We love setting goals. They’re a crucial part of both professional and personal development. But here’s the catch: Have you really succeeded if you pursue and reach the wrong goal?
Often, as we move along in our careers, we find ourselves grasping for things that might not actually make us fulfilled or happy. While some may argue that there are no “wrong” or “bad” achievements, we’d counter that there are ones that may not be right for you. Think getting promoted to a management position—which means you’re not doing any of the design work that lights you up. Or being crowned the top salesperson of the quarter—when you really want to work in marketing.
So how do you make sure you’re working toward things that are important to you, not to your parents or your partner or your peers? While we can’t tell you exactly the right goals to set for yourself, we can share a few of our favorite strategies for narrowing down the options.
Consider What Excites You
It’s helpful to start by thinking about what you’ll be intrinsically motivated by—in other words, the things you know, deep down, you’ll be excited to pursue. That means all of the praise and accolades of your boss and colleagues won’t even matter; the achievement alone will be meaningful and exciting.
What kind of work lights you up and makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning—or what kind of work would, if you had the opportunity to do it? What abilities could you develop that might point you in the direction of your dreams?
Make a list of the skills you’re excited to learn, the habits you’ve been dying to develop, and the achievements you would love to humble-brag about on Facebook. This is not the time to consider what you should be going after—think instead about the career goals you’d be eager to pursue.
Consider What Challenges You
Of course, goals aren’t much worth pursuing if they’re not helping you grow. The value of setting a goal is that it will not only help you reach a specific destination, learn a new skill, or implement a new habit, it will also grow you as a person. So while it’s great to focus on targets that are exciting, it’s also worthwhile to pursue those that challenge you, too.
What are the things that seem just out of reach? In what areas are you still struggling or eager to learn more? What skills will help you advance in your career or progress in your company or industry?
Consider goals that are realistic and doable, of course, but maybe not for where you are right now. What will force you to learn new things as a person and as a professional? Set your sights there.
Consider the Journey
Often, when setting goals, we tend to focus on the end result and forget about the path it will take to get there. But as cheesy as it may sound, there’s value in the journey. While the end product may feel good, the real learning and growth and accomplishment can be found in everything it took to get there.
So as you’re setting new goals, think about what it will take to reach them. Will it be fun? Exciting? Challenging? Educational? Will you get to collaborate with people you admire? Experiment with new programs or processes? Learn something new? All of the above?
Make a list of goals that will provide you with a road that’s just as expansive as your destination.
Consider Your Vision
Ultimately, this shouldn’t be a haphazard process. Every goal you set (and reach!) should be leading you closer to your ultimate vision for your career. Of course, your vision will likely change over the years, and when it does the steps you need to take to get there may too. But they should always be aligned so that your hard work is getting closer to who and where you want to be.
Do you have a vision for your career? If not, spend some time taking inventory of what’s most important to you. What do you want out of work? In one year, two years, or five years, what do you want to be doing? If you’re struggling to come up with that list (which is more common than you’d think), start by thinking about the people in your life with careers you really admire, and what they all have in common. Then, no matter how fully formed your vision is, consider the small (or big) steps that can move you in that direction.
If you want to achieve your goals, start by picking the right ones in the first place. And remember, the “right” ones are simply the ones that are right for you! What ambitions can you set today to get you where you want to be in the future? Do they challenge you? Do they excite you? Are they part of your ultimate vision? With a little soul-searching, you’ll land on the perfect goals for you.
This piece was originally published by The Muse.
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