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How do you learn to set and work on goals as an adult?
November 30, 2011 7:43 AM   Subscribe

How do I figure out what I want to be when I grow up? I've been very lucky in my life so far—just a little bit of work has yielded me amazing opportunities that have more or less fallen into my lap. But I'm starting to realize that I have no idea how to set, develop, and follow through on goals on my own.

So, I've had some fantastic work opportunities come my way (publishing in a niche market) and have been able to climb ladders pretty quickly. I have some name recognition. I am respected at my company and in my industry. I make good money and I kind of like what I do.

All of this just sort of...happened to me, though, mostly through a combination of being quick and faking it well, making good first impressions, and being in the right places at the right times. My whole adult life has been like this, which leads to a resume where I've done a lot of interesting things, but not really a career with cumulative experience or development. And I'm starting to realize that stumbling upon opportunities is not really a reliable or sustainable way to live - it was fine in my 20s, but not so much as I think about the future.

I have some big ideas for things I would like to do and build, but I don't know how to make them happen. I don't even know how to develop an idea, make it a goal, and follow through on it, because things have always just...worked out without my needing to push them very hard. Is there a book, website, or system you can recommend? Is this a therapy thing? Or is this what mentors do? How can I find one?

Basically, how does one go from dreams/wants --> real goals --> successfully executing those goals? I would like to feel some control over the direction of my life.

( I feel like this is a skill set everyone else has, but that I completely missed. I didn't even learn how to do this at school - I skated by without trying very hard, and then dumped college halfway through, when more-interesting-at-the-time opportunities came up.)
posted by sockpuppet yo to Work & Money (5 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm really getting a lot of valuable stuff out of Chris Hardwick's new book. It's one of only two or three self-help/goal-setting/personal development books I've found that is actually full of meaningful and useful tools.
posted by jbickers at 7:48 AM on November 30, 2011


I'm not sure where you want to go with this, but I'm guessing that this is vague so that we give suggestions that you can use? I'm just throwing a few ideas that I used at my last fulltime jobs (for other companies vs me) that I use able to do and I think that this would translate to the goals/dreams that you pick for yourself.

Pick where you want to be in a few years (includes job title, what are doing) and now go through these steps:

• Have info interviews with people: How did they get there? Would they/can they provide suggestions as to what you need to do or other routes to get to the same point? Don't forget to ask lots of other questions to make sure that you do want to get there (i.e. What is their day like? What things to they like/not like? What is the pay at the start? How high des pay go? Or whatever factors are important to you). You can probably start by asking colleagues.

• Once you identify a list of things that you should learn about/do from the interviews, accomplish those tasks/learn those skills...preferably at the work place. One thing that works well is finding things that will improve the outcomes of your entire team and someone else in another department who is willing to teach a class or session at work; suggest it to your supervisor and get his or her blessing for it and onwards...a class with skills that you want to learn. Another thing that you can do is tell a supervisor that you really want to do projects X, Y, Z. If they don't agree or let you do this, quit....make sure your next job offers these opportunities.This part will sound horrible and may induce eye rolling by people, but you can pick what you want to do/where you want to live, etc etc and change jobs to get those things.

• Join outside organizations with similar goals; those places should offer meetings, have email forums to ask questions,etc. This only applies if you know that you want to move or stay in a certain industry.

I also honestly believe that are few limits as to what you can accomplish at workplace, provided it is a goal. But I also strongly believe that you should define it (in other words, don't pick job X and Job X skills because you can contort your body and fit into the square peg). You define what you want to do ...everything: environment, what you do day-to-day, etc. Then start doing research and what parameters would limit this and go towards that direction.
posted by Wolfster at 8:18 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


This might be a bit vague for you, but I would say, do EVERYTHING you can. The things which are really worth sticking with, will stick. The rest will just be fun along the way :)

I look at it like sending a lot of little ships out into the world, all of the projects I put time into. Some of them come back with treasure, some of them never come back. One day, maybe one of them will come back with fame and fortune... who knows :)
posted by greenish at 8:20 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you sure you need to change? I actually don't think most people have the skill of setting and achieving goals, and it may not be necessary. One of the most successful people I know had a career like the one you describe. He basically set out to do interesting things with interesting people and bounced from spectactular failures to major success - and has funny stories about it.

That said, it seems like you want to feel more in control of your life, and goal setting may be a way to do that, so I'll answer your question more directly.

Basically, how does one go from dreams/wants --> real goals --> successfully executing those goals?

Essentially you take the dream and make it into something concrete that you can envision steps along the way.

Writing down your dreams/wants is a good first step. Define that dream/want in detail. Instead of "I want to be rich" write down exactly what rich means to you: "I want to have $1.2 million in the bank by 2022."

There's some power in just writing goals down (sometimes I write them down, forget it, find it later and realize it happened) but to avoid magical thinking about that, the next step is to figure out how you're going to achieve that goal. If you want 1.2 million in the bank you'll need to put roughly 120K in the bank every year.

Most people freak out at that point and think they can't achieve their goal. So maybe you need to adjust to something more realistic and re-evaluate.

Then break it down further - what do you need to do every week or every day to acheive your goal? Write it down. Write it down in your calendar, and if you need even more structure, schedule time to do the step every day or every week.

The secret is to take something big, scary, seemingly out of reach and figure out exactly what you would need to do to achieve it. You may decide it's not worth it once you figure out how to do it (most goals have a cost), or you will have a blueprint in place to get started.
posted by rainydayfilms at 11:10 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I found myself in a similar place about 17 years ago. Was probably the same age as you are now. I wanted to do something big: build on one of many "great" ideas that came along every few months or so. But none of those ideas motivated me enough to really act on them.

After a few years of this, a little thing called the internet came along, and suddenly, there was no question in my mind what I wanted/had to do. It was that obvious. I found myself in the right place and was free to act on this opportunity at full speed.

So I would suggest following the advice of greenish, and try everything. Sooner or later, your path will cross with something you will know you are destined to do.
posted by Land Ho at 7:47 PM on November 30, 2011


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