It’s good to have goals for our lives and careers. Having targets to aim for gives us purpose and direction.
Well-formed, attainable goals enable us to realize our dreams and ambitions. They provide a marker for our success — or failure.
Aah yes, the f word. There’s nothing like not achieving a goal to make you feel like one of life’s losers.
You aimed to be CEO of a major company by this time. You aimed to be married before you were 30. You planned to be a particular weight by the summer. And so on. Sometimes the very things which make goals achievable, such as specific, measurable outcomes and definite time-frames, are the aspects which can reinforce a sense of failure if you don’t achieve your target.
Don’t throw away the roadmap of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bonded), but you could try other ways of looking at what you hope to achieve.
Make a Mood Board of your inner life
Start by breaking all the rules, and indulge in some fuzzy thinking. Don’t be scared.
Taking a broader, less defined look at what you would like is only another way of approaching the process of goal-setting.
We get most satisfaction from behaviour which meets our personal needs.
Get in touch with what energises you
Here’s a way to identify the ideas and concepts which interest and engage you.
Over a period of a week or so, look through magazines, newspapers, catalogues, brochures — any kind of printed material. Stop and mark or tear out any pictures or images which immediately appeal to you, the kind of thing that makes you pause and look twice. (Avoid personality and celeb stuff.)
Make a montage on something like a sheet of card. (You could do an online version of this exercise, but it is likely to be less random.)
What you have produced will tell you something about the kind of life you want and the kinds of goal you might pursue.
Identify what kind of personal life you want
Jot down or cut out words or phrases which describe the elements of the life you would like.
Focus on feelings and concepts which strike a chord with you.
Don’t be specific. For example, put ‘family’ rather than ‘having partner and kids’; ‘enjoying sport’ rather than ‘playing professionally’; ‘peace and quiet’ rather than ‘living in the country’. You might get a spark from the idea of travel, or from spending time with friends, or with interesting people. You might put ‘being involved’ or ‘feeling needed’ or ‘animals’ or ‘excitement’.
Identify what kind of working life you want
Now do the same with work. Note down or make a visual representation of the ideas which define the kind of working life you are aiming for.
Don’t write down job titles or descriptions. Instead, focus on what you are drawn to. The pictures and concepts you find appealing will reveal concepts with which you feel a connection.
You might want power, or authority, or responsibility. You might be drawn to pictures of working from or near home, or to images of travel. Maybe you want to feel challenged, or you may prefer to feel secure and control. You might like fun colleagues and a good work-based social life. You might want to work with stats and figures, or with children. You might like a fast-moving environment with deadlines. You might want to work by yourself. Social consciousness and responsibility may matter to you.
Ask yourself what needs to be in place for you to be able to live the vision you have created. For each of the major areas you have identified, decide:
- What can I do to achieve this?
- What can I do to maintain this?
Decide on a series of practical actions which will move you or keep you in your chosen direction.
When you have completed one action, replace it with another.
Make a mash-up
When life takes a different turn from the one you had anticipated, have another look at your Mood Board.
There are different ways of realising the picture you have created. For example, you might find alternative ways in which you could enjoy the experiences which are represented by ‘family’ life, if your original game plan isn’t going to work out. If a work need which matters to you is thwarted, you could find a way of satisfying it in your personal life.
Be aware of your changing interests
Sometimes we pursue goals which are no longer relevant to us. It’s a good idea to keep in touch with the way you and your way of life change and develop.
Go into a bookshop or library and cruise the shelves. Stop and look at any title that catches your interest. Go through fiction and non-fiction.You’ll probably find that your choices reflect what is going on in your life at the moment — but there may be some surprises as well.
If you make a point of doing this at regular intervals, you may realize that you are pausing at titles to do with nutrition, say, or criminology, or medicine, or local history, or how to manage people. You might notice that you are less interested in something which used to involve you. Use this awareness to add to and alter your Mood Board and the associated actions.
If you mistype ‘goal’, as I did a couple of times writing this, you can come up with ‘gaol’. OK, we usually use ‘jail’ these days, but it’s a nice little warning. Goals which are set too rigidly can become imprisoning. Keep the doors open.