Why You Never Seem to Reach Your Career Goals and How to Change That

March 12th, 2021

Every year you wake up on January first with ambitious career plans. In addition to working out, cutting out sugar, and getting more organized, you decide this is the year to truly shake up your career. You start out with the best of intentions.

But somehow, your plans don’t entirely pan out. You end each year with a few small accomplishments under your belt, but no really significant changes to your circumstances. Why does that happen and how can you fix it? Here are a few possibilities to keep in mind.

You may be aiming in the wrong direction.

Say you work as a middle manager for a small accounting firm. So each year, naturally, you decide you’d like a promotion to a senior position doing essentially the same work in the same industry. You aim to climb the same accounting ladder that you happen to be on, for no other reason than the fact that you’re on it. Stop and think. If you don’t care about accounting and would prefer to be a healthcare professional or a mechanic or an administrator, climbing this ladder won’t get you where you really want to go. Some part of you knows that. Listen to your instincts and climb if you choose, but know that you can’t climb your way to a destination that doesn’t exist.

You may be biting off too much at once.

Instead of a shortlist of impossibly small jumps, like “get a promotion”, “get 20 percent raise”, “become CEO of the company”, try breaking your steps down into smaller and smaller substeps. Take each goal and turn it into at least ten small partial goals. Then break each of those partial goals down into an even smaller set, and keep doing that until the step in front of you is so easy you can do it in ten minutes. Take that step, and you’ll be on your way.

Don’t listen to other people.

In life, it seems like every motivational speech and every inspiring poster tells us to listen and to share. But when it comes to setting career goals, it’s often better to keep your ambitions and plans to yourself, at least at first. Nobody knows you better than you know yourself, so no one is actually qualified to tell you what you can or can’t or should or shouldn’t do. They WILL tell you if you let them. So don’t let them. You have a long journey ahead, so pace yourself by keeping your own counsel as long as you can.

Take yourself seriously, but not too seriously.

Plans change. That’s okay. Give your goals an honest effort, but don’t rigidly cling to a plan of action that doesn’t speak to you anymore. Be strong and flexible at the same time. Hold on until it’s time to let go. Then shift in a new direction.

For more on how to make meaningful progress toward your goals this year and every year, turn to the experts at PSU.

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