On Future Goals

Dear Plucky,

People frequently talk about writing your goals and plans on paper in order to give yourself the best chance of achieving them. What if you don’t know what you want to do in the future or what your goals are? How can you go about figuring that out… and are interim goals acceptable?

Thanks,

A little lost


Dear Lost,

Two weeks ago, I had coffee with someone who wanted to discuss his career path. We talked about his options for a while and then, 48 minute into our conversation, he said something off-hand. (Note: people always confess their dreams offhand. I don’t know why, maybe we should call a sociologist to ask.)

“Obviously if I could do anything, I’d stay home and make art projects with my future children,” he laughed and then turned his attention back to the world of engineering. 

“WHOAH,” I said. “What was THAT?”

We talked through the dream of being a stay-at-home Dad. There are understandable logistical challenges standing in the way of his dream, but ultimately I didn’t think there were any complete deal-breakers. This dream could happen one day.

Two days later, I was talking to another person about work. We were chatting about her new home; she showed me a couple of pictures of the house, including new tiles in a shower which was a damn work of art.

“Um, what the heck?” I asked. “Have you ever thought about interior design?”

She laughed and, offhand, said something to the effect of “oh yeah, that’s what I studied but it’s hard to make money doing it.”

Then we went back to discussing her role in software.

@Lost, I am going to tell you a secret. I talk to a LOT of people about their work. And I have this weird, niche vantage point on the world. Many, many of us are spending 40+ hours a week PLUS 200% of our stress and sleepless nights on jobs that are so misaligned with our hearts that it is heavy to witness.

So why am I telling you this? Well, you’re asking a good question with interesting language like pen and paper and interim and future goals. And before we get there, I really want to stop you and say that the first question is: WHAT IS YOUR OFFHAND DREAM?

You might not honestly know… this information can be buried so deep down that it takes major excavation to find it. Let’s try a couple sentences to see if that sparks anything:

  • “Oh man, if I could do anything and money wasn’t an object, I’d spend my time: _____________.”
  • “When I was 8 years old, I always wanted to grow up to be: ____________________.”
  • “The easiest work I can imagine (easy because I love it so dearly) would involve: ___________________.”

I am not asking you to retire. In fact, if your answer to that first prompt has anything to do with “lay on a beach and sip margaritas lol,” we are not on the same page. I do not believe that humans are fulfilled by a life of 100% relaxing. If you are tempted to answer that first prompt as such, that tells me you need a vacation, NOT that your life goal involves floating in a pool and doing nothing.

Maybe your answers are still locked up tight but maybe something in that prompt opened up a tiny answer… and if that happened, I think you should put THAT to pen & paper. You can even write it on a post-it, if that’s the size paper you feel comfortable with for now. 

Like this:

I’m not going to coach you through your life dreams in this blog post. This serious topic needs care and TLC via coaching or therapy or mountain hikes or the like. But what I *will* say in this post is:

You could spend your entire life justifying the logic behind your 9-5 responsibilities. LinkedIn has plenty of ideas for where you could work. Recruiters are ready to make short work of your wondering. 401ks and mortgages and health benefits are all real concerns and I don’t mention them lightly. 

But what the hell are you doing in this life if you are ignoring your own answers? 

When it comes to your future (which, by the way, is never assured), screw pen & paper. GET THE POSTERBOARD. Do you think I ever imagined running a company fueled by painter’s tape and colored post-its and having real conversations with people for money? No m’am. I was way too scared and degree’d to ever dream that this could be the way I made a living. 

The way I got here is simple: little by little. (Interim steps, eh??)  It’s ok if you don’t know where you’re going; just focus on where you’re going next. Do what’s doable, incremental, a sidestep from where you are now. 

Where do you need to be next? Find that authentic answer, take that step and then make the next one authentic, too. If you do this, one day you may look up and realize you are very far from where you started. And if you’re stepping with intention, I bet you arrive so much closer to your dream ballpark than you ever imagined.

Eff the system; dream big. Everyone else out there has lost their hope, allowing it to be crushed by student loans and politics and fear. Focus yourself and move authentically, step by step. It’s terrifying.

It’s also the BEST.

xo Jen


P.S. Want help thinking about this stuff? Join our Career Path ecourse this spring… you don’t have to wonder alone. I got you.