Clear goals and objectives are essential to the success of any business, and this is no less true of building your own career. If you don’t take the time to get really clear about exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish, then you’re forever doomed to spend your life achieving the goals of those who do. In the absence of a clear direction for your life, you will either meander aimlessly or you will build a career that you don’t feel good about. You may make some money, and you may do some interesting work, but the end result will not resemble anything you ever made a conscious decision to build, and ultimately you will be left with the sinking feeling that maybe you took a wrong turn somewhere along the way. Do you ever look at your career and think to yourself, “How on earth did I get here?”
If setting goals is so critically important, then why is it that so few people take the time to define exactly where they want to go? Part of the reason is a lack of knowledge about how to set clear goals. You can go through years of schooling and never receive any instruction on goal setting at all. A failure to understand the immense importance of establishing clear goals is also common. But those who truly know what they want often outperform everyone else by an enormous degree.
A frequent deterrent to goal setting is the fear of making a mistake. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Setting virtually any goal at all is better than drifting aimlessly with no clear direction. The best way I know to guarantee failure is to avoid making clear, committed decisions. Every day is already a mistake if you don’t know where you’re going. You’re probably spending most of your time working to achieve other people’s goals. The local fast food restaurant, TV advertisers, and the stockholders of the businesses you patronize are all very happy for that. If you don’t decide what you really want, then you’ve decided to hand your future over to the whims of others, and that’s always a mistake. By taking hold of the reins yourself and deciding where you’d like to go, you gain a tremendous sense of control that most people never experience in their entire lives.
Many people assume that because they have a direction, they must therefore have goals, but this is not the case and merely creates the illusion of progress. “Making more money” and “building a business” are not goals. A goal is a specific, clearly defined, measurable state. An example of the difference between a direction and a goal is the difference between the compass direction of northeast and the top of the Eiffel Tower in France. One is merely a direction; the other is a definite location.
“First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.” –Aristotle