Why set career goals?

Many people fail in life, not for lack of ability or brains or even courage, but simply because they have never organised their energies around a goal.

Elbert Hubbard - philosopher and writer

This article follows on from goal setting part 1 where I outlined the importance of goal setting as one of many career planning skills that can make all the difference to career satisfaction and career trajectory.

I intend to tackle just one of many methods that can be used for goal setting in my forthcoming article in the June 2017 The Sessional GP magazine, but first an important question…

Why do people not set goals?

I have alluded to this in the previous article but to expand upon this important question, so here is quite a long list of reasons of which people are possibly not even aware. They

  1. don’t know how
  2. don’t realise it is important
  3. think it’s not nice or selfish
  4. have had bad experiences of goal setting in the past
  5. have only ever had goals set FOR them
  6. are fearful they will fail
  7. worry too about succeeding
  8. think they shouldn’t want what they want
  9. don’t know what they want

These are all potentially significant barriers to goal setting, and in the context of a career guidance programme, all of these and more may need to be explored before a person starts to feel that they can goal-set and feel comfortable doing so. This supports my view that an assessment of goal setting skills in the context of career guidance is essential as, without this, the whole exercise can feel to both parties as if it paddling upstream without a paddle.

However the first and the last on that list are really worth dissecting right now.

But I don’t know what I want

If you don’t know what you want, it is really hard to set appropriate goals that will take you towards what you want. If your upbringing has inculcated numbers 3 and 8 on the list, no wonder it is hard to then suddenly expect yourself to come up with things you want.

Taking someone from a position of not knowing what they want to one of being clear about what they want could require years of psychotherapy, or a short intense career guidance programme to kickstart the process. However, goal setting is not always something that comes immediately naturally in people who have spent decades thinking they can’t or should not have what they want.

Having what you want does not of course mean riding roughshod over all around you; one needs to get along with family, friends and colleagues. However, if other people are attempting to influence, curtail or squash some of your desires, you may need to look at why they are doing that (hence the psychotherapeutic element).

Let's assume for now that you do know what you want. The next phase would be to visualise this clearly and to set some goals for the outcome. NB we are not at this point looking at the method or the planning, merely at what the goal might be; something that you feel you would like to have and work towards. It needs therefore to be motivating and fun, challenging and realistic whilst also pushing you very slightly outside your comfort zone on some goals and might be well within your comfort zone on others.

This is where the self sabotage button often gets pressed - the “this dream will self destruct in five seconds”. If care is not taken, a little internal voice can pipe up: “You can’t!”; “That’s silly!”; “You won’t be able to !“; and similar. For some people, this is a huge limiting factor in attempting goal-setting, and at times is worthy of - yes, you guessed it - some therapy. Replacing (or even damping down) an internal highly critical voice with one that is empowering can be a crucial part of learning how to set goals.

Having decided on some things that you want, this is also where the unwary start sharing their dreams and wants and goals with others. Bad idea. It is far too early to share these in most cases. The exception might be if you have a particularly empowering relative or friend who can absolutely be guaranteed not to tell anyone else and not to pooh-pooh your embryonic thoughts, or they happen to share your goals).

I don’t know how to set goals

Once a person has waded through all the above pitfalls and issues, and has finally forged a list of things they would like to do or have or achieve over the next few months and years, it makes life easier to then use a goal setting framework of some sort.

As alluded to in the first article on this topic, there are a number of goal setting methodologies, and what works well for one person might not work well for another. So once goal setting has been identified as a skill worth working upon, it can be useful to get some help in defining which method works well for you.

One example of a goal setting process is the SMART system and you may well have heard of this.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time delineated

Goal setting part 3 - How to make the best use of the SMART system

Sonia Hutton-Taylor

Dr Sonia Hutton-Taylor is the founder of Medical Forum Career Management and the author of an ebook Easy career change - good career choice.

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