Are Career Goals A Waste Of Time?

Estimated reading time: 6 mins

Two years ago, this question may have seemed ridiculous to you. In a growing economy, opportunity is in abundance and the challenge we had back then didn’t concern make-or-break, but which of the golden opportunities were the shiniest. Now the whole economic environment has changed. The economy is turbulent and unpredictable. So is it worth setting ourselves career goals?

This is a question I am asked a lot by the people I coach. It seems that confidence in the economy has hit such depths that some folks are wondering if there is any point in planning their future, but rather leave it to chance and take what comes.

Pretty grim, huh?

I can understand the lack of faith in the future, especially when folks work their butt off by developing skills for the IT industry which are deeply technical and specialized. People plough a lot of their time and money into preparing for, and starting, an IT career, and it takes just as much effort in maintaining it. Only for the economy to create downward pressure on business to lay these people off, or put their career progression on hold. Total bummer, when you look at it like that.

Are Career Goals a Waste Of Time? Chris Jones is a 23 year-old infrastructure engineer and a friend of mine. He went to University in Reading, England, and aced his degree in Computer Science. That’s four years and over $15,000 out of his pocket. He then spent another 12 months on technical courses learning advanced subjects about server and network infrastructure – another $25,000 out of his pocket (actually, his parents). He landed his first job in a Financial Services organization and set himself the goal of becoming a guru in VMWare as a specialism to lead to being a key influencer of virtualization architecture, design and buying decisions. He had totally committed to this goal. Then the recession took hold and his company began to shed jobs – Chris was one of the first to go because many infrastructure projects were put on the shelf.

Is Chris pissed off? Yes. Did he doubt that he can realize his goals? Yes.

After three months he remains in the line for jobs that don’t seem to come. But after a month following Chris’s lay off, he realized he had a choice: give up on his goals, or reframe them. Sure, Chris didn’t have a job that would implicitly support his personal growth plans and the acquisition of skills and experience, but is it really then end of the line for them? At that point, Chris gave me a call and we looked at how he could still achieve his goals under new circumstances. And this is what he has to say about it:

Immediately after being laid off, I was in shock. The time, effort and money I had spent getting to that point in my early career was all gone, or so I thought at the time. Once the initial shock passed, I questioned whether having career goals was worth it. It was a sad time, I can tell you.

I am not naturally an optimist, but I am determined. A couple of week’s after getting the elbow I decided that I would find out if I can still achieve my goals without being in a steady job, as quite frankly, I don’t expect to be in one for a while.

This decision means I had to reconsider what my goals mean to me. Not being in a permanent job means I won’t be able to measure how much of a ‘guru’ I am by being the sole technical and acquisition lead on virtualization projects. I won’t be the ‘main man’. Instead, I am going to take a much more external view and measure that. In other words, I’ll achieve the same goal I committed by becoming a virtualization guru as recognized by the IT community and the authority I build using social networking and media. I’ll get there by taking on independent consulting work, hopefully gained by attracting buyers using a blog and writing articles that I will publish through Web2.0 based media outlets. The recognition I want will be for everyone to award and see!

I feel really excited about this now – I am still aiming to achieve what I desire but in a different way than I thought I would.

Chris used an interesting word towards the end of his quote – DESIRE. It is desire that I want to highlight as being the source of career goals – not money or a job title, or anything like that. We can all give ourselves a job title. Heck, we might even win the lottery. But if our goal is to achieve what we truly desire, then it doesn’t matter if we have to rethink how we get there. Our desire will maintain our motivation and create energy to achieve our goals that we didn’t think we had.

Steve Pavlina says it best. Here’s what he had to say about this when interviewed on the Zen Habits blog :

The way I see it, success isn’t about money or reputation or possessions or anything like that. Success is a decision. That’s all. Success is deciding what you really, truly want and committing yourself to getting it. If you’re making progress toward your desires, you’re successful.

Most people never get clear about what they want. Even if they set goals, the goals are often socially conditioned, not consciously chosen. Obviously you’re not going to succeed if you don’t listen to and accept your own desires, especially the desires that run afoul of social conventions. So not connecting with your true desires is mistake #1

That connection with desire is most important, and perhaps may explain if you’ve recently doubted yourself when facing your career goals. If you’ve been laid off, or if you’re worried about your job or how the economy effects it, then take a look at the career goals you’re aiming for and ask yourself if they connect with your desires. If you find yourself doubtful about your goals, or if you’re procrastinating instead of taking action, then it’s very likely that your goals don’t connect with your desires.

How Do You Connect Your Goals To Your Desires?

Doing this is as simple as your ability to listen to your inner voices allows. Creating goals that connect to desire stems from listening to the conversations inside your head, and then visualizing the outcome that solves the problems and opportunities. Career goals are no different from any other goals in this sense. You might find that visualizing your retirement day helps – what would you want to say about your career and its achievements as you receive your gold watch? You may even want to write your obituary, and describe what achievements you made there! These might sound goofy, but believe me they work when you want to focus your mind.

To summarize…

Career goals are as important as ever. A turbulent economy can mean well-laid plans are shot to pieces, but new plans can be made. The goals can remain the same, albeit achieved differently! If you can adapt and be flexible then goal-achievement is a journey without a map but instead a strong sense of direction. Connect your goals to your desires and you’ll find that your sense of direction is extremely strong and your motivation gets a boost!

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4 thoughts on “Are Career Goals A Waste Of Time?”

  1. This is an interesting article, and is posted at a time that I’ve two similar conversations with project managers this week alone. The conversations went along the lines of “…. I’ve been working to a career plan over the last 10 years, gaining a blend of experience in projects, working my way up the chain in terms of level of complexity of projects. According to my career plan 08/09 I wanted to be doing XXX but now with the market being as it is, I can’t see how I can achieve that”

    Of course your post lays out the solution, new plans have to be made, for now anyway. For project managers at least it will probably be a case of a slight tweak to the plan to take care of today but keeping the original plan there ready for the upturn. I like this quote about success;

    “Success is a journey not a destination. The doing is usually more important than the outcome.” Arthur Ashe

    Sometimes the journey may deviate from the original plan but hey that’s the fun of it.

    One other thing I wanted to comment on was the outcome to Chris’s story. Again I’ve had similar conversations with a specialist in programme office who has recently been made redundant and we’ve come to a similar conclusion to Chris’. The specialist in my case has a lot of knowledge and wisdom to share, so needs to get it out there through things such as blogs, setting up a website etc. I think this does two things; one, sorts out the immediate need to be doing something worthwhile following redundancy which is in your own hands and two, it’s a great step to take in preparing for the upturn, because the upturn will happen and good PMO specialists will be in demand again.

    Of course this is advice that the UK government wants people to pick up on i.e., consider starting your own business if you’re currently out of work. I think these steps of self promotion of your specialisms through new technologies and media is a brilliant way to tackle the gloom at the moment and I totally recommend it to anyone to give it a go.

  2. @Lindsay – thanks very much for your comment! I can totally understand why the project managers you spoke with feel this way – when we commit to a plan that is personal and pivotal to our goals, it is painful to experience deviation unless we’re prepared for it. I doubt even a project manager prepares a ‘contingency plan’ when the plan is very personal.
    The key (which you’re recognizing) is to look at a career plan as the solution, not the problem. An instance of a plan will change as our personal and economic conditions change, but having a plan shouldn’t change in these times!
    Thanks Again!

  3. I do love OutwardBound UK’s mantra which goes something like:

    “We are all better than we know and if only we can be brought to realize this, we may never be prepared to settle for anything less.”

    Good coaching seems to have that mindset already built-in but you can never get enough of it.

    In the case of the infrastructure guy you featured Simon, the reality check of a deep recession is a tough one to swallow. But he (Chris) seems to be taking action in areas where he can male an impact – the “Serenity Prayer” comes to mind here!

    Maybe Chris should take the bull by the horns and setup a blog focused on VMWare in the market he’s targeting e.g. UK as a whole, or Defence or (what’s left of..) Financial service etc.

    Then start profiling, interviewing and learning from thought leaders and gurus already in that space. And put a link on the blog that you’re looking for work or consulting experience in that area. Offer to write or edit a VMware book.

    Use LinkedIn Q&A, make some YouTube Videos and distribute them across the video sharing sites. Follow VMWare gurus on Twitter… there’s a lot can be done in 1 -2 hours a day on top of a ‘traditional’ job search.

    1. simonstapleton

      @Mark – fantastic advice. The OutwardBound mantra is spot on isn’t it? It’s along the same lines as Lance Armstrong’s quote: ‘give up, or Fight Like Hell’. Giving up on a career just because it hasn’t gone to plan is really accepting total failure. Once you give up, that’s it – finito… no more… it’s all over. You’ll never know what you can achieve.

      Better to fight like hell and find out what is possible.

      I’ll pass this onto Chris. Thanks again.

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