This is Part 1 of 2
Goal-setting seems like a smart thing to do in a career change. However, this might actually be exactly what is keeping you stuck. Renata explains why big targets can be a false friend. Here is what she recommends doing to start making progress towards that Ideal Career instead.
Let me tell you a short story
A little while ago I was doing a cupboard purge something I had not done in a while.
I found a black hard cover notebook. I immediately recognise this old faithful companion that contain hundreds of lines of my handwriting and doodles, in different colours of ink and pencil.
Journal entries, to-do lists, thoughts I had jotted down. Pages and pages of confused, frustrated outpourings about my work, my life, my future. I took a moment to read those words and I was transported back to that year in a deeply visceral way that I haven’t felt for a long time. The desperate awkwardness of feeling like a fundamental misfit in a career and a life that was not for mine. The sense of being caged in and stuck, trapped by the very life choices I myself had made in the years before. The dark emptiness ahead of me when I tried to imagine what else I could do.
As I flipped through the pages of that old book one page in particular hit me hard.
It was a list of goals.
Big, ambitious, hopeful goals. The only kind I had, back then.
And then next to them, in a different pen, clearly written later in a fit of irritation, a series of scrawled, pointy, sarcastic flippant questions…
- “Have three reasonable career options I’m truly excited about.” LOVELY. HOW, EXACTLY?
- “Start a side line income to make extra cash” WHICH YOU’LL DO IN WHAT SPARE TIME?
- “Have ($6000) saved by June.” WHAT FOR, GENIUS?
- “Hand in my notice by September” YEAH, RIGHT!!
Reading the contents of that page was like watching a snippet of the perpetual state of the inside of my head – the never-ending back-and-forth of a hopeful, fierce optimist and an angry, hurt cynic.
I made a lot of lists like that.
I remember how painful and pointless those felt, once their initial balm wore off.
Unrealistic, hollow-feeling goals, created mostly because I didn’t know what else to do.
They sounded nice, but I rarely did much about them.
It wasn’t a question of what I wanted on a grand scale.
It was the specifics I had no clue about. I still did not know the steps to take to get there.
Goals are not very helpful in the day-to-day logistics of a career change.
YES goals can feel productive, and make yo feel good in the beginning. Perhaps these goals even feel good the day after you write them down.
But beyond that initial feel-good sensation you have initially it can actually have the opposite effect on you making any meaningful change.
Fulfilment isn’t SMART
Anyone who has ever done any goal-setting has come into contact with the idea of SMART goals at some point:
We are told Goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based.
This is Fair enough however finding fulfilling work is not quite so neat.
Setting SMART goals is an organisational task – finding the logical pieces, breaking them into chunks, and putting them together in a way that leads you forward, step by step.
Finding fulfilling work however feels more like trying to jump off a jellyfish into an ocean you are not convinced actually exists.
You do not really know where you are going, so being specific i.t.o goals setting is laughable.
You are not sure how exactly to measure fulfilment (beyond ‘Makes me want to poke myself in the eye / Doesn’t make me want to poke myself in the eye’), so that’s a shaky one too.
You do not even completely believe it’s possible, so how can it be achievable or realistic?
And time-based… if ONLY a deadline could fix this mess.
So sitting down to write some goals for your career change… eerr if it feels ridiculous, that’s probably because it is, a little.
Extrinsic motivation is not effective
Imagine you have set yourself a goal to lose 10 kilos.
You start going to the gym every day, because someone told you that gym exercise gets faster weight-loss results than anything else.
You hate the gym. You hate the smell of the changing rooms, you hate the perky gym bunny types who take up all the machines, you hate the music they play, and you hate running towards your own reflection in a mirror for half an hour and traveling precisely nowhere.
You start taking a salad and a Thermos of cabbage soup to work every day. You hate salad. You hate cabbage soup. You are starting to hate your life.
But you would love to loose those 10 kilos.
So you put up with it. You eat the soup, holding your nose and visualising your life once you’ve hit your goal. You endure the gym, wishing you could just hit your goal and never have to go back there again.
What are the chances of you hitting your 10-kilo target – and, more importantly, maintaining it afterward? I would say Pretty low, no?
Goals that do not inspire you or give you that “hell yeah” feeling or rely on extrinsic motivation such as an external, tangible result or outcome you need to achieve will not be achieved.
These goals feel heavy, looming over you menacingly until you have hit them. The process of working toward them often doesn’t feel enjoyable and takes a lot of effort despite the rewards at the end.
So you’re less likely to take the steps you need to take to achieve them.
Extrinsic motivation has repeatedly been shown to be less effective than Intrinsic motivation, which is driven by enjoying the activity itself.
Extrinsic motivation: “If I walk five miles today, I can have that piece of chocolate cake.”
Intrinsic motivation: “I love dancing – I’m going to dance in the kitchen just because it feels great.”
Extrinsic motivation: “If I spend the next month learning about the political system in Uzbekistan I’ll look really smart at the university dinner party.”
Intrinsic motivation: “How DOES the inside of my remote control work? This is fascinating…”
In other words, given the choice between rewards or enjoyment, you are far more likely to do things you enjoy.
So, ironically, you are more likely to lose 10 kilos by throwing the scales in the bin and going dancing every weekend than you are by trying to haul yourself to the gym every day if going to the gym is not your thing.
In your career change, you are more likely to find fulfilling work (albeit counter-intuitively) by doing things you enjoy than you are by setting yourself a goal to change career.
Pressure encourages procrastination
There is a fair amount of pressure involved in goal-setting.
Either you hit your goal, or you don’t.
There is no room for the grey area on the way.
And if you don’t hit it, you’ve ‘failed’. Unpleasant. Scary. Dunce hat. Ugh.
Procrastination is based in fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of change: all fears that grow from an attachment to a specific outcome… otherwise known as ‘a goal’.
In career change, this often looks like vacillation, over-thinking, endlessly weighing up options, researching things to death…
What if you get it wrong? What if you don’t hit your target? What if it never happens?
High stakes creates high tension – and the higher the tension, the less likely you are to act.
So if you have set yourself a goal and you are getting stuck in procrastination-whirlpools, this might be why.
You are not the boss of everything
Unfortunate, but true.
No matter how hard you try, or how much effort you put in to achieving a goal, sometimes the world just gets in the way. Life happens.
Maybe you twist an ankle and can’t train for the marathon.
Maybe the taxman slings you an unexpected curveball and your savings goal hits the deck.
Maybe your company withdraws its plans to offer a round of voluntary redundancies next month, like you were expecting.
Maybe your kid gets sick and you spend your week curled up on the bathroom floor mopping brows and blowing noses and you don’t get your LinkedIn profile up to date like you said you would.
These moments hurt. Partly because they throw a spanner in the works and we have to deal with the possibility of failure.
Partly because it forces you to realise that you can’t control results.
You can ONLY control what you do, but not what happens next.
- You can create a perfectly written LinkedIn profile, but you can’t control whether or not people will read it.
- You can reach out to someone you admire, but you can’t control whether or not they will respond.
- You can go to an event you have never been to before, but you can’t control whether or not it will spark a new career idea.
Trying to consistently hit your goals when you are only responsible for part of the process is a pretty heavy expectation.
Don’t just set goals, build habits.
Looking back at my notebook, I’m pretty proud to say that I have achieved pretty much all l the goals I set back then and am working on achieving the new ones I have set.
I found a way to visit amazing places met some truly amazing people and do work I am completely in love with.
That wouldn’t have happened without giving myself the space to dream ridiculously big and commit to consistently doing things I had no idea how to do BUT learnt that it was possible and I could them.
Read part 2 next