Goals are a powerful thing. They can be exhilarating and terrifying, all rolled into one. For many of us, the start of the year provides the annual catalyst for setting career goals. With a new decade combined, the stakes are even higher.
Please bear with me, because I’m not trying to scare you into action. In my opinion, the calendar is almost irrelevant. Whether it’s a new day, a new week, a new year, or a new century, I believe that if you set your mind on something and you take steps towards achieving it, you’re off to a great start.
But what happens if you’re confused about possible career goals? Or maybe you know what you want, but you don’t know how to get there? The way forward can be simpler than you might think. Here’s how I help my coaching clients tackle their goal-setting questions.
How do I choose a goal to pursue?
If you don’t know where to focus, now is a great time to reconnect with what really excites you.
Grab a piece of paper, sit in a quiet spot and spend 20 minutes writing down anything and everything you’d like to experience in your career. There’s no right or wrong with this. It’s totally fine to capture the big stuff, the little things, just throw it all down. Then put it away and look at it again 24 hours later.
When you look at your notes again, pick three things that immediately jump out. These are the things you’d like to start working towards right now. Then pick one you’d like to start with. Go with your gut. Write this goal down on its own piece of paper.
Then, start to think through what steps you need to take to make this goal happen. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer, just put down anything and everything that comes to mind. Next, you get to decide when and how you will take the first steps. Write those down, too.
Now you have a goal earmarked and the steps you can explore to get there.
Do your career goals include getting a raise in the coming year? Find out how much you could be earning. Take the PayScale Salary Survey and get a free salary report in minutes.
I’m not making enough progress on my goal, what do I do?
In a nutshell, keep going. When it comes to dealing with obstacles and challenges, mindset is everything. Remember, if you mess up, you can learn from it and start over.
If you need help staying on track with your goals, technology can help. There are a bunch of online resources and apps to choose from. Try a few until you find the best one for you. I can’t remember how I discovered the Strides app, but I love it. Strides allows you to track progress on your goals in a variety of ways. For example, you may have a goal you want to achieve by a certain date, or a habit you want to adopt, or a bigger goal that needs to be broken down into steps or phases. Each tracker has its own charts so you can review your progress.
If you already use Google’s Calendar, you can put that to work on your goals. The Google Calendar app helps you find the time you need to complete your goals. You get to choose how much time you want to spend on your chosen goal each week. Then, Google Calendar will automatically schedule time to work on it. If you end up having a conflict at that time, the session is automatically rescheduled.
If you prefer a real-life connection, explore working with an accountability partner. I know from firsthand experience that working side by side with someone else can make a world of difference. An accountability partner is someone you’ve identified to help you stay on track with your goal. Often, you will hold each other accountable to your respective goals. The best part is that it’s totally customizable — the two of you can decide how you want to make it work.
Tag-teaming with a real-life accountability partner is a great way to stay motivated, especially during the tough times. Right now, I’m writing a book and every week I meet with my accountability partner, Angela, who is doing the same. She lives on another continent, 5,376 miles away, so our meetings take place over the phone. The physical distance isn’t an issue. We set goals for the week and talk through the tough spots and celebrate our achievements along the way.
My goal feels so big that it’s scary, what should I do to get started?
The bottom line is this, goals will only become accomplishments if you act. The best way to do that is to just start. Don’t worry about what comes next, just take it one step at a time.
Writing things down can be a powerful exercise. Keeping a journal is a great way to track your progress as you work on your goals. I’m not very good at journaling every single day, and for that reason I love my Passion Planner. Created by Angelia Trinidad, the Passion Planner is designed to help you break down your short- and long-term goals and incorporate them into your daily life. It allows me to review my goals at monthly intervals and assess my accomplishments and learnings along the way.
Using visuals can also be a compelling way to keep yourself motivated — as the saying goes, “if you can see it, you can be it.” I use Pinterest to create vision boards filled with images related to what I’m working towards. I also use it to pin useful information I want to refer to along the way.
The most important thing is to find a way to enjoy the process. We’re often so focused on crossing the finishing line that when we finally achieve a goal, it’s great but it can also feel like a huge anti-climax. What I’ve learned from my own experiences is that it’s so much more rewarding if you can enjoy the journey.
Finally, I’m always inspired when I talk to people who have achieved something amazing. Here are some words of wisdom from three people who accomplished major goals in 2019.
How I wrote a music album with zero song-writing experience
In 2019, Arianna O’Dell released a seven-track album called Outsourced Feelings. Based in New York, she is the Founder of a digital design and marketing agency, Airlink Marketing, and Ideas by Arianna, a creative gift store. Prior to releasing her album, Arianna O’Dell knew nothing about songwriting.
“Outsourced Feelings is a seven-track album that I wrote with vocals provided by Julian Sherwood; music by Matt Welch; album art by François Matus, and with production and music by Nathaniel Wolkstein,” O’Dell explains.
“With little knowledge of instruments or music production, l never thought making music was accessible to me. After listening to a love ballad post-breakup, I wondered if I could take my own words and turn them into music in the same way. I then turned to the internet to see who could help me make my song ideas into a reality.”
O’Dell discovered she could collaborate with musicians on Fiverr, a freelance services website, to make her song ideas become a reality. That moment was pivotal. After she decided to make a music album, O’Dell outlined how many songs she wanted to create and what it would take to get there. To stay on track, she set aside time each day to work on the album, think of promotion ideas, and to perfecting each track with the artists she was working with.
“I had zero experience making music,” O’Dell says. “I learned that even if you are lacking a skill, it’s possible to enlist the help of others to help make your dreams a reality. By working with talented artists, I was able to create something that would not have been possible alone. This was one of the most fun creative projects I’ve ever worked on. It was such a gratifying moment to release an album.”
O’Dell completed Outsourced Feelings in October 2019 and it can be streamed on Apple Music, Amazon, Google Play and Spotify. The album is now represented by a music licensing agency, Kendell Entertainment, to identify opportunities to place the album’s tracks in movies, TV shows and commercials.
When it comes to advice for anyone who may be struggling with their goal, O’Dell recommends that you do something small everyday to keep going. “You don’t have to complete your goals in a day. By making small progress each day, you’re much more likely to stay on track.”
How I saved $100,000 by the age of 25
In 2019, Tori Dunlap achieved her goal of saving $100,000 by the age of 25. Based in Seattle, Dunlap is the Founder of Her First $100K, a platform that provides financial and career advice to women.
When she was 22, Dunlap read about a woman who had a net worth of $100,000 at 25. “When I crunched the numbers, I realized that I might be able to do one better, save $100,000 at 25 years old,” Dunlap explains. “It was a completely random, arbitrary milestone I set for myself, but I’m just that kind of person. I like challenges. I always told myself, as long as I hit my goal the day before I turn 26, it still counts.”
Dunlap rose to the challenge. She hit her milestone at the age of 25 years and 3 months and her accomplishment was broadcast to the nation on Good Morning America.
“When I originally set the goal, it was supposed to be a stretch goal, just to motivate me to save, negotiate, and invest,” Dunlap recalls. “But in the last year or so, when I realized I might be able to do it, I buckled down and created a plan to hit it. I learned that sometimes even big goals are achievable.”
When it comes to advice on tackling big goals, Dunlap recommends that you should be comfortable with being uncomfortable. This requires being ready to act, face the challenges and keep going.
“If you say you have a goal but don’t have a plan to get there, it won’t happen,” Dunlap advises. “If you say you have a goal but don’t check in on your progress, it won’t happen. If I said I was going to save $100K, or appear on national TV, or become a full-time entrepreneur, but then never did anything about it, I wouldn’t have achieved it! Figure out exactly what you want, and then work backward. Plan the exact steps you need to take to get there, even if it’s scary or intimidating.”
How I ran five marathons in one year
Karen Mohr is an award-winning Principal at Beryl Heights Elementary in Redondo Beach, California. In 2019 she ran five marathons in just one year.
In 2014, Karen Mohr was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It completely changed my life,” she recounts. “I took a perspective that every day is precious and to live life to the fullest.” Mohr went through cancer treatment and throughout the whole experience, she analyzed her health and her well-being.
“Before all of this I would run short distances,” Mohr says. “After I was told I was cancer-free I decided, since I loved to run, for every year I was cancer-free I would run that many marathons. That meant by 2019 I had the goal of running five marathons in one year.”
When she decided on her goal, Mohr started training with the L.A. LEGGERS, a running group in Santa Monica, California. She ran the Los Angeles marathon in her first year following her cancer treatment. She continued to train. In the second year, she ran two marathons. In the third year she ran three, then four, and then in 2019 she reached the goal of running five.
To achieve her goal, Mohr ran the Los Angeles marathon in March 2019. Next came the Orange County marathon in May. She ran the Seattle marathon in June and by the end of the summer she had three under her belt. Mohr applied to run the New York marathon on November 3, 2019 and was accepted, that was number four.
“My friend, Gloria, at LA LEGGERs knew my quest for the five,” Mohr explains. “Gloria suggested the Marine Corps Marathon and I said ‘oh, Marine Corps, okay, well let’s apply.’ Well, in that moment, I didn’t realize that Marine Corps marathon was one week before the New York marathon, but I did it.
“I had people say to me, ‘What? Are you crazy? You can’t run a marathon on a Sunday and the next Sunday run another marathon.’ I said, ‘Oh, yes, I can, watch me. I’m going to prove it because I’m going to do it.’ And I did.” Mohr flew to New York and the rest is history.
When it comes to achieving your goals, Mohr’s advice is to surround yourself with people who are positive. She has always set goals for herself as an educator and believes it’s important to know that it’s never too late to start.
“Nobody in this world is perfect, we’re going to make mistakes. If we acknowledge that, and we learn from it, that makes us a better person,” Mohr says. “It teaches us that if there are bad days, we can pick ourselves up the next day. For me, it’s all about mindset. I know that if I have a goal, it’s not going to fall in my lap. I must pursue it.”
Tell Us What You Think
What are your scariest career goals right now? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.
Octavia Goredema is a career coach and the founder of Twenty Ten Talent. Find her on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.