In 2013, I took up what I considered to be a slacker’s approach to goal setting. I had been working a steady job in banking for nearly 11 years. I started to get the sense that I was ready to move on. It was a great company with great people, but I was ready for a different industry. I was itching for something less regulated and more creative. In a moment of inspiration, I wrote down a list of what I was looking for. It was radically unspecific.
It included some statements and intentions, with a hunch that I’d need a three to five-year timeframe. It was focused on pursuing my purpose, not necessarily a paycheck. Here was that list:
- Use my talents of educating and inspiring others to help them use their best talents.
- Follow my passion of learning and education and find a career that promotes work-life balance and continuous learning.
- Help other people find their talents and passion and bring out their best selves.
- Choose to live purposely and slow down to consider meaning before I just say yes.
- Adequately provide for my daughter and me. (I was a single parent at the time.)
- Create a foundation for thought leadership and change.
None of those were specific about how to get a job, or exactly what job title or salary I desired. They were centered around how I wanted to live my life. These worked out well for me as I’ll explain below, but how is it possible these manifested without focusing on a specific outcome? There’s a psychologist by the name of Steven Hayes who studies how people make goals and who is successful. He found there is a difference between outcome-based goals and values-based goals. Let’s take a look at what this typically looks like with some of my clients.
Two Approaches to Goal Setting
Client one might say, “I have to get a new job in the next 90 days.” They cite a long list of steps and details that they need to have to make it happen. They are usually focusing on achieving a specific salary, job title, or company. This is outcome-based goal setting. Client two might say, “I think that maybe my current career is no longer working for me. And I’m really interested in exploring some new career options. I’ve thought about how I want to spend my day in the future and what my ideal work is going to look like.” They imagine forward their ideal day including what types of meetings they’ll be taking and decisions they’ll be making. While they have a sense of the type of work they want, they remain mentally flexible on how the outcome may transpire. It is important to them to seek alignment of their personal desires and values and that of their prospective company. This is values-based goal setting.
Who do you believe is more successful because they are happier with their decision long-term? According to Hayes, it would be client two who used values-based mindset to set their goals. It’s true that the first person might actually reach their goal sooner. They find a job with some legwork, but what they tend to experience is dissatisfaction soon after the “new job smell” wears off. After the allure of a desired title and salary wear off, they realize they are left with work they don’t love. The second person was very specific about their values and how they want to move through life. They weren’t so much concerned about a timeline, but more so with how they want to feel when they get there. Values-based goal setters, enjoy how they are getting there just as much as the outcome. And, they are happier and more successful as they live out the results of their goals.
How did mine turn out? I did set milestones that helped me keep moving forward, and within that year, I left that company. After much interviewing and declining job offers because they didn’t align with my values, I chose to go work for an amazing technology company who strongly valued learning and innovation. Two years after that, I moved on again to work for a bestselling author and keynote speaker to help leaders coach up their teams, drive organizational change and deliver results. Three years in that job prepared me to make my next conscious decision to honor my values and start my own leadership coaching and speaking practice. I get to work with leaders all over the country to help remove what gets in the way of showing up as their most confident selves in life and work. Ultimately, it is living out my final goal of building a foundation for thought leadership and change.
All of this was possible because I paid attention to how I want to feel and what values were important to me. It’s a good thing I wasn’t fixated on a specific outcome, because my comfort zone would likely have pegged me in a corporate job. As an entrepreneur, If I didn’t have certain values to keep me headed toward my “True North,” it would be easier to lose motivation when my goals don’t turn out as planned. Values helped me stay flexible and take some blind leaps of faith and risks along the way.
By This Time Next Year
To put this idea into practice, choose a date in the future. Something very powerful for me is to imagine my life exactly one year in the future, which is why I often title my goal/vision board, By This Time Next Year. Choosing a specific date also works, as in the case of when I’m coaching leaders or teams that may have a specific project plan and completion date. But accomplishing what you desire is far more than just picking a date and writing a goal, so much of what has kept me on track is managing my energy and surrounding myself with the right people.
Make four columns with the labels: DATE | FEEL | DO | WHO. Next, ask yourself the following questions.
- FEEL: On this date, how will I feel when the goal is accomplished? Use adjectives to describe the feeling. We take action based on how we feel, so incorporating plenty of activities and people that support your feeling state will help you progress toward your ideal outcome. Check: Are these in line with your values?
- DO: On this date, write down the actions you need to be doing to keep you on track toward your values-based goal. These can be specific, yet flexible enough to allow for life to keep informing you of the right decision.
- WHO: On this date, who else can be conspiring with me to achieve this goal and stay on track? Successful people know they can’t achieve things alone, and the right people help us build the energy that we need to achieve our goal, and provide us with additional tools, expertise and insight to keep us on track.
Continually baby step the dates backward until you arrive at the present day. Half step your actions until you arrive at a doable step forward that feels of progress. This is a great way to beat analysis paralysis and overwhelm because we’re just reverse engineering until we get to the present. This is taking big leaps starting with your bravest, smallest step.
This feels counterintuitive because we watch other people take what seem to be huge leaps and it seems easy and effortless. But the reality is that much of our meaningful progress forward in life is the result of many small, brave steps in the direction of the life we want to create. It comes from the courage to set healthy boundaries to protect our energy and choose supportive people and habits that will advance, not hinder, our values and goals.
Haven’t given much thought to what your values might be? Here are some questions: What makes work meaningful to you? What do you want your work to stand for? As your 80-year old self, what will you be telling others you have created? What qualities are non-negotiable to make work fun and enjoyable?
These answers likely won’t come overnight. Start noticing what gives you energy and feels effortless. Notice what drains you. Remember, values act as a “True North” and goals are places you visit along the way.