Sarah and Pam have been friends since middle school. They are now 40-something and in the middle of their careers, but their lives could not be more different. Sarah began working for a major restaurant chain right out of college as a manager of one of its more successful locations. Today, she and her partner own their own chain of high-end restaurants in the southwest with plans to expand into California next. Sarah has homes in Arizona and Colorado, and a condo in Belize. She travels quite a bit, is on the board of a major charity, and cannot imagine ever slowing down or retiring.
Pam began working for a major insurance company when she graduated. Today she is still a regional manager for that insurance company. She is not particularly fond of her job, but earns enough to have a house, pay her bills, and take a vacation now and then. Pam is longing for retirement, even though it is still 20 years away, when she can just stop getting up and going to work. At one point, she dreamed of getting into real estate investment. When the opportunity came during the housing crash of 2008, she thought about it again, but opted not to take the risks involved.
We all have choices related to our careers. We can find a position within our career field and join an organization in which we believe we can thrive and grow; we can strike out on our own, because we love independence and have that entrepreneurial “spirit.” Still, no matter which path we choose, we only reach our real potential if we have goals and pursue them with drive and enthusiasm. That is the difference between Sarah and Pam. Both had goals, but only one chose to go after them by taking definite action.
You, too, have goals. Will you be a Sarah or a Pam? Choose right now to be a Sarah and take these seven tips to heart.
1. Define Your Goal in Detail
Just making lots of money is not a career goal, though many think it is. To define your career goal, you have to ask yourself a single question: “What would I be doing if every day I really looked forward to getting up and getting to a type of work that I loved?” When you answer that question, you have a career goal. It may be related to your current career field or it may be totally different.
2. Make a Plan and Put it in Writing
You have to think of your goal as any other project you might have in your current positions. You use a process to get that project done—one which involves breaking it down into smaller objectives and meeting each of those smaller objectives, one at a time. What has to happen to achieve your career goal? Once you have your list, you can divide up those tasks and put them on a timeline. Maybe your goal is to own your own business—let’s say, a catering company. What has to happen? Maybe you have to go back to school. What coursework will you need and where can you get it? When will you start that course work and when will you complete it? That’s just one step toward your goal. How much money will it take to get started? How will you get that money? Will you start part-time just on weekends until your business grows? All goals require plans. In the end, you have a timeline that outlines what you will do tomorrow, next week, next month, and every month after that. This was where Pam went wrong. She had a goal, but no plan. Then when the opportunity came, she wasn’t ready because she had never developed a plan.
3. Hold Your Focus
You have a timeline, and now you need the focus to follow through. Every day, you have to have reminders of what you are striving for. Whether you use visuals, like the pictures on your fridge or a journal in which you write down every day what you have done toward that goal, you need something tangible to keep you focused. Then, when you meet one of those benchmarks you have set, you should reward yourself!
4. Stay Positive
Negativity kills goals. It can come from family and friends who discourage you; it can come from within —thoughts of lack of ability; fears of risks—those little demons in your head that say “play it safe” or “it’s too hard” or “it’s taking too much time.” You have to counter all of this negativity with focus and confidence. Look around you. How many others have pursued their passions and met with success? You are just as smart and just as capable as they are.
5. Take Care of Yourself
You will probably be doing “double-duty” for a time. You may be working full time and taking coursework on the side; you may be starting your own business on a part-time basis and pulling long nights and working weekends to do it. Guard against exhausting yourself and be careful to plan time for fun. Eat right and get some exercise, too. Take an evening and just chill with a glass of wine and a book. Keeping yourself somewhat balanced will help you stay positive and give you more energy when you do return to the tasks at hand.
6. Start Networking Early On
Once you have your goal, begin to establish relationships with others in that career field who have “made it”, who can provide sound advice and who can introduce you to others who will support and help you, too. Making the decision to hang out with others who share your goals and who support you provides a huge incentive for you to keep moving.
7. When It’s Time, Don’t Hesitate
You’ve worked your plan; you’ve achieved all of those benchmarks. You have your ducks in a row. It’s time to make your move, whether that is to get your resume out there, or to quit your job and launch full-time. Hesitation leads to doubt and further procrastination. Take the leap knowing that this is what you have prepared for.
Sarah is doing what she loves, and it shows in every aspect of her life. Pam pretty much just exists. Take these tips seriously, add your own, and choose to be a Sarah.