How to reach your careers goals in 2021

People who go to the gym several days each week typically dread the start of a new year. The wait times for exercise machines increase dramatically and the locker rooms are suddenly packed with people.

Fortunately, for the regular gym-goers, the crowds tend to disappear by late-February. The surge is thanks to the flood of people making resolutions to finally get in shape or get healthy. Most of those people likely make the promise to themselves that they’ll go to the gym each day. Yet, the novelty wears off after a couple of weeks and life somehow gets in the way. What’s unfortunate is that getting healthy and getting in shape are perfectly good goals. The issue tends to be the benchmarks people set and how they try to achieve those goals. The phenomenon is not exclusive to health and fitness resolutions, however.

Millions of people set goals related to their careers at the start of the year only to give up on them after a few months. We’ve talked a bit about goals in this newsletter over the past couple of years, but I think it’s important to talk about some best practices for setting and achieving goals as 2021 gets underway.

Set some big goals

Angela Duckworth, who is the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, told me several months ago that job seekers shouldn’t be afraid to set ambitious goals for themselves. These long-term goals give you something to work toward and also give meaning to your everyday tasks. For example, a person who wants to dig into finances as a forensic accountant may not like traditional bookkeeping.

Yet, learning the basics is an important step in becoming a specialist, meaning that it’s a stepping stone toward your ultimate goal. “When you have a purpose, it does somehow give meaning to the mundane,” said Duckworth, who is also a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the founder and CEO of Character Lab. The idea of setting long-term goals resonates with me because this is something I’ve done since high school. Yet, I learned that I need to work on smaller goals if I want to achieve those long-term objectives. Work on smaller goals

Once you have those long-term and “big picture” goals in mind, you can start looking at the steps you’ll need to take to get there. Those smaller goals will be what propels you along the path. The key is to be smart about setting those smaller goals. Doing so will increase the likelihood of success. You need to pick goals that are within your control. A person who sets a long-term goal of getting a new job may want to create a smaller goal of getting one job interview each week.

Unfortunately, job interviews aren’t within your control. Recruiters, hiring managers and a number of other factors affect the scheduling of interviews. Instead, a person who sets a long-term goal of getting a new job should look at other steps they can take toward that objective that doesn’t depend on other people. Since skills and networking are key to a successful job search, you may want to set a goal of spending a certain amount of time each week taking online courses or expanding your professional network. Those goals are within your control and sets you up for success.

Reevaluate your goals

You should take time to periodically evaluate your short- and long-term goals. Your needs will change as you work toward these goals. Also, you will learn more about yourself along the way. A person who wants to work in sales may find out that they don’t like a particular industry, for example. They may need to recalibrate or create new goals along the way.The key is to know that your goals will change and be kind to yourself when they do. Sometimes those changes are beyond your control — something we learned during the pandemic.

Apply your goals to your personal style

One of the reasons people often fail to reach their goals is that they try to override their ingrained habits. It’s important to learn how to harness your everyday behaviors to increase your odds of success. For example, a person who considers themselves a night owl may not want to work on their applications or online courses early in the morning. Instead, it may be best to save that work for the end of the day.

Similarly, some people may find it necessary to keep a journal about their goals while others may prefer a more informal system. Regardless of how you prefer to work on your goals, adapting them to your personal style and rhythm is one way to make your journey a bit easier.

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