Goal Setting for the Future


Since New Year’s Day is often a day for making resolutions about what people will do to make themselves better, today seemed a good day to write about this topic.

We always have crazy dreams as kids–I want to be an astronaut, I want to be president, etc.–but eventually adult reality creeps up on us and we come to do that which most suits us. Some of us get lucky enough to get paid for what we love to do. I happen to enjoy writing about space, science, and technology. However, I have many friends who are well into their 30s or beyond and still don’t know “what they want to do when they grow up.”

This blog is for those in search of career guidance but for some reason don’t want to read up about it or see a career counselor. I hasten to add that I am NOT a career counselor (nor have I stayed at some hotel that makes you feel like a genius for staying there). However, in my 20s I started reading a lot of books about career planning because I was struggling at Disney. I had reached a point where I felt that I had gone as far as I could with my English Lit. degree at Disney without getting into management, which I knew I didn’t want. The books follow a similar pattern:

  • List your current skills–ALL of them–whether they be work-related, domestic, or other.
  • List your current interests.
  • Take inventory of who you are as a person. Yes, it is possible to go overboard with “personality tests” or career assessments, but if you are honest with yourself about who you are and what motivates you, some lines of work will automatically suggest themselves while others drop off the list completely.
  • List your primary motivators for working or for changing your current circumstances: money, idealism, work location, coworkers, etc.
  • Pick your favorites from the above.
  • Take some time to describe your “ideal state” work environment. This includes:
    • Where is it geographically?
    • Where is it environmentally (city, suburbs, rural)?
    • How large is the company/team?
    • What sort of money/benefits do you want/expect? Side discussion: what are your wants/needs and what do they cost?
    • Do you have/want a spouse/family? How do you want your “work/life balance” to look?
    • How often and when do you want to work?
    • What sort of work environment makes you most comfortable–office, workshop, traveling sales calls?
    • What sort of team/social environment makes you most comfortable–formal, informal, wild and crazy?
    • Does the work you want to do require you to work alone, in a small group, or on a large team?

At this point, you’ve got quite a pile of information about yourself, what motivates you, and where you want to work. This self-awareness is helpful and necessary if you’re going to make a career plan or a career change. Of course once you know what you want, you have to start hunting for it. This will take longer than a few weeks to find an ideal fit, so this approach is not good for people who need a job NOW to pay the bills. Find a job that pays the bills until you figure out what you want, unless you’re fortunate enough to have time time, space, or money not to need that job immediately.

The other great advantage of taking this personal inventory is that it will focus your interview questions and answers because you know what you want. If your attitude and behavior are in the right place, the interview will be a mere formality. I can attest to this through personal experience. I’ve never had a cool job come out of a boring interview.

So there you go: if your new year’s resolution is to change or improve your career, the content above should give you a little nudge. It might even inspire you to get more formal about the process and talk to a professional career counselor at a local college or university. You don’t have to do all the work alone, but you’re the one who has to take the first step. Okay, I’ll step off the soapbox now. Meanwhile, have a productive, happy, prosperous 2012, doing what you were born to do!

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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