A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was using my computer when she noticed a document on my desktop called "Goals & Planning". The document contained a list of short-term and long-term goals that I had set for myself halfway through law school in a moment of existential panic brought on by imminent exams and a particularly brutal hangover.
But here's the thing...reading through those old lists really hit home. Firstly, I had accomplished several of my goals without really noticing. That's not a poorly-veiled backdoor brag, it's actually kinda messed up. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it's all too easy to blow by a major accomplishment without taking time to reflect on a job well done. It's important for goal-oriented, successful women (and men) to recognize their own success before getting swept up in the next challenge.
Secondly, reading through my old goals reminded me of what I valued and strived for three years ago. It's important (and strangely scary) to think about what you want out of life. But once you do, you will be better equipped to deal with overwhelming professional and personal decisions. Do you have a new job opportunity? Are you facing a move? Relationship troubles? Revisit your list to remind yourself of what is important to you and I promise it will seem less daunting.
So where do I start?
I'll be honest, career planning (and goal setting in general) freaks me out a bit. I find the unknown stressful. So keep it chill, grab a drink, go somewhere relaxing like a park or a comfy living room chair and jot down some things that you want to accomplish.
One tip before you start: when you're setting goals, try not to "we". Women tend to use the word "we" a lot ("We worked really hard on this project", "We love Thai", "We'd like to do X"). It's not a bad thing. But when you're setting goals, it's about what you want to do with your life. Do you want to work at a Fortune 500 company? Do you want to have a baby? Write it down. It doesn't mean that you can't do it with another person, but if it's important to you, put it on your list.
If you find working from a template easier, try the one below. I divide my goal setting into four categories: short-term goals, long-term goals, upcoming expenses and priorities. You'll notice that I don't 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 more easily identifiable 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 your first adult apartment.
The best way to approach long-term goal setting is to think of things that you want 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 strive for while allowing room for changing interests, finances and relationships.
Think carefully about your professional long-term goals. Do you really want to make 200k or do you want to make enough money to be able to live a certain lifestyle (i.e. travel once per year)? They're both great goals, but they're different goals. Long-term professional goals might include working in a certain field, working in a meaningful position, achieving a particular career distinction or working abroad. Get creative and give yourself room to grow!
When I initially designed my template, I didn't have this category, but managing your finances is an important part of goal setting. Whether or not we like it, money makes the world go 'round and certain goals will require you to save up accordingly. In this category, I list my major upcoming expenses so I know what I need to save up for in the future.
Some of the things on this list 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're going to need to adjust your finances. There may also be things that aren't related to your goals, but require some forethought nonetheless. For instance, you may be in a friend's wedding or moving to a more expensive apartment. Keep it in mind and plan accordingly.
In this section, list the things that are important to you. While this may seem abstract, it will be very helpful when you feel overwhelmed with a big career or life decision. It might be something as simple as "Be happy". If this is your priority and you find yourself stuck in a relationship that isn't right or at a job that is making you miserable, then you know that it's time for a change.
Other priorities might include family, academic achievement, friends, career success, travel, children, or giving back to your community. Whatever your priorities might be, write them down and look back to them for guidance when you are faced with tough decisions at work or at home. And remember, like your goals, your priorities may change as life goes on. 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.