I was recently catching up with a friend who was feeling very stuck in her career. So much so that she admitted, “I’m just skating through the days and weeks… and missing the time when I used to really care about what I did for 40 hours a week”. Research on fulfillment at work shows she’s not alone, and in fact, about 77% of workers are not fulfilled with their jobs. We spent the next 2 hours in a really powerful peer-coaching session where she realized that the single thing she needed to start doing was to start setting goals again.
One thing that always really impressed me about this friend was that she would write really well thought-out goals, and put them on her fridge for all to see. It was brave. It was vulnerable. And to quote my friend, “I realized that the second my career started going off the rails was the very time we stopped writing our SMART goals.”
So how do you create SMART goals for your career?
Here’s a quick refresher on SMART goals, which are scientifically proven to help you achieve more than you think possible:
Specific: Try and answer who, what, when, where, why, and/or how.
Measurable: A clear metric or result that will show you have accomplished it.
Attainable: Stretches you just enough, but is still possible.
Relevant: Connects to your true direction.
Timed: A day that it will be accomplished by.
(Want more? Career Contessa has a great write-up on this topic.)
At MovingWorlds, we’ve helped hundreds of professionals transition into more impactful, fulfilling jobs, and it all starts with setting really SMART goals. As an example, here is an example of a not-so-smart goal and a SMART goal:
- Not-so-smart: Get a job that makes the world better by fixing education
- SMART: In the next 12 months, get at least 3 job offers from organizations that exist to improve education systems, and where the work I will be doing builds on my strengths in marketing & communications, gives me the opportunity to grow as a manager, and still gives me the opportunity to see the direct impact my work will have on future generations
So, once you write a first draft of your own career goals, here are 5 things we’ve learned beyond the act of writing a SMART goal that will help you reach your true potential.
#1. Yes, you have to write your SMART goals down in a visible place
We have seen people write their goals down, stick them on their fridge, have it as a start-up screen on their computer, the background on their phone. More-so, they also tell their friends, mentors, and/or other professional networks that can hold them accountable. They also come up with crafty reminders… like putting reminder notifications in their smartphone every month or scheduling emails that will send every month prompting them to look at their goals.
#2. Quality matters and time invested now will pay dividends later
The people that spend time writing through their goals, analyzing them, and “sleeping on them for a week” end up being more bought-in, engaged, and motivated by them. Don’t just write them and leave them alone, keep thinking about them and revamping them. Our lives and careers change, so our goals will change too – making sure our goals stay aligned will pay off later.
#3. Don’t do it alone
Setting goals is hard. Setting high-quality SMART goals by yourself is almost impossible. Use a network, friend, or peer-network to help you iterate on your goals until you get a result you are very proud to put on your fridge.
#4. Keep your goals aspirational and endlessly motivating
Perhaps more important than any other piece of guidance I provide is to set a bigger goal that will motivate you. As an example, people will say things like “I want to get a promotion” or “I want a job at the Gates Foundation”. This goal won’t really motivate you to do the hard work to advance your social impact career. You need to keep your purpose at the heart of what you do, and write something that inspires you to do just a little more every time you read it.
#5. SMART goals support experimentation
The reality is, we don’t know enough today to guarantee fulfillment in 12 months (Dan Gilbert has a great TED Talk on this, The Psychology of Your Future Self). Goals that support the idea of experimentation as opposed to absolutism are more likely to land you in a place of success. As an example, “I want a job in the Gates Foundation working on program design in the next 12 months” is something that limits expectations and possibilities. The goals I’ve seen that really help people are more along the lines of “Find a new job with ongoing career growth potential at a global organization that is truly making the world better, through the use of social enterprise thinking, within the next 12 months.” This second goal will help you do more than just apply to jobs at the Gates Foundation. It will force you to learn more about other organizations, it will require networking, and it will guide on skills you need to learn, which is potentially more helpful to you in the long term than a position at the Gates Foundation.
We know that writing goals can be time-consuming and challenging, but the cost of not writing them is much higher. Writing SMART goals about what you will be doing one, five, and ten years from now will help you find more fulfillment, and it will probably help the world, too.