When I was 24 and enrolled in the Dale Carnegie Sales Course, I learned to set goals and discovered that doing so was an important key to unlocking later successes both large and small.
Virtually everyone knows that setting goals is important for a happier, richer and fuller life, but they don’t always know how to set goals. I recently worked with people from the website Covcell.com to help create a process for successful goal setting. People who prepare for the GED test are in a difficult position as they go back to school as adults and must focus on learning test taking strategies almost every day.
So I incorporate for them the exercise during my course. I learned In one exercise we were asked to state what we wanted to be doing in ten years, and what income we expected to earn doing it. Please note that the question was not what we wanted to be, but what we wanted to do.
It’s a good thing the question was phrased this way because I had no earthly clue what I wanted to BE in ten years. However, with three years in the real world I’d seen enough types of work to write this on my goal card: ‘Use speaking, writing and sales skills to earn at least $50,000.’
In class, they were quite adamant that a goal must be written or it would be as ephemeral as the wishes or dreams drifting around in our minds. They encouraged us to keep the goal cards and see how things had evolved in ten years. I filed mine safely away.
The acronym ‘SMART Goals’ comprises these criteria: Specific and Written, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time-Activated. I encourage you to use this formula to write down what you want to be doing in ten years and see what happens.
Over the next several years my career path included sales, athletic club marketing, special events management, working as ‘the suit’ at three small ad agencies–and getting fired two times, making it three total in my short and so-far not brilliant career. Call it laid off or downsized, but the bottom line was that I suddenly had the opportunity to go new places, meet new people and do new things!
Although it feels like hell when it happens, a number of books now tout the advantages of being laid off, fired, canned, downsized, axed, or shown the door. Chief among them is a rapid blossoming of one’s own creativity in rounding up mortgage money.
My most decisive moments included a Scarlett O’Hara drama surge in which I swore to myself that I would never work for a male creative director again! Of course, this would mean I’d have to rely on my own speaking, writing and sales skills.
Lighten Up and Let Go!
Turns out those were three major criteria in public relations consulting, not that I’d had any clue about that when I’d penned them ten years earlier. Rifling through some papers, I encountered the written goal card and marveled that the simple act of being aware of what I enjoyed doing and writing those things down had drawn me to that career. But they could have drawn me to any number of others involving speaking, writing, and sales, and I might have been just as happy and successful in any of them.
That’s the conundrum. On the one hand, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.’
And on the other hand, as Dr. Susan Jeffers says in Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (which saved my life during the terror of launching my own business), we need to lighten up and not hold onto expectations so tightly that we squeeze everything from our grasp–both the good and the bad.
‘If you take one path, you taste the blueberries; if you take another path, you taste the strawberries,’ says Jeffers.
Lightening up means realizing that even the most skilled pilots or sailboat captains, while tacking through the buffeting winds toward their destination, are actually off course approximately ninety percent of the time, and yet they still arrive unscathed.