Setting Goals, Not Burdens

Setting goals can be invigorating or destructive. A well set goal will be motivating, energizing, and achievable. A poorly set goal will be a burden, a form of self-punishment. I am reminded of two ancient stories that convey the sense of a poorly set goal. The first is Sisyphus who spent eternity pushing a rock up a hill only to have it roll down again. The second is the Danaids who carried water in jugs with holes, the water always leaked out before they reached their destination. In myth, these eternal tasks are punishments set by an outside power; the first given by Zeus, the second by a King. In our professional lives there may be external forces that limit what we can achieve. But none have the power and authority of a god or even a king to determine our life pursuits.

Goal setting is something over which we have power. Thus the question becomes how to set goals well and stay in the good graces with ourselves (many of us are harsh taskmasters). I find the SMART acronym first defined in a 1981 issue of “Management Review” by George Doran to be especially useful. Originally the context was purely for business, but like the ancient stories we can use both in our personal and professional lives. Here are the elements of a SMART goal:

  1. Specific. What do you want to achieve? (Remember: you can have more than one goal.)
  2. Measurable. Figure out a way to measure progress. Nothing fancy, just a way to stay motivated and show yourself that progress has been made. It can be disheartening to feel as though no headway has been made, so find a way to measure your advancement towards your goal.
  3. Assignable. Although this is your goal, you will have people who will help. Who are these people and what will they do? Having others on your team brings expertise you lack, improves decision making, and keeps you motivated to continue. (Note this is sometimes “Achievable”.)
  4. Realistic. In business, the key restraint is “available resources.” What can you realistically achieve given where you are today? At different times in our lives we may have health issues, challenging family obligations, or a lack of money that we must figure into our goal setting. One warning: don’t let “realistic” keep you from being bold and thinking big.
  5. Time-related. Don’t leave the goal open ended. Establish a time-frame and set key achievements along the way. You don’t want things to carry on forever.

Setting SMART goals is an important part of all our professional lives. They are especially critical when doing a job search or considering a shift in career path. The clock is ticking, resources are constrained, and you don’t have all the answers. If you are conducting a job search or considering a change, please contact us at We offer free initial consultations that will help you understand the job search process in greater detail.

By: Bryan Dennis, Career Solutions Group