‘The thing about goals is that living without them is a lot more fun, in the short run. It seems to me, though, that the people who get things done, who lead, who grow and who make an impact – those people have goals,’ says US author and entrepreneur Seth Godin. So while it may seem easier to drift along without goals, South African motivational speaker Andrew Horton warns that you could lose control over your life. He likens this to becoming ‘a paper cup that blows around in the car park at the shopping centre’.
The start of a new year is the perfect time for goal-setting, to begin driving your life and your career in the right direction, instead of floating aimlessly in the wind like that paper cup. And try not to be put off by the high failure rate of New Year’s resolutions (a 2014 university study found that only 77% of people stuck to their resolutions in the first week, dropping to a mere 46% after six months). As long as you follow a few guidelines, you’re highly likely to beat these odds and successfully meet your goals.
The big picture
‘You are the CEO of your career and you should manage it just like a business,’ says Briony Liber, a personal coach in Joburg who is developing online course material for self-paced learning, to help her clients build more purposeful, intentional careers.
‘Start 2020 with getting a sense of what your big-picture goals are for the year, or even the next few years,’ she advises.
But, before looking ahead, you should look back to understand exactly where you stand in your career. Take time to reflect on your professional performance over the past 12 months (What did you achieve? Where did you fall short? What should be changed or improved?). Also take your personal development and your values into account to check that these are still in sync with your career (and vice versa).
Then focus on the big-picture goals. Liber suggests asking yourself two key questions: Is this going to be a year for consolidating and building on what you did last year? Or are you looking to make a transition or changes in your career?
Break your goals down into smaller, less intimidating chunks. If your big-picture goal is to build on your career foundation, Liber suggests focusing on personal development goals that build your skills and competence to support the broader vision. This isn’t necessarily centered around technical development, but rather personal skills that relate to negotiating, networking, leadership and self-care, for example.
Also look at how committing to small habits can help drive goals. For example, if you move into a more senior position, you could get up half an hour earlier every day and use that time to build your knowledge of the new job. Or you might consider scheduling a weekly conversation with colleagues, to expand networks that support your new role.
When it comes to articulating your goals, try to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound). This popular theory adds focus and structure to your action plan.
For starters, be as specific as possible about what you want to achieve: Rather than saying ‘I want a better job’, identify exactly what type of position you are striving for and where you’d like that to be (Do you want a promotion? To change company? To open your own business?)
Your goals should be measurable: If your goal is a job at a new company, you could measure your progress by the number of applications you send off and interviews you’ve completed. To keep your goals achievable, you need to know your market value and be realistic about your credentials, skills and experience. And in order to be relevant, all your smaller goals should contribute towards your big-picture goal. By having time-bound goals, you know exactly when to expect success – or when to change your course of action.
Experts advise that you write your goals down and be positive (express what you want to achieve, not what you don’t want). Build your goals according to your own core values and passion, rather than other people’s expectations. Ultimately, the process of goal-setting in itself can be beneficial to your career. As those in the know say, ‘a goal properly set is halfway reached’.