You probably think about your future a lot. Will you have time to accomplish everything you want to do? What exactly do you want to do you with your life? How you answer these questions depends on your personal goals and specific aspirations.
Whether your company is asking you to describe your ambitions as part of a performance review or you just want to figure out your personal objectives, setting long term goals can help you figure out where you’re headed, stay on course, and find meaning in your work, both in the long and short term. Developing goals also allows you to acknowledge and celebrate personal achievements.
So how do you set clear, actionable, and achievable career goals for yourself? Here are five questions to ask yourself:
1. Overall, am I happy where I am now?
If the answer is yes, that’s great! Having short-term goals is just as important to your overall sense of subjective well-being as long term ones. Still, chances are you have a lot left to accomplish. Gauging how positively you feel about your current job will encourage you to think about what you want to be the same or different in future roles, as well as how much more time you’d care to spend in your current position.
If you’re not very happy in your current role, consider what exactly you don’t like about it. Thinking about what needs to change can inform your career goals in terms of what you don’t want and how your work can be different from that in the future.
2. What do I like best about my job?
If your gut reaction is to respond “everything” or “nothing,” try again. There’s at least one aspect of your work that you like. Even if it’s the benefits you receive, it’s still something you can take into account when forming your career goals. In that case, it may mean security and your own well-being are most important to you.
Chances are, there are more aspects of your current job that you enjoy. Perhaps you have a great deal of autonomy. If that’s the case, you might want to factor that into your career goals, both short and long, and consider how you can find a path that affords you independence. Whatever you enjoy most about your work, take it into account and think about how you can incorporate it into your future.
3. What are my greatest strengths?
Are you a good listener? A natural leader? Even if you aren’t using these skills in your current position, there’s probably some quality people have always admired in you. Think about the compliments you receive most and where your true talents lie. They will guide you as you reflect on what you want to accomplish and what career objectives are achievable.
4. Who is my career role model?
No matter what your industry is, there’s someone who’s excelling in it. Think about the people you look up to in your profession. If you’re a journalist, perhaps it’s Arianna Huffington. Or maybe you’re an actor and admire Meryl Streep. Once you’ve determined who makes your profession great, you can look into the steps they took to get to where they are today and then formulate your own personal career goals. You don’t need to — and probably shouldn’t — emulate your role model’s path exactly, but instead use it to inform your own journey.
Also consider what characteristics you most admire about these figures. They didn’t get to where they are because of sheer talent alone. Perhaps their air of confidence makes them great. Identifying the qualities that make your role models shine in their professions can give you something to mirror and seek out yourself.
5. What accomplishments make me most proud?
Ultimately, you want to be proud of your work. Reflecting on the accomplishments that have made you proud in the past will inform what you want for your future. You don’t need to have won a Nobel Prize; even accomplishments that seem small scale are still accomplishments. Everybody starts small. A minor achievement can lead to great things in the future, but you need to know what you want to achieve to get there.
No matter where you are in life, it’s never too late to start formulating a long-term plan to give you something to aspire toward. Not only can a personal goal and objective give you direction, but they’ll also make you happier, knowing that you are working towards something.
That said, as you set goals, you should also try to keep a back-up plan (or a few) in mind. Having specific goals is great for providing motivation, but being overly wed to them could wind up backfiring. As Sheryl Sandberg says in her book “Option B,” life doesn’t always go exactly as we’d envisioned — but that doesn’t mean it can’t be better than we’d even pictured. Fill your years with whatever makes you most happy, and you’re sure to find long-term success!