Do you believe in destiny? Some people sense from a young age what they were born to do, such as helping others (like nursing and teaching) and for others it might be making money (entrepreneurs), or a combination of both.
Many people have no idea where they want to go (or why) next year, never mind in five or ten years.
So why set goals? Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard professor and a business adviser to the CEO of Intel, has argued that the most useful learning anyone can do is to determine their life’s purpose. Then all subsequent goals are a means of living your life’s purpose. Your decisions about where you put your time, energy and talent will then shape your life’s strategy.
As Christensen says of his students, “if they don’t figure it out, they will just sail off without a rudder and get buffeted by the very rough seas of life. Clarity of purpose in life trumps activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, core competence.”
What do you think about that? Is this your fundamental starting point or something to put on the back burner for now? What you want from work, a job or career will change over the course of your life. Where are you right now? These are questions we all return to again and again as we shape our destinies.
The idea of deliberately setting a goal for which you strive is common practice in sport and the corporate world, although the word ‘goal’ can put people off if it’s seen as a bit of jargon. How you decide to reach your goal will vary considerably. Whether the goal is concrete, specific, hazy, generic, large or small will differ depending on your preferences and the nature of the goal itself. Ensuring you get up on time for tomorrow’s interview, prepping for it, or identifying your career direction and determining your life’s purpose, require differing forms of attention.
Some of us (like me) prefer to plan things out in great detail, with clear targets, deadlines and milestones. It is less stressful and I finish in good time. Others may set a rough goal and like to keep things open to allow unforeseen opportunities to emerge and be seized. They may change the route to their goal or the goal itself several times. Their creativity and energy can increase as the goal comes into view.
What do you prefer? Remember, opportunity and chance are important factors in finding the job or role you want, so closing down too early or not being flexible can be counter-productive. Changing jobs and directions is more common today than in the ‘job for life’ era. Set your goal too high and it can become self-defeating and de-motivating because it feels so out of reach. Set it too low and you can achieve success quite quickly, which is good for confidence and a way of tackling procrastination, but it may be limiting. It depends on what inspires you.
Beware becoming too fixated by ‘goals’ but, instead, see them as a series of guiding lights. I’ve attended award ceremonies at a university and a secondary school where exceptional sportsmen have made the presentations. They have used their speeches to show that anything is possible even without qualifications if you want it enough (climbing Everest, running six back-to-back marathons, etc).
It is easy to dismiss these examples as being out of the reach of the majority of people. As the cliché goes, you can’t win the lottery unless you buy a ticket. Even if you do, your chances are 14 million to one. But you could spend your pound on something else, so find a goal that suits your aspirations and values.
It is not always easy to identify our real challenges and goals. Canadian entrepreneur and Executive Coach, Andrea J Lee, suggests that you surround yourself with people who have big visions – “You become most like the five people you spend the most time with. Choose wisely”. Talk to people about what you want to be and do. You will suddenly find yourself more accountable subconsciously because you don’t want to let them or yourself down. It will give you the impetus to take action.
A way in which you can positively frame your goal is to take leadership guru Stephen Covey’s advice and “begin with the end in mind”. Focus on a positive outcome by artificially removing any barriers to achieving it. There is a psychological trick you can play with yourself that involves imagining achievements or success that helps neutralise negative thinking. It’s a bit like rehearsing what you want. There are no problems to hold you back (lack of self-belief, the naysayers around you) because you have ‘achieved’ your goal. It helps to free your mind of that negative parrot on your shoulder whispering why you can’t.
About the Author: David Shindler is the author of “Learning to Leap, a Guide to Being More Employable”. An experienced coach and people development expert, David specialises in developing and accelerating employability. He also runs the Employability Hub (a social learning community and resource centre), the Learning to Leap group on LinkedIn and Facebook fan page. Tweet him @David_Shindler or contact him via his website.