Let’s face it. Career planning and goal-setting can be daunting. For many people, the unknown potential of the future (both good and bad) is a source of stress. However, taking the time to set goals and reflect on your objectives is a great way to focus your personal and professional aspirations; it helps you consider your priorities, identify upcoming challenges, and achieve specific targets.
Goal-setting also has important retrospective benefits. When you take time to identify your goals, you are more likely to recognize your own achievements. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s all too easy to breeze past a major accomplishment without taking time to reflect on a job well done. It’s important for successful, goal-oriented women (and men) to recognize their successes before getting swept up in the next challenge.
While the initial task may seem daunting, goal-setting is actually a great way to refocus in times of stress or anxiety. It’s important (and strangely nerve-racking) to think about what you want out of life. But once you do, you will be better-equipped to handle overwhelming professional and personal decisions. Do you have a new job opportunity? Are you facing a move? Struggling with a friendship? Revisit your goals to remind yourself of what is important to you and gain perspective on what you are looking for going forward.
So where do I start?
Don’t put too much pressure on the goal-setting process itself. Keep it relaxed. Grab a drink or a coffee or a little treat. Find a relaxing spot in a park or curl up in a cozy chair and jot down some things that you want to accomplish.
One tip before you start: try not to “we”. While it may feel awkward or even selfish to make a list of “I wants”, the focus of your goal-setting should be on what you want to do with your life. Do you want to work at a Fortune 500 company? Do you want to make a move to a new firm? Do you want to start a family? Write it down. Avoiding the term “we” does not mean that you can’t work towards those goals with a partner or friend, but if it’s important to you then write it down.
If you find working from a template easier, try this Goals and Planning Worksheet (PDF). I like to divide goal-setting into four categories: short-term goals, long-term goals, upcoming expenses, and priorities. You may choose not to distinguish between professional and personal goals. I prefer to keep everything in one place. Sometimes your professional goals will take priority, sometimes not. Sometimes your short-term goals will be mainly personal, other times they will be mainly professional. That’s just the ebb and flow of life. Don’t worry too much about it.
Short-term goals are a good place to start because they are easier to identify than their long-term counterparts. You’re probably already working on them. They might include things like completing a degree or accreditation, getting a job in your field of interest, securing a promotion, taking a summer trip, or finding a new apartment.
The best way to approach long-term goals is to think of things that you would like to accomplish without pigeonholing yourself by defining your goals too narrowly. For instance, if you love to travel, a good long-term goal might be “travel once per year”. This allows you to take a staycation in a nearby city one year and travel internationally the next. It gives you something to work towards, but allows room for changing interests, finances and relationships.
Think carefully about your professional long-term goals. Do you really want to make [insert salary figure here] or do you want to make enough money to be able to live a certain lifestyle (i.e. dining out, concerts, travel, clothes, etc.)? Both are great goals, but they’re different goals. Other long-term professional goals may include working in a certain field, working in a meaningful position, finding a mentor or sponsor, achieving a particular career distinction, or working abroad. Get creative and give yourself room to grow!
When I initially started goal-setting, I didn’t include this category. But managing your finances is an important part of planning for the future. Whether or not we like it, many goals require you to save a certain amount of money before you can take the next step. Therefore, it can be useful to account for any major upcoming expenses, so that you can financially plan accordingly.
Some of the things under this category will be related to your long-term or short-term goals. For instance, if you want to buy a house or make a career move that requires you to take a salary cut, you will need to adjust your finances. There may also be things that aren’t related to your goals, but require some thought nonetheless. For instance, you may be in a friend’s wedding or facing a rent increase. Keep these things in mind as you build your plans.
As part of your goal-setting process, it is often helpful to make a list of things that are important to you. While this may seem abstract at the time, it will prove helpful when you feel overwhelmed with a big personal or professional decision. Your priorities list may be something as simple as “Be happy”. If this is the case and you find yourself stuck in a relationship that makes you feel insecure or at a job that is making you miserable, then you know that it’s time for a change.
Other priorities may include family, academic achievement, friends, career success, travel, creativity, or giving back to your community. Whatever your priorities may be, write them down and look back to them for guidance when you are faced with tough decisions. And remember, like your goals, your priorities may change. That’s okay. Use career and goal-planning as a pencil sketch of what you want, and then go out and live life.
You’ll do great.
Author: Anastasia-Maria Hountalas
Anastasia-Maria Hountalas is an associate at Steinecke Maciura LeBlanc, where she advises and represents clients in all aspects of professional regulation. Prior to joining the firm, Anastasia-Maria summered and articled in the litigation department of a leading national law firm, with a focus on health law. Anastasia-Maria completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in History at McGill University and obtained her law degree from Queen’s University. During law school, Anastasia-Maria was actively involved in the Queen’s Law community, participating in the Prison Law Clinic and several study abroad programs. Anastasia-Maria Hountalas serves on the YWL Board of Directors as the Director of Marketing & Communications.