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Tips for Career Success – 19: Set Goals and Self-Review

Set goals

This is the second installment in a series I’m writing about career success.  Each month I am counting down my 20 tips for career success. This post covers Tip 19: Set Goals and Self-Review.  Please check back each month for additional tips and remember to leave your thoughts on each tip as a comment below. 

Why do we set goals?  A life without goals is a lot of things.  For one thing, it is safe.  You will never disappoint yourself if you do not have goals that you are striving toward.  It is also easy.  If you are not working toward something, chances are good that your free time is filled with less meaningful activities like binge watching series after series on Netflix and drinking yourself into a stupor every night.  Finally, a life without goals is meaningless.  Please do not take this as criticism or judgement; this is as much self-reflection as it is anything.  I am not saying that anyone in particular’s life is meaningless, but if you do not know what you want to do, who you want to be, and how you want to live your life, how can you derive meaning from your life?  Without goals, we have nothing to reflect on and therefore nothing to work toward.  It is through the combination of first setting goals and then evaluating ourselves against them that we can grow and improve as individuals.  Therefore, this month’s tip will focus on how we go about setting goals as they relate to our lives, our work, our families, our hobbies, and any other area that you want to see your lives improve.  We will also look at how to self-review to determine how successful we have been at reaching and achieving our goals.  By setting goals and reviewing your success against each goal, you will have better success in life.  Now, here are my thoughts on how to do these two things well. 

Set Goals

When you set goals, there are a few things that I think you need to consider: achievability, life fit, goal of the goal, scope, and impact.  I will attempt to address each of these areas of consideration here.

Achievability

The best advice I can give in this arena is to set goals that are relevant to you and to make them achievable but challenging.  It can be very disheartening to have a list of goals and never see any of them accomplished.  Conversely, you do not want to make your goals too easy to achieve, or you will be cheating yourself into a false sense of accomplishment.  A goal should be hard to accomplish, but something that you know you can do.  If a goal is too easy, then it will be less likely to change you when you accomplish it.  If a goal is too difficult, then you are more likely to not accomplish it and become discouraged in the process.  Only you know your limitations.  So, set goals that you can achieve, but that will test you in the process of achieving them.

Life Fit

As I mentioned in last month’s article, my mom has always told me that I could be anything that I want to be.  A couple of years ago I thought, “maybe I want to be in politics… maybe I even want to become the President of the United States one day.”  The reality is that with the right training and life changes, I could probably get into politics and maybe even into upper-level politics.  If I work hard enough, I really do think I can accomplish anything.  However, the goal to become the President of the United States did not exactly align with the rest of my life.  It would have required more effort and commitment than I had available to give.  Moreover, I was not willing to give up the things I would have to give up to put in that level of effort.  So, ultimately, that goal was never going to fit within the rest of my life.  The goal was fine, but the impact to the rest of my life made the goal not worth pursuing.  However, if I had instead decided to be in politics in general, I could easily work my way into local politics while still continuing with the rest of my life.  I could try to get on a local school board or our village council.  If I felt so inclined, I could aspire to become mayor of the small village where I live.  By taking this approach, I am still able to accomplish what was at the root of my goal (getting into public service), but without sacrificing other areas of my life.  In a similar way, you should test your goals against the rest of your life.  If you want to become an ultra-marathon runner, but you realize that it will take hours of training every day that you do not have to give, maybe consider starting with something smaller and running a 10K.  If you think your goal is to change careers, but you do not have the bandwidth in life to learn a new skill, maybe you should consider something more achievable.  Ultimately, any goal that you set has to fit within the rest of your life, or you will fail to accomplish it. 

Goal of the Goal

You should know what the end goal of your goals are.  This is probably better described as “Purpose of the Goal”, but I couldn’t resist the irony of setting a goal for a goal.  Essentially, you need to take the time to reflect on what you hope to accomplish with each of your goals.  Do you want to increase your skills, make yourself more valuable in the marketplace, be healthier, live longer, enjoy life more?  These are great things to pursue.  However, it is important that you pursue them openly and are honest with yourself.

A few years ago, I set a goal of writing a book.  I considered all the topics I may be able to write on, and to be honest, this article series began as the basis for a book I was hoping to write.  At the time, I decided that I would write a book on IBM Business Intelligence.  I set smaller scope goals like finding a publisher, setting aside time each week to write, and completing certain chapters within set time frames.  I made sure that I had the bandwidth in my life to spend writing, I aligned technical editors to review my work, and I even got one of the product managers at IBM to write the forward for the book.  The one thing I failed to do was ask myself, “why?”  Why was I writing this book?  What was my real goal in writing this book?  How did writing this book relate to my larger goals?  If anyone out there is considering writing a technical book, I have some advice: don’t.  After a few months, I found myself rewriting chapter after chapter as the technology I was writing about kept changing with new releases of the software.  I grew tired of trying to keep up with the changes and quickly fell behind.  What started as a three month goal, turned into a year of writing and rewriting.  There were multiple times that I considered giving up.  In looking back, I think the reason why I wasn’t as motivated as I should have been was because I had failed to ask myself honestly why I was writing the book.  If I had, I would have come to the conclusion that I came to shortly after finishing the book: vanity.  To be completely honest, I was writing the book so I could tell people I had written a book.  I did not particularly enjoy writing.  As much as I knew a lot about the topic, I never loved trying to explain it to people.  I was writing a book that took up my spare time for almost a complete year purely for the ability to say I did.  Had I taken the time upfront to examine my motives, or the goal of the goal, I possibly could have avoided what was eventually a less-than-enjoyable experience and spent my time that year accomplishing goals that were more meaningful to me.

What does all this mean for you?  Question your goals.  Make sure that you are investing your time and energy into goals that align with who you want to be and what you want to accomplish.  Understand the goal behind the goal before you commit to pursuing it.  If you do these things, you will find that you not only will accomplish more of your goals, but you will enjoy the process of accomplishing them immensely more.

Scope

Your goal should have a fixed scope to it.  This could be as simple as setting a timeline for your goal.  Another useful area that I see scope being used is in defining a smaller piece of a larger goal.  For instance, I have had the goal for a number of years now to get better at speaking and understanding Spanish.  While that is a great goal to have, and one that I know I will continue to strive toward, it is in all reality too large of a scope for a goal.  Alternatively, I could set goals of learning enough Spanish to communicate in a business setting, or practicing Spanish at least an hour per week.  The end result will still be the same, but I have narrowed the scope to make the goal more manageable.

In a similar way, think about your goals and how you can narrow the scope to help them be easier to accomplish.  Is your goal to get in shape?  Consider making a few sub-goals of going to the gym three days per week, only eating desert twice a week, and walking at least 10,000 steps per day.  Alternatively, set a timeline for your goal: go to the gym 4 times next week.  These sub-goals are narrower in focus, but they ultimately will help you get to the larger goal of getting in shape.

Impact

How will achieving or not achieving this goal impact your life?  What about the lives of those around?  Try to focus on the goals that have the largest impact.  Think of it like a project you may be on at work.  When considering tasks for any project, a good project manager is likely to consider two (maybe three) things: level of effort, impact, and maybe risk.  The reason project managers approach tasks like this is so they can get the most bang for their buck.  In a similar way, you should consider what the impact of accomplishing a goal is and weigh that against the level of effort needed to accomplish it (and maybe the risk of not accomplishing it).

A perfect example of this is the one goal that statistically more people have each year than any other goal: getting in shape.  If we step back and look at the impact of doing so, we may find a lot of impact areas that directly relate to some of our other goals.  Using myself as an example, here is how I would look at this:

Impact – I would likely feel better about myself, which would improve my overall mood.  I would have more energy, and with three young boys at home, that would allow me to accomplish another goal of spending more time playing with my kids.  My overall health would improve.  I would reduce the risk of certain diseases.  The impact would be whole-life encompassing.

Level of Effort – I will need to commit time to going to the gym.  I will also need to make healthier food choices or go out of my way to find healthier food options at restaurants.  I may not be able to go to some restaurants, which could impact my social time during work and with friends.  The overall level of effort for this is considerably high, but when weighed against the impact and risk, well worth it.

Risks – If I do not take time to get in better shape or stay in relatively decent shape, it will impact my overall health.  This could mean a number of scary issues in the future like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.  Ultimately, it could mean an early death.  Since one of my primary goals is to live a long and happy life with my family, this risk stands directly against that goal.

In reviewing the impact of a goal in this way, it helps me to not only determine if the goal is worth having but also to prioritize the goal as it relates to other goals.

Self-Review

The second part of this tip is to self-review.  So many people are good at the first piece of this (at minimum yearly when the New Year’s resolutions come around); however, they fail to ever look at how they are doing.  I read a couple of years ago in a health magazine that the number one indicator of whether or not someone is going to accomplish their weight goals has nothing to do with everyone’s first two guesses: diet and exercise.  The number one indicator is if people look at themselves in the mirror and flex their muscles every day.  Having worked out on and off throughout the years, this makes a ton of sense to me.  When I am not working out, I never want to look at myself in the mirror.  Why?  Because I know I will not like what I see, and I am not ready to do anything about it.  On the other hand, when I am working out consistently, I am flexing in the mirror pretty much every day (don’t judge me, you know you do it too).  I want to see where I am improving and where I can further improve.  The same holds true with goal-setting.

If you have a goal that you are currently working toward, or maybe one that you set back at the New Year, take a moment to reflect on that goal.  How close are you to accomplishing it?  Have you progressed in a way that you would have hoped?  Does this goal still fit within your life or feel achievable?  Does the goal need to be refined?

Remember, refining a goal does not mean it was a failed goal.  It simply means that the goal was either set incorrectly, or something has changed to make the goal need to change as well.  Consider many life-altering changes that could impact your goals and how crazy it would be to not change those goals afterward.  For instance, I had a goal when I started Cahoots Brewing to be in 20 bars in the Chicago area by the end of the first month via self-distribution.  However, shortly after beginning the process with our first beer, our first son was born.  I had to step back, reflect on the goal, and make a change.  I decided that if I really wanted to be in 20 bars, I would have to give up on the dream of self-distributing: I simply did not have the bandwidth any longer.  I was able to sign with a distributor, and the end result was better than the original goal (I think we were in 30 bars that first month).  It was only by refining the goal that I was able to accomplish it.  You may find yourself in a similar situation, and it is important to know that it is far better to adjust a goal than to miss it entirely or give up on it.

When we take the time to make goals, it is incredibly important that we also take the time to review how we are progressing toward those goals and further refine the goals that we have set for ourselves.  It is only through this type of constant cycle where we set goals and review them that we can hope to see those goals come to completion.

 

ACTION STEP

Write down one of your big goals and take time to break it down into multiple, smaller scope goals.  Make sure that the goals are achievable and fit into your life.  Consider the reason you have set these goals and ensure your reasoning aligns with who you want to be and what you want to accomplish in life.  Envision how you can accomplish these goals in the short-term and how accomplishing them will impact your life.  Plan to revisit these goals and refine them monthly until they are accomplished.  Now, go out and achieve your goals!

Conclusion

I hope you found this article useful and hope you can set goals and commit to self-review in  your own career.  I would love your feedback on this series and this article in the comments below.  Please check in next month for Tip 18: Dress to Impress.  You can get more career, and analytics content on our blog and e-newsletter.  If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to the PMsquare Journal for more technical articles and updates delivered directly to your inbox.

 

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One thought on “Tips for Career Success – 19: Set Goals and Self-Review”

  1. Great article, Dustin. I particularly enjoyed the section, “Goal of the goal”, because this is something I have struggled with for a long time. I get an idea in my head of something I want to accomplish and then tackle it immediately. I never really put much thought into the “goal of the goal” in the beginning, so it’s easy to give up after a period of time because I will eventually realize that there really isn’t much value to what I’m trying to accomplish, or I just don’t have that much interest in it after all.

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