Knowing what you want to do in life isn’t always simple. It’s not uncommon to hear people well into their 40s or 50s saying that they never discovered what they wanted to be “when they grew up”. This isn’t that surprising. Pursuing a career in what you love, first begs the question: what do you love? But how do you harness those values and build a career based on them?

The first step is to take some time for self reflection; think about what you’re good at and what makes you happy. Once you’ve settled on a path, you could begin building the career you want by setting well-developed goals that will support you on your journey. One of the ways to create those goals is by delving into the personal and professional reasons behind your targets, and the strategies you need to achieve them.


Make it personal

A common issue with goal setting is trying to achieve unrealistic goals that don’t match up with your personal values. If your goals aren’t built around the things that make you happy, your core values and drivers, where is the incentive to keep pursuing them?

Many people don’t achieve their professional development aspirations because they take on goals that they feel they “should” do but ultimately they don’t feel a personal connection to them. So tune out the expectations of others and decide what you want in the long-and short-term, and then ask yourself why you want to achieve these things.


Start small

Once you know what you want to achieve, one way to move towards your goals is to start off small while still thinking big. For instance, if you were creating a marketing strategy for your business you wouldn’t just write down your desired end result, but rather a step-by-step outline of everything you wanted to gain and how you were going to accomplish it. Goals are no different. You can determine what your desired final outcomes will be, but planning out incremental steps forward is how you’ll reach them.


Write them down

Making your goals a visible, tangible thing can be incredibly beneficial – so write them down, and don’t be afraid to get creative by adding pictures, drawings or diagrams. It may sound a tad ‘high-school’ but for most people it works. A 2015 study revealed that when people wrote down their goals they were 33 per cent more successful in achieving them than those who only formulated the outcome in their heads.i


Make yourself accountable

Saying your goals out load can be intimidating, but sharing them with others will help keep you accountable. A smart way of doing this is by finding someone else you know who is also trying to achieve a set of goals, and putting systems in place to record your processes and celebrate your accomplishments with each other – even if it’s a simple fortnightly email. It might not seem that useful, but the positive reinforcement of achieving regular targets has been shown to keep people (and their goals) on track.i


Follow through

Once you’ve set your goals, take action. To make this process easier make sure that concrete actions, even if they’re small ones, are written into your goal plan. After you’ve done the hard work you can start to really see change; step by step, little by little. And once you start taking action you can begin celebrating the small wins, which will help keep you motivated to succeed.


Four key goal attributes to set you on the path for success

To ensure that you’re setting targets that align with your values and purpose, question and develop your goals using the HARD system as described by Mark Murphy in his book, Hard Goals: The Secret to Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.ii

H is for Heartfelt

Whether this goal is important to you, or for someone else, it still needs to be personally motivated. This will ensure that all your goals are relevant.

A is for Animated

Visualise what your career needs and where you want to be in the short- and long-term. This will provide you with a clear understanding of your end goal.

R is for Required

Think about the small things you can do to bring your larger goals one step closer to fruition. This will provide you with the measurable sub-goals that will keep you motivated.

D is for Difficult

Your targets need to be realistic, but also tough enough that you remain interested in pursuing them.

i ‘Research Summary’ by Dr. Gail Matthews, presented in May 2015 at t the Ninth Annual International Conference of the Psychology Research Unit of Athens Institute for Education and Research (ATINER).

ii ‘Hard Goals: The Secret to Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want To Be’ by Mark Murphy, 2010.

First published: 1 September 2018