The Energizing Potential of Goal-Setting: Writing Down and Envisioning Your Future
When I was growing up, no one ever explained to me that I could set my own path and work out a blueprint for what I wanted out of life, particularly in the professional realm.
My mother worked part time as a piano player for a ballet school, and had no experience with business at all; my father was a successful businessman and an entrepreneur, but, believing that my future husband would swoop in and take care of me, would inevitably ask me, “Why do you work so hard, when you know you don’t have to?” Even after I graduated college, no one in my family ever suggested going to graduate school for advanced degrees. The sense was that you either got married or took a job. So there was no thought about actual preparation for adult professional responsibilities.
That said, as I got older I had an inner drive – a need for achievement that kept pushing me forward, and a growing love of juggling complex projects. When I realized I had this penchant, I knew I had to learn how to organize better and to plan my life — to have some control over the events and the results. Writing down one or two New Years’ resolutions every year was not providing much clear guidance at all. There had to be a better way.
It took three years of my consulting with companies before I gradually changed from merely thinking about a goal or two, and instead began writing them down. Although I was not yet sure why, I knew that if I could see them written down in front of me, it would be easier for me to set priorities and think through how I would do something. And crossing off things that I had accomplished or that were now heading in the right direction became very satisfying. While I was not thinking that this was necessarily a life- or goal- planning “system, ” I continued to place my faith in its elementary phase and always write down my goals.
Fast forward: It was inevitable — after fifteen years in the consulting business, I began to lose my focus. After all, almost all of my career experiences had been self-started, without a plan or set direction given by a big corporation. How could I set goals when I had no idea what I wanted to do – or even really know what I was qualified to do?
The Power of the Process
Answering an ad in the newspaper, I changed direction and started to work in sales for The Research Institute of America. I learned important lessons during that first year, and slowly began to understand exactly why writing down targets, goals and results was so valuable. Once I learned the company’s way of selling and working, I learned the boundaries of adapting my own ideas and trying new techniques, and I learned the difference between the company’s goals vs. my goals. The company provided me with objectives, targets for sales, motivation, and rewards for success. Success was a combination of achievement, satisfaction, and money, since I was on commission only. I could be creative and take risks with innovative strategies, as long as the sales results were the same or better. As my sales increased, I felt free to explore other ideas, and as always, with small successes, self-confidence begins to grow; as it grows, you begin to have a vision, to see what is possible, and believe that you have the ability to make it happen.
Learning the Difference between the Company’s Goals and My Goals
Lo and behold, at the end of that first full year with the company, I won their top award in sales! Out of 100 people selling, I was #1 in new sales for the entire United States. It was an eye-opening experience for me.
The company next asked me to work with individual salespeople, and I quickly realized what he or she was doing was different from what I did – it did not mean that they were wrong, or that I was right, just that my thought process was different. For instance, I noticed that many seemed to be very task- oriented, whereas I appeared to be more “vision-oriented,” and took more risks. I was unwilling to let prospects or clients intimidate me or control my schedule and life. I also looked at situations and looked for the best possible outcome, not just how to fix the problem.
Most of all, I tried specifically to help the salespeople I was mentoring reach for a higher result, a bigger objective, and then create a specific action plan on how to get there. We started to look at risk factors for trying and succeeding, and what the downside would be if the plan failed.
After three years with The Research Institute, I realized it was time to move on, but this time was very different, I had a much clearer picture of my strengths. I was 40 years old, and had learned by that time that my ideas and strategies about sales, sales training and personal development were solid, and that my primary mission should be teaching these to others. In my emerging new business, many women started asking me for help with their sales, helping them, helped me focus on the goals that were important personally and professionally.
With that calling in my mind and heart, my next business was born. Marketing Innovations Corporation was a company I founded and ran for the next twelve years. With this new venture, I started writing down the ideas, plans and strategies that were important to me and would be important to our clients. It seemed logical that personal life had to be integrated with the work life. Before long I was getting invitations to teach women in sales all over the United States, Canada, and eventually, overseas (which had been on my long term goal list). Teaching and living this concept became part of my life’s work as well as part of our company mission.
I believe you have the ability to choose your path in life. You have the ability to make decisions on issues that are important to you. But first, you need to know WHAT you want in life and to set very specific goals, only then can you make a plan that will help you reach those goals.
Let your mind believe that this really is your life, and you can choose the action and direction that is right for you as well as the people you love and live with.
Advice for Goal-Setting
The Process of Goal Setting: Three Kinds of Goal – Setting Techniques
- At the New Year — a resolution to change something important during the year
- During a time of transition: two or three objectives for the next twelve months
- A blueprint for the next phase of your life
What Goals are Not:
- A quota or project that must be fulfilled at work
- What someone else believes you should do
Two written plans that work:
- For the first half of your life – during your active career years
- For the second half of your life – meaning, when you begin thinking about retirement
Four important criteria when setting goals:
Writing down what you want has to be possible, especially when you begin this process. For example, do not say, “I want to lose weight,” go on a crash diet for 3 weeks and give up. Try saying, “I want to lose 25 pounds, but realize it might take a year. Write out a reasonable plan for exercise, diet, and perhaps a personal trainer for 30 days. That makes 3-5 pounds a month realistic and attainable. You have a chance to succeed.
Make goals that are both realistic and able to be reached. For example, if you want to travel to a certain country but are unable to get a visa, your goal may be realistic but not attainable.
If you say “I want to be wealthy” or “to earn more money”, how will you know when you have succeeded? Where you are now matters dramatically in the measurement. Be specific on what you believe is possible and describe how you plan to improve your skills to achieve this goal.
4. Compatible with other goals
For example, if you have a child or children, a full-time job, a spouse, and want to get a graduate degree, this may not be a realistic goal at this time in your life. My son, Steven, found himself in this situation a few years ago. Renee, his wife, also had a full time job and they had two children. His wish was to move his whole family and attend a university in Japan. It was possible, with a financial and emotional struggle, but not compatible with the goals of the other family members.
Also: Goals and objectives must have a time-frame that is realistic. They may be short-term (between 1 and 6 months), medium-term (6 months to 2 years), or long-term (2 years to 5 years).
Regardless of age, ability or capability, I believe every human being is happier and feels more alive when they have:
- Something meaningful to DO
- Someone or something to love
- Something to look forward to