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Why Setting Goals Hurt Your Long-Term Career Growth

What Really Works For Successful Professional Development

Tempted to set goals for your yearly focus? Don’t bother. Instead of setting potentially short-term milestones: change your perspective to long-term growth!

Career growth is a journey and setting goals can hurt you in the long run. Goals are great, don’t get me wrong! Everyone must have something to strive for. But, successful career growth is focused on the big picture not in the short-term. The very act of setting a goal of career growth implies that there is an ‘endpoint’, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

When I was an emerging professional, I thought that career growth was something that happened naturally. I didn’t have a plan to grow. It never crossed my mind that I should invest in my own development. I thought that it would be planned for me or happen on its own. Like most people, I assumed that wisdom would come with time and experience. I was about half right.

We are Victims of Growth Assumptions

It’s a rude awakening when you figure out that getting a degree and working hard doesn’t necessarily set you up with a successful professional career. I wish that were true. Growth is not automatic and it’s not proscribed. No one is going to invest in your career growth except you. Investing in your personal development can mean the difference between a happy life and a miserable one.

There is quite a bit more to achieving success than just working hard. You must learn how to genuinely connect with others, build relationships, deal with conflict, and successfully develop yourself based on your strengths. Much of true success lies outside of your job description and even your comfort zone.

Goal Setting is Short-Term Thinking

Even if you have Big Goals, the sheer act of setting a goal establishes a ‘stop date’ on your growth which limits your potential. The difference between being goal-oriented and growth oriented is simple: you NEVER stop growing. If you truly want to embrace career and personal growth, it’s a journey that never ends. There is always more to discover!

If you are impatiently thinking: “But, I want to achieve my dreams, not wait forever” – you may have missed the point. Your dreams (and goals) are just milestones on the journey of transformation. If you are growth-oriented, you will reach your goals and then think: “What’s next?”

Focus on growth instead of goals, there is not telling how far you can go. – John Maxwell

What it Means to Be Growth-Focused

Being growth focused is flipping the switch between short-term gains to a lifetime of opportunity. The saddest thing I have ever seen is someone who has just decided to stop growing, stop learning and drift through the rest of their life. It’s awful! It was like watching a human turn into a robot without the capability to do anything new.

Being growth focused means that, while you may set milestone achievements on your journey, you are never satisfied with just drifting along through life. You are constantly curious. You challenge your perceived barriers. You are interested in seeing how far you can go to see if you can reach your potential. You understand that it takes consistency and discipline to bridge the gap between goals and achievement.

Myth-Busting Successful Career Growth

#1 Experience is NOT the Best Teacher – Evaluated experience is! I thought that I would gain wisdom through experience. All I gained was a lot of memories. Some lessons I absorbed. Some I ignored because I didn’t have right mind-set for improvement. When you establish a habit of reflection to evaluate your experiences in a fair and objective light, you grow much more quickly.

#2 Hard Work ISN’T the Road to Achievement – It’s just not about what you can do, it’s how you do it. It’s also about who you connect to along the way. I suffered from the illusion that working hard was the path to success. In reality, it was a rocky slope full of hidden social pitfalls and lack of appreciation. Solid work ethics are important but hard work alone will not necessarily net you the fulfillment you want.

#3 Being Best at What You do DOESN’T Equal Growth – People can have the ambition to succeed and show amazing aptitude at their job – but not ever seen to move forward. Why? Because they think they should develop their skills but forget to develop themselves. Skills will only get you so far.

I fell into the trap of not developing myself but being the best at my job. I worked hard, kept long hours on and figured that I would develop through experience. Unfortunately, I had no plan for growth. Without intentional focus on personal and professional growth – it’s difficult to achieve anything tangible. At the end of the day I was underappreciated, burnt out and hitting a glass ceiling but I didn’t know why!

Effective Career Growth

My ‘growth moment’ was ugly and unpleasant in the form of a bad peer review – but it’s what I needed to wake up. Shortly after I was given my first personal development book. The blindfold I’d been unconsciously wearing came off. I realized that I could invest in my own personal growth. It never occurred to me before! The challenge is being intentional and consistently disciplined about developing good growth habits. I recognized that simply setting goals wasn’t enough. I finally saw the big picture.

Once you develop the habit of being intentional about your career growth, the rest is pure adventure. I admit that I’m a little addicted to learning, growing, developing and seeing what’s next. It’s so much fun! I don’t know if I will ever reach the limit of my potential but it’s been a wonderful journey to see how far I can go.

The Career Growth Pathway

The diagram here demonstrates that the knowledge you gain is only actionable towards growth if you have the desire and ability to achieve. Achievement of your capacity hinges on your belief in yourself. With a plan and intentionality – you can reach your potential!

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