What do you want out of life?
It's a big question to answer and an even more daunting prospect to go about trying to achieve it. We all have dreams and goals, in varying stages of crystallization and tangibility, and we're each on our own journey to get to where we want to be.
Knowing what you want out of life is a huge accomplishment in itself. Once you have that figured out, you can make the moves necessary to move toward making it happen. In order to do that, take steps to set goals for yourself, learn from your surroundings and build confidence in your path.
The first step to going after what you want is knowing what exactly it is you're shooting for. Defining what you want can feel like the easiest part of the process, or it can be more challenging than you might think to articulate it. Either way, setting goals for yourself is crucial; that way, you have something to move toward. Maybe you have your work cut out for you: you want a certain job, to live in a particular city or to get a promotion within your field. These are tangible things, destinations that are fairly easy to make progress toward. But maybe your path is more abstract: you want to have a platform of influence, be valued in your field or build a legacy. In any of these cases, setting smart, tangible goals will help you break down the components of your dreams and actually get what you want.
Goals help orient our efforts in a concentrated way, rather than expending energy without direction. If you have done the work of setting clear goals, you can make more informed decisions about the choices you make. Ask yourself: How will this help me achieve my goal? Will this propel me forward? Sometimes, as you move forward, learn and hone in on what you truly want, your goals will change. That's totally fine. Set goals to keep yourself moving in a direction; if something changes, adjust your direction accordingly.
So, you have identified what you want. You can write it down concisely on a fortune cookie paper and deliver the elevator pitch in your sleep. Now, how do you actually go about making it happen? The path to executing your goals will vary depending on what your goals are, but here are some steps you can follow to help you along the way.
It seems simple and way too easy, but sometimes the only thing standing between you and what you want is someone who can — and will — help you get there. This may be your boss, for example, if what you want is a raise or a promotion. And even if it's not quite that simple, communicating your goals clearly to other people and asking for help can get you pretty far. Sometimes, women especially are slower to ask for what they want directly, as it might be perceived as impolite or aggressive. Getting past that nonsense notion — which we owe to socialization that makes us shrink ourselves and our ambitions subconsciously — takes some active internal work. However, once you move past it, you can start asking for what you want in reasonable but persistent ways.
If you have a mentor or professional contact who has a connection at a company you want to work for or with a person you'd like to have coffee with, ask them if they can connect you. If you know someone in the field you want to go into, or you admire someone's path and want to emulate their career, ask them if they will meet with you for an informational interview. You never know who may have an answer or a lead for you. So even if you don't know or can't think of anyone that might possibly help you get to where you want to be, making your goals clear to people makes it easier for them to help you. If people around you know what you want and you have good relationships with them, they want to help you get there and will think of you if and when opportunities come up.
Join networks of women — like this one! — and make use of communities that are built to help each other. Ask for advice, troubleshoot struggles you're having, offer to help out on someone else's project in return for picking their brain. These moves might feel small, but they'll help you plant seeds for the future and propel you forward.
As mentioned, having goals is very important if you're going to make real moves toward what you want. And not just any goal — smart, tangible goals. If you still have some work to do on identifying what you want, start with your dreams, however abstract or broad they may be. Then, work backward, and figure out what the material goal is that would yield that dream.
Say your dream is to be an influential feminist thinker. What does that mean, when you break it down? You probably want to be published in prominent feminist publications, take part in or lead studies and research on gendered issues or establish a reputation in the academic or media worlds. These are more tangible destinations. Break it down even further — what are the different components of each of these goals? Are they progressive? In order to get published in prominent feminist publications, you'll probably have to start smaller. Apply for internships or fellowships at feminist magazines. Pitch articles to independent publications, or start your own blog or website. Build the foundation of the life or result you're trying to achieve. Break up your goal into several smaller goals, and make progress that way.
Manifestation is powerful. Our minds have much more control over our lives than we may think, and by concentrating your mental power on your goals, you can help yourself move forward. In whatever way works for you, practice visualizing what you want. Whether you're a vision board person or you would rather make a list or write it down in a journal, find a method that you can get behind. Think about what it would look and feel like to get where you want to go. What would your life look like? Where would you live? What job would you have? What would your average day look like? Having a clear idea of different aspects of what you want not only to help you visualize it happening more clearly but realize it as a possibility in your mind. That way, when you do get what you want, you'll be ready for it.
Don't feel any pressure to reinvent the wheel completely when it comes to forging your path. Use what you know about how people before you have made their way in your career or gotten to where you want to be. Identify role models and career idols — people whose paths you want to learn from and incorporate. Consider following some of the same or similar steps they took to make progress toward where they are now. Where did they intern? Where did they start out? What did they major in? Do all the learning you can about the different paths people have taken to get to where they are, especially if it's close to where you want to be. You don't have to take all the same steps, and everyone's path is different, but it will give you an idea of where to start and what to consider.
A lot of our goals are career-oriented or tied in some way to professional advancement. These goals are great, and it's important to center these, at least sometimes, in our lives. However, career goals can't be everything. You will inevitably face setbacks in this sphere of your life, but that doesn't mean you aren't making progress toward the life you want. Think holistically about your life goals and your purpose. Identify the aspects of what you want that extend beyond having the perfect job or being where you want in your career by a certain point in your life. What personal values and goals do you have that you are working on improving on and upholding?
Having a multifaceted idea of what your goals are will help you avoid feeling failure in one area of your life so intensely. Even if you don't get your dream job or promotion, you can be making progress personally, mentally or within your relationships in real and valuable ways.
Not all paths are linear. Though you have a clear idea of where you want to end up, the road that takes you there might not be what you had in mind. Don't take all changes in plans as setbacks. A day job you have that you see as a detour from the career you want might connect you with someone who works in the field you dream of working in. Be persistent but patient. If your goal is clear, and you don't give up, you will make progress.
Whatever your timeline may be, as long as you're growing in some way and keeping your goals in sight, you're moving toward them. The how and the when of getting there might not be apparent until later, which is frustrating, to say the least. But if you stay motivated and moving and take steps to avoid becoming burned out or discouraged, you will make progress toward where you want to be.