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How to Set—and Accomplish—Career Goals

If the past 18 months of the pandemic have you rethinking your career priorities, you’re not alone. The New York Times recently coined the term “YOLO Economy” thanks to the number of young professionals who are dropping everything to chase their dreams. Even if you find yourself on the right career track, odds are that you’ve been reflecting and want to make some changes. 

We talked to three career experts about methods and strategies you can employ to both set and accomplish your career goals, whether you’re building out a new five-year plan or just hoping to get more out of your current role. As we venture into post-pandemic life, there’s never been a better time to honor our ambitions.

Get clear on what you like to do 

If you’re the type of person who dreads being asked where you “see yourself in ten years,” millennial success coach Eliana Goldstein has a tip that can help you clear up your view of the future. “Throughout the week, make note of when you do a project or task and really enjoy it, and dive into why,” she says. “Conversely, note when you do something that you really hate.” This way you can identify what Goldstein calls your “areas of engagement.”

If you loved taking charge and delegating on a team project, you might be cut out for a high-level management role. Maybe you actually enjoyed that late night at the office, working alone on a creative task. A more independent, visionary role might make sense for you. Lit up while presenting in front of a crowd? Seek out a public-facing position.

Understanding your areas of engagement can help you move forward, whether it’s by figuring out an entirely new career path or just helping facilitate a conversation with your boss about what kind of projects you’d like to take on.

Secure a mentor

Once you have a sense of where you want your career to go, you’re going to need support to help get you there. Career development strategist Ashley AsShire suggests finding a mentor; this might be a more senior colleague, an old boss, or just someone you admire in the same industry. The most important thing is that they can advise you on getting where you want to go. 

Make sure you establish this relationship before you jump in and start asking for favors. Introduce yourself, then engage with their work over time. Then when you request a job reference or a monthly mentorship coffee, “be clear, concise, and confident about what you want,” says AsShire. It’s normal to feel intimidated when approaching impressive people for help, but don’t let that stop you from trying. “Give them the opportunity to decline!” says AsShire. 

Cut your goals into bite-sized pieces

Life goals like writing a book or getting your dream job can be so intimidating that it’s tempting to give up before you begin. Emily Liou, founder of the career coaching service Cultivitae, suggests dividing these big goals into smaller milestones. This is a great time to ask that mentor what they did to get where they are, or even to read interviews with people you admire to learn how they made their way up the ladder. If it’s a particular job you want, Liou suggests, “analyze various job descriptions of your dream role. Copy and paste the job description into a word cloud, or go through line by line and highlight what you’ve done in a similar capacity and what you still need to do.” Each milestone you pass will motivate you to keep moving forward.

Picture your life after your goals are complete

According to Rosie McCarthy, founder of Badass Careers, it helps to have a strong vision of the destination awaiting you at the end of all your hard work. “Journal on an ‘ideal day in the life’ five years from now,” McCarthy suggests. What will your career look like? What kind of lifestyle will it enable? What will you contribute? Who will you connect with? How will you be recognised? If you can picture it, you’ll be even more driven to get there. 

If you’re reading this, that means you’ve already set your mind on creating goals, so congrats on taking the first step! You’ve got this.