Goals, Achivement and Clarity

Goal setting has been a perpetual problem for me. That grasp of the long term has always eluded me. Sure, I've been more than capable of deciding on a very general goal and chasing after it, but it dawns on me now that a more organized and directed approach could serve better. More thought up front probably makes for more desirable results.

When I went to college, I never set any goals for my education. The most clear desire was to enjoy my time and get a generic diploma. It was all very abstract to me, trying to choose the rest of my life based on a few hours of coursework and an office visit with an advisor. During my four years, I never put much thought to the future and lived day to day. Eventually, I settled on a major that allowed me to take the classes I found most interesting in a very general way: public relations. The program consisted of lots of writing, which interested me, as well as emerging digital media. Instead of specializing in a specific area, I chose a broad-based education that exposed me to many different things and played to my strengths while accommodating my weaknesses.

After graduating, it didn't take long for me to realize that employers want that specialization. They want to see some kind of expertise in a specific area; work experience will eventually flesh out the generalized industry exposure. In effect, I'd gone about my college education in a very backward way, and walked out with a fancy piece of paper, but little effective preparation for the professional world. I hadn't taken the time to really explore career options and investigate the future. Instead, I spent the entire time thinking only of the assignments of the week, at best planning out through the end of the semester, never stopping to evaluate the work I was doing and the path I traveled.

To be honest, this is perhaps my greatest regret. College is such an important opportunity to find and follow a passion, and I blindly followed the first advice I was given by my academic advisor. To this day, I'm plagued by my willingness to hand over my future to the decisions of a third party. I learned many valuable things at college, and I was enriched by the experience, but I blew the real opportunity to sink my teeth into something unique.

My only goal following graduation was to find a job in public relations. Sadly, I didn't have the first clue as to what that meant, again, because I didn't take the time to grasp the big picture of the industry during my education. I'm sure this showed in every job interview, because I didn't get a single job offer. Eventually, I worked a string of data entry temp jobs and retail positions and developed a massive, crippling chip on my shoulder, and had the equivalent of a nervous breakdown at 24.

Seven years ago, I set a goal to use my college degree professionally. Up to that point, I hadn't worked a single day in my degreed field. I had, successfully I might add, established myself in ice rink management, but an alarm started going off inside my mind. It would blare through my thoughts, "You spent lots of money on a degree! Use it! USE IT!" Eventually, my ability to enjoy the rink work completely faltered because I couldn't shake that thought for even a second daily. So, just like now, I began compartmentalizing my days into blocks of time. Outside of work, everything I did was designed to advance towards the goal. And after a year of steady effort, I landed a job on the periphery of public relations: marketing and publishing.

That's the point at which I failed in follow-through. I'd taken a step towards the goal, but misidentified that step as goal achievement. Even though that job was at best a launch pad in the right direction, I convinced myself it was the destination. When I'd worked in that position long enough, I padded my resume with that experience and found another marketing position, ignoring the original goal completely. The farther I traveled away from that goal, the more obscure it became, until it no longer existed.

Reflections on who I've been, where I've gone, what I've done, and where I am now not only show how important the journey has been to my development in relation to the goal itself, but also demonstrate the powerful drain of feckless decisions. Recognizing this now is yet more motivation for me to stay on task in a long term fashion. Develop a career goal, write it down, and keep it prominently front of mind. Do all the requisite research to be sure it's the correct goal, and allow for zero distraction or alteration. Make the goal as grand, unrealistic and specific as possible. What better way to drive decisions in a way that emphasizes the importance of the journey? What better way to commit now to consistent progress?


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