Most great adventures start with a great dream. Dreams of success, or wealth, or stability, or even happiness. The trouble with dreams, though, is that they’re not measurable. How do you know you’ve succeeded?
Dreams are what inspire us. They help keep us going. But they can’t be a measure of success. For that, we need a goal.
The Difference Between Goals and Dreams
Consider the following:
“I want to be a famous author!” This is a great dream. But how do you know when you’ve achieved it? What does “famous” look like?
“I want to be on the Oprah show.” Now that’s a goal! It’s clear when you’ve achieved it—you’ve either been on the Oprah show or you haven’t. You don’t have to guess or wonder if you’ve made it.
When you’re charting out your career, dreams are a nice-to-have, but a goal is a necessity. Once you have your end goal in mind, figuring out what you need to do to achieve it is as simple as working backward.
Work Backwards to Plot Your Path Forward
Let’s say you’ve decided that you want to be on Oprah—that’s your goal. So how do you get there? One step at a time. That may seem glib, but it’s true: you need a plan that accounts for each step in the process, beginning with something you can do right now.
And the best way to figure out your very next step is to work backward from your goal until you reach your current position.
In our example, if you want to be featured on Oprah as an author, you need to sell a bunch of books. To sell a bunch of books, you need a great agent. To get a great agent, you need to have a fantastic book. To have a great book, you need to complete a book. To complete a book, you need to write 1000 words a day.
Can you do that today? Can you start writing 1000 words a day? If the final step on your list is something you can do right now, then you’re ready. If not, keep working backward until you find something you can start now.
In our example, maybe you don’t know what you want to write about. So maybe you can’t write 1000 words today. So keep going backward. To write 1000 words, you need a plot. To find a plot, you need inspiration and ideas. To get inspiration and ideas, you need to brainstorm your favorite stories and what you liked about them.
Now you have something you can do today, right now, to get you moving toward your goal.
Edit As You Go
As you work through your steps, you may find that you’re missing a step. That’s okay! Fill it in and keep going. Just make sure the next item on your list is something you can do today—otherwise your goal will always remain out of reach. Your plan can evolve over time as long as every time you add a step, you have an immediate next action to get you to that step.
The wonderful thing about this process is that you can apply it to every aspect of your life, from job hunting to personal hobbies and even to relationships.
Use Goal Setting to Land the Right Job
The key to achieving your goal is having an immediate next step that you can take right away. So if your goal is to change careers and become a translator, for example, your plan of action—working backwards!—might look something like this:
- Get a new translator job!
- Interview with a translation firm
- Apply for a translation job
- Revamp my resume with qualifications
- Get certified as a translator
- Pass certification exam
- Study 1 hour a day
Studying 1 hour a day is probably something you can do now, and if not, keep going. Maybe you need to buy a book first. Great. Keep working backward until you find your immediate action. And just like that—you have a map to get from where you are today to where you want to be in the future.
What are your career goals? And what are you doing today to achieve them?