Are you happy with your life journey? Are you in the driver seat of your career and your life or are you “asleep at the wheel” hoping for a positive outcome. Find out how to use goal setting techniques to take back control and steer your life where you want it to go.
When you plan a cross-country trip; are you one of those adventurous souls who just get in the car and start driving and “see where the road takes you or are you someone who plans the entire trip, setting goals, milestones, timelines, overnight stays, and carefully picking the music playlist?
The wisdom of Alice in Wonderland
In Lewis Carol’s Alice in the Wonderland the famous exchange between Alice and the Cat goes something like this:
Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” to which the Cat replies “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to”
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.”Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. ‘—as long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’
This exchange has often been paraphrased as “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” I guess Alice was one of those adventurous souls that didn’t believe in planning. She just “went with the flow”. Her journey was on autopilot; it will just take her wherever it goes. This may be a great strategy for a Wonderland experience, but when it comes to career planning, are you sure you want to leave your life, your future, your happiness to chance? Are you sure you want to leave your career on autopilot? Many people do. I wouldn’t recommend it.
I have used 4 Questions that have guided the direction of my life in a very significant way. I have used these throughout my own life to help me accomplish everything I have accomplished so far; including making a successful transition from living in South Africa to starting an exciting and brand new life, living the American dream. Let me share these with you.
The 4 Magical Questions
There are the 4 questions you can ask yourself that will help you take control of where you want it to go. They are very simple but extremely effective. They are:
Where am I?
Where do I want to be?
How do I get there?
How will I know when I’m there?
Let’s unpack these briefly:
Where am I? For you to chart a path to your future, you need to know where you’re starting from. Knowing your starting point helps you define how far you have to go. This takes the form of a thorough self-assessment. This is where a SWOT analysis helps. What are your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats? Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said it in 300 BC but it it’s just as true today: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”
Where do I want to be? This is where you define your vision. What is your future story? Where do you want to go? What do you want to accomplish? What are your objectives? Be specific, be visual, be graphic. The more senses you involve, the more vivid you make your vision, the more likely you will be to accomplish it. Paint the most colorful picture of your desired future you can.
How do I get there? This is your roadmap. This is where you plan your journey. Where you set specific goals and milestones. Where you identify obstacles and how to overcome them. Here is where you create your action plan and prioritized action steps. This is where the rubber meets the road.
How will I know when I’m there? What does success looks like? This is an extension of your vision with specific, measurable outcomes. If you don’t define success clearly, you will never be quite sure whether you have “arrived” or not. You will continuously strive for perfection and never enjoy the fruit of your journey. Defining success also ensures that you know how to measure progress along the way. It answers that age-old question your kids love to ask: “Are we there yet? … Are we there yet? … Are we there yet?”
Goals and Milestones; the cornerstones of accomplishment
Benjamin Franklin once said: “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail“. I couldn’t agree more. In Step 3 mentioned above, you asked the question: “How do I get there?”. The answer is Planning. Practical, productive planning by setting goals and milestones.
Once you’ve set your vision in Step 2, and define what success looks like in Step 4, you will know clearly where you’re going. However, depending on how grand your vision is, there may be a whole lot of ground to cover between your current state and your future story. It may be years worth of work to get from here to there. And unfortunately, the brain is just not wired to process such a massive undertaking. It gets overwhelmed and we end up in analysis paralysis. We’re stuck procrastinating and end up getting nowhere because we’re overwhelmed by the magnitude of our mission. The better way is the break down the entire mission into chunks or goals. Chunking is a very effective, well-known memory technique you can use to remember long lists of things. The brain operates much better when processing small chunks of information.
The power of Chunking
Let me demonstrate: Look at this series of numbers for 5 seconds and try and memorize them: 2,4,7,8,6,5,9,0,8,7. Not so easy, is it? How could you make it easier for your brain to remember? We could use our Chunking method. By grouping the numbers into three groups like this: (247) 865-9087, the brain can process and remember it much easier. Recognize that grouping? Yup, that’s why our telephone numbers are written in that way. By using Chunking, we are much more likely to remember 10 digit phone numbers.
Now you may be asking, What does this have to do with setting goals? Let’s use that same 10 digit number in our 4 question framework to illustrate. If your mission was to move through those numbers in sequence, then we could break it down this way:
Question: Where am I? Answer: At the start. At the 2
Question: Where do I want to be? Answer: At the end. At the last 7
Question: How do I get there? Answer: Three chunks (or goals) at a time.
Goal number 1: Accomplish (247)
Goal number 2: Accomplish 865
Goal number 3: Accomplish 9087
Question: How do I know when I’m there? Answer: When I’ve “dialed” the last 7.
For these chunks or goals to be the most effective in helping you accomplish your vision, they should be S.M.A.R.T goals. There are literally mountains of information written about SMART goals, but here’s a quick summary. SMART goals are:
Specific: They should be as clearly defined as possible. No vague generalities allowed!
Measurable: You should be able to quantify it with data. It should be something you can prove or disprove. That you can check off on a list.
Attainable: They should be challenging but not unreasonable. They should make you a little nervous but still excited because they are achievable with some work.
Relevant: They should align with your mission, your vision and the rest of your goals. They should not contradict or work against each other. Alignment among goals makes them powerful.
Time-Bound: A goal without an associated timeline is a wish or a dream. Wishes and dreams are great, but goals with timelines get accomplished. Setting a timeline for your goal means that you are holding yourself accountable and accountable people get results.
Making sure your goals are SMART will set you up for the maximum chances of hitting your goals. Follow these guidelines religiously and watch the results roll in.
The difference between goals and milestones
Where goals help you set accomplishment targets along the way (a Step 3 activity), milestones are a measurable way to tell you where you are along those targets (a Step 4 activity). Just like their name suggests, these are “road markers” along your journey to provide feedback and monitor your progress. In other words, goals set the path for where you’re going and milestones tell you if you’re actually getting there.
Real world example
Let’s take our 4 step process through a real-world example. (Please note, I understand this is not an extensive “how to” action plan for this situation. It is meant only as an example)
Due to an economic downturn, you were laid off from your job. You are scared, nervous and unsure of your future.
You have been job searching for a while but with no luck.
You need a better plan.
You need a roadmap to success. Then you remember this article you once read about “The 4 Questions that can transform your life”. You decide to give it a try:
Step 1: Define where you are:
I am unemployed with a house and a family to take care of.
My strengths are: I am highly skilled, highly experienced and a strong leader with a solid network.
My weaknesses are: I tend to procrastinate with unpleasant tasks; and “marketing myself” is not a pleasant task for me.
Some opportunities on the horizon: There is a very large job fair in a month and I’ve already made contact with several employers that will be there.
Threats to watch: With no income, I’m burning through money fast and my savings won’t last long.
Step 2: Define where you want to be. The Vision:
I want to be employed in the next two months.
I want more than a job. I want a fulfilling career that makes me excited to go to work every day.
I want a job that matters. In a field that makes a difference to the world around me.
Step 3: How do I get there. Goals and Action plan:
Goal #1: Complete my resume and cover letter by end of this week.
Goal #2: Update my LinkedIn profile by the end of next week.
Goal #3: Search for and apply to at least 25 job openings per week for the next 8 weeks.
Goal #4: Reach out to at least 10 connections in my network per week
Step 4: What does success look like:
Milestone #1: My resume, LinkedIn profile and all other “marketing materials” have been completed.
Milestone #2: I have completed 100 applications for potential positions
Milestone #3: I have completed 200 applications for potential positions
Milestone #4: I have had 50 interviews
Milestone #5: I have had 10 follow up interviews
Success !! I have a fulfilling career that makes me excited to go to work every day in a field that makes a difference to the world around me. I can take care of my family and we have a stable, happy home life.
Where’s the Magic?
I called these Magical questions. So where’s the magic? This just seems like common sense! Yup. And therein lies the Magic. Common sense is just not so common these days. These are very simple (read “achievable”) steps. Nothing magical about them. The Magic, however, lies in the application. The moment you stop thinking about these concepts and start applying them is the moment you take back control of your life .. and the moment you start seeing results. Will it be easy? Nope. Will it be worth it? Absolutely.
Let me know if you need help. I’m always excited about helping fellow travelers.
As always, I’d love to hear from you with ideas, comments, feedback or suggestions.
Best of luck on your journey!