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Giving Importance to Career Goal Setting

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Goal setting is perhaps the most difficult and intimidating aspect of taking charge of your career. But it's the core issue in all successful careers; everything else revolves around it. Unfortunately, via education and background, people identify themselves by function, and our society and educational system reinforce the ridiculous notion that we're supposed to choose a function at age 18, train ourselves to be proficient in that function, then work at that function our entire lives. What's more, we're expected to stick with things we're good at, even if we can't stand them.

Words can't begin to describe how preposterous I think this is. To get an idea of how hollow our system has become, pick up a copy of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles sometime and leaf through it. It, and books like it, list some 20,000 functions (my favorite is "bung-hole borer") and next to each, a number. The idea with many of these books is for you to look up your job title and, with it, the numbers referencing all the functions for which the government says you'd be qualified. Wonderful. We've reduced ourselves to numbered drones rather than talented individuals.

Performing a function can never, in and of itself, be a goal. Instead we perform functions as a means of achieving a goal. Miami is a goal. Driving cross-country to get there isn't.

I have, on at least three occasions, worked with men who had been the president of the last company they worked for. In each case, they insisted that they wanted only to be president of another company - any company.

"In that case," I asked them, "you'd be willing to work as president of a company that produces pornographic films?"

Each of them recoiled in shock and answered, "Absolutely not." The point, of course, is that we all have a line below which we will not go and another line above which we'd love to be. Most of us, however, spend our careers as functionaries in the grey area between. Your goals lie above that higher line.

In order to set some goals, you need to "de-program" yourself and get at what you really want, while simultaneously overcoming your fears. Here's how:

Take an honest, objective look at yourself. The more competent people are, the more strongly they identify with their function and the harder it is to take this look. Successful people have the ability to stand outside themselves and accurately judge their strengths and weaknesses. Then they can make valid decisions from within.

Take an objective look at all the different economic enterprises in this country. There are about 25,000 of them. Surely many of them - other than the ones in your current field - have applications for your talents. Don't worry about what you have done and don't rule out anything because you don't have experience. Just because you've been working as a widget-washer for the last 15 years doesn't mean you have to do it for the next 15. You may have developed scores of other talents in those 15 years that you can apply elsewhere. I've known countless people who talk themselves out of something because of our society's fetish for "experience."

Look at the market without fear or at least, learn to manage that fear. People back away from things they really want because they're afraid of being hurt by them. Have you ever been afraid of approaching an individual you'd like to know? This same fear of rejection comes into play in career moves. We can get just about anything we want if we are willing to pay the price. Unfortunately, many people develop an irrational fear of the price without ever finding out what the price really is.

Carve out a vision. How would you like everything to turn out in a year? In five, ten or fifteen years? Make your vision attainable - you're not going to play in the NFL if you're 5'2" and weigh 100 pounds - and specific. The goal "to be president of a company" is little more than a pious hope. What kind of company? In what field? How large a company?

Once you've set a goal for yourself, you must determine the methods by which you'll reach it, but that's another subject. When all is said and done, perhaps the most important step in building the self-confidence necessary to develop professional business relationships, is to have a focus. Once you have clearly identified your interests and abilities, you have a legitimate basis for building relationships with people with like interests.

If you have honestly identified a field of interest and are pursuing a goal within that field, you will be in a better position to build relationships which develop into new positions and new friendships - the best combination of all.
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