We set a high value on goal-setting in our lives today. And for good reason. Technology, ease of travel and an entrepreneurial mind-set have made a more flexible, empowered work life more within reach than ever before.
But that’s only if you’re skilled at materialising goals and sticking to personal targets.
Problem is, most of us will achieve only a handful of the milestones we visualise, especially when it comes to our careers, and, most of the time, we aren’t even aware we’re doing it.
That’s why it’s important to check in, be honest and take some time to examine what are the factors that are sabotaging our goal-setting success professionally.
Here are eight ways you’re working against yourself in this area.
1. Dreaming big without factoring in context
It’s hard to tune out the endless ‘triumphs’ and ‘personal bests’ of other people on Facebook and Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
After all, we live in the era of: Think big… Let the universe handle the details… Just do it… Live with passion… Aim for the stars… Follow your dreams…
Well, okay. Nothing wrong with enthusiasm, drive and ambition and a willingness to try new things and stretch yourself. But very often, people with big goals, who aren’t able to break them down into smaller, more realistic, achievable steps, are simply using their off-the-charts targets for justifying why they remain stuck, dissatisfied with or avoiding what they actually have to tackle first.
Don’t set yourself goals that are so big you haven’t a clue how to begin the journey toward achieving them. Break down your goals into clear, actionable steps, so you can avoid overwhelm, burnout and disappointment. This is especially important in terms of your career-oriented goals, which often require a specific skill-set and professional network that has to be patiently acquired before success can be enjoyed.
2. Having too narrow a focus for your goal
Is it enough to break down a goal into smaller, more actionable steps? The short answer is no – because you ALSO have to ensure you’re taking into account the various aspects of your goal.
If your hope is to become an education-based entrepreneur developing e-courses for students to purchase and work through online, then drawing on your background as a Biology teacher is not going to be enough to guarantee you success in your business…
Why? Because there are several more aspects to your goal – in this case, succeeding as an online educator – than simply being an expert in your subject: you also need to factor in knowledge of writing e-learning video scripts, lighting, editing, marketing and sales.
So, wherever you’re struggling to materialise or achieve a goal, especially when it is connected to a professional target or milestone, make sure you’ve taken the time to address and factor in all its dimensions… and not just set out to accomplish it at only its superficial or surface level.
3. Over-optimism on the time needed to achieve the goal
Especially if you’re creative, freedom-loving and entrepreneurial, it’s very easy to get carried away by optimism and enthusiasm when it comes to career goals, and feel you’re only minutes away from hitting the career target you had set for yourself.
Let me just say here that I am all for personal responsibility, sticking to a timeline and keeping your key deadlines constantly in mind.
But just as in my first point, realism and adaptability are needed when it comes to how long it takes you to meet your goal.
If you plan on building an online shopping hub, understand that it will take time develop the platform technically, test it on target users and measure their willingness to take action.
If your professional aims are geared towards more traditional milestones, like promotion, remember you have to put in your dues both in terms of continuously sharpening your competences, taking on more responsibility and building professional respect from superiors and co-workers which doesn’t happen overnight.
The trick is being willing to stick to a professional goal-setting timeline that is both near enough to get you into action mode, but also distant enough so that you don’t leave out important steps, burn-out under the pressure or simply give up when you’re overwhelmed by the learning curve you need to master.
Here, it definitely helps having a dedicated mentor to work with you so you can identify and establish what a suitable timeline to materialise YOUR specific goals looks like for you.
4. Judging your failures instead of learning from them
It’s been said many times, and it’s worth saying again. Most of the world’s professional high-flyers have embraced their failures – and they’ve had many.
Where would the Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfreys, Elon Musks and Arianna Huffingtons of the world be, if they had let setbacks and dead-ends and misjudgements erode their ambition?
When you set yourself specific goals for progress in your work or profession, take stock of the times you’ve failed to materialise earlier targets, and keep the lessons learned without getting stuck in the past.
Here, mind-set is everything. Many of us are taught that being hard on ourselves builds character, grit and resilience.
But there’s a difference between taking responsibility and reframing your failures, and JUDGING yourself as stupid, or worthless or incompetent for the failure.
Goal-setting, you see, can be thought of as an art as well as a science.
In addition to breaking your targets down into clear steps, along a realistic and achievable timeline, you also need a supportive mind-set. And failing to appreciate and integrate the lessons learned via earlier failures, is a mind-set that will always undermine achieving your goals.
That’s also why sometimes our own resources need the support and guidance of a dedicated mentor, to keep you on-track and eliminate damaging self-evaluation along the way.
5. Setting yourself other people’s professional targets
This is a big one. And again, I see this in with my young professional mentees all the time: they’re depressed or stuck or being hard on themselves because they’ve failed to set themselves their OWN professional goals.
It’s an easy enough trap to fall into. We’re all watching each other’s lives unfold (or we THINK we are) on social media, and the Millennial generation in particular is having to navigate a landscape that is exploding with never-before-available opportunities to create products, teach, travel and build more professional expertise through online courses and internet networking.
Along the way, the conversation has been slanted to a number of ‘worthy’ professional goals that are talked about and discussed endlessly, depending on which influencers you happen to be following. For example, being an entrepreneur and owning your own business. Or pushing past the plateau of mid-level management to C-suite level glory.
But there is no point taking on goals suitable for the entrepreneurial path if you’re, at heart, happier in a more traditional employee set-up. And there’s no point in setting yourself a corporate career’s milestones, if you hate the idea of set work hours, dress codes and more conservative office culture.
Make sure the goals you are setting for your career are actually for a professional journey that YOU want to go on, and not anyone else’s. Doing otherwise is setting yourself up for potential failure, lost time and unnecessary regret.
6. Neglecting to track how close you really are to your goal
One of the biggest causes for burnout that I see when I work with young professionals is in their failure to check in and track their progress towards the career goals they say they want to achieve.
Often-times, blinded by the badge of honour of working hard and pushing past their limits, and a desire to challenge themselves and keep focused, they often miss the signs of how much they have already accomplished.
That’s why it is so important to build in clear steps and specific milestones that are smaller than overall goal, so that progress can be easily identified. And it’s even more important to develop a goal-setting mind-set that appreciates and checks in with how far they’ve come and still have to go.
This kind of check-in is vital to preserve stamina to get to the ultimate finishing line, celebrate the smaller wins along the way, and… if need be… adjust the milestones left to go.
7. Building lack or negativity into your targets
Did you know that how you frame your target or goal makes a huge impact on you, psychologically, in whether you are ultimately able to achieve it?
First, let’s consider a more goal that’s unrelated to the work place, such as: “I will eliminate clutter from my home”.
That goal already builds in the underlying idea that there is an unpleasant task requiring our self-discipline to put into action, while also being potentially boring, time-consuming and perhaps even stressful given the emotional attachments many of us have to items we store but no longer use.
Consider how much more attractive, and therefore more actionable, a goal it is to reframe the objective to: “I will create a spacious, inviting environment in my home”.
Similarly, if you set yourself a goal of “eliminating distraction while writing reports”, it creates the idea of an automatic obstacle to overcome as well as a lack of calm or serenity to face.
Reframing it to “achieving deeper focus while writing reports” is a positive shift that engages with you from a perspective of cultivating an desirable skill, as opposed to tuning out an unappealing environment.
8. Becoming overwhelmed from goal overload
Finally, there’s the factor of sheer goal overload – in other words, setting yourself way too many goals than you can hope to accomplish.
This is particularly true of professional goals, where the more ambitious and driven you are, the more likely you are to set yourself more targets than you can handle.
The items that appear on your goal-setting to-do list can quickly multiply, either (a) at the onset, when you are riding that wave of inspired excitement or the tsunami of adrenaline in the midst of crisis… or (b) along the way, when your goal is revealed to require many MORE related goals to be met than you had planned on, or, frankly, even have the time for.
Again, everyone is different regarding how much they can take on, but most will find it difficult to commit themselves successfully to more than three goals. Certainly over a six- or even 12-month timeline.
So, when you’re setting the milestones for your dream career, make sure you take on ONLY the top three goals in a hierarchy of priorities. This maximises your chances of success and rewards you for setting appropriate boundaries to direct your efforts.
To work with me one-on-one to take your professional and personal performance to new levels, please check out the LIMITLESS track of services at my website, www.leonidasalexandrou.com