Break short-term goals into small, achievable tasks so that you get frequent opportunities to accomplish them, cross them off your list, and feel motivated to take on other goals.
Setting sharp, clearly defined goals lets you measure your progress and see the forward movement you’re making toward your ultimate vision in what might otherwise feel like a long, pointless slog. It’s a great way to boost your self-confidence and sense of empowerment.
Write down your goals
Sounds old school, but the physical act of writing down a goal is an effective practice for many reasons:
- Makes your goals real and tangible
- Forces you to be precise and clear
- Helps you remember them through visual reminders
- Allows you to hold yourself accountable for accomplishing them
Be sure you frame your goal statement positively, powerfully, and affirmatively. For example: instead of “I would like to get my RN someday soon,” write “I will earn my RN within two years.”
Post your goals in visible places to remind yourself every day of your intentions. Be sure to cross each goal off your list as you successfully achieve it so you get the satisfaction of knowing you are making progress toward that larger outcome.
Ask your manager for support
Don’t leave your job- or career-related goal progress discussion for your annual review. Accountemps found that only 26 percent of survey respondents met with their managers monthly to get performance feedback. Solicit your manager’s input more frequently so that any challenges you’re experiencing in meeting your goals can be addressed earlier.
“Managers can often remove obstacles, offer guidance and advice, or adjust goals so they’re more realistic and attainable,” said Accountemps executive director Michael Steinitz. He added that as an employee, you can “manage up” and help your boss help you by clearly outlining how your goals connect to the company’s mission.
Don’t have clarity on your long-term goal yet?
Not everyone knows at a young age exactly what they want to be when they grow up. Many people go through a few false starts before zeroing in on their vocation. The Balance Careers notes that for most people, “career focus won’t come as an epiphany from soul searching in isolation, but rather through active engagement with career resources and people in the work world.”
Berkeley Human Resources has a great guide to Developing a Career Vision Statement that includes visioning exercises to help get your creative juices flowing.
Think deeply about the questions, and answer each as authentically as you can:
- What would you want to do today if all your bills were paid and you had relatively unlimited cash reserves?
- What you would like your obituary to say about your career accomplishments and the types of impacts you left with the people you worked with?
- Who are the people you most admire? What is it about them or their careers that attract you to them? Is there something about what they have or do that you want for your career vision?
- Imagine yourself in the future at a point in which you have achieved great career success. What is it that you have accomplished? What does your life look like?
- Do you feel as though you have a gift or calling? How can you share this gift or best answer the call in a way that will fulfill you?
And finally — stick with it!
According to Mind Tools, the fifth golden rule of goal setting is remembering that it’s an ongoing activity, not just a means to an end. “Build in reminders to keep yourself on track and make regular time-slots available to review your goals. Your end destination may remain quite similar over the long term, but the action plan you set for yourself along the way can change significantly. Make sure the relevance, value, and necessity remain high.”