I have never really been much of a planner or one to set goals per se; when the inevitable interview question “where do you want to be in five years” was posed to me I truly had no idea how to answer (I’m sure I made something up that sounded good for the circumstance).
My perception of goals was they were very specific expectations of what you were meant to achieve by a certain time, like a specific title, or type of car, or 2.5 kids, and that just felt too constraining.
What if some new opportunity knocks at your door and taking it on completely diverts you from that specific goal… does that mean you failed? Of course not, so why make plans you may never keep?
I am not advocating not having aspirations and hopes for the future; we all want to be happy, healthy and financially secure, yet there is no set path for achieving any of those things, and of course happiness comes in many forms. My thought is that a goal doesn’t have to be a thing to strive for like a title or salary, instead why not strive for a feeling that energizes and excites.
Taking a look at my career on paper, one would think quite the opposite, that I had set out to rise through corporate ranks, that I mapped out just how long I needed to stay in one role until I was promoted or recruited to the next role that would eventually land me a role as a CEO of a software company and now a successful independent consultant. That all along the way I went to “next” in order to climb the corporate ladder. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
What is true is that I love to learn new things, I love being challenged, and I love the feeling of accomplishment. My “next” was not necessarily the next promotion or pay raise, it was the next learning opportunity or challenge.
I am forever grateful that over the course of 10 years at Hewlett Packard I had the opportunity to grow and learn in multiple different roles that set me on the path for the future. I went from technical sales support to sales specialist to major account manager to US field marketing manager, never staying for more than 3 years in any role. Was it all about promotion? Definitely not, news flash, marketing makes a lot less than sales and there’s no company car. Yet each move was a great learning opportunity and new challenge, and I loved it.
A few years later I was recruited to be an industry analyst for a then start up, boutique firm specializing in an industry I knew nothing about. Three employees, commission only. Had I been working towards specific goals I never would have taken that job, luckily, I thought it would be a fun challenge and great opportunity to learn about a new industry. That role was instrumental in my next few corporate jobs and the CEO role, and contacts I met through those roles have now become my key clients.
As I was writing this, the thought occurred to me that maybe my younger self was afraid that I couldn’t meet goals and expectations, in retrospect perhaps I just knew in my gut that living your life trying to get to the next goal doesn’t leave a lot of room for “what if?” Maybe I knew that instead of striving for a thing, striving to learn, be challenged and feel a sense of “yeah, I did that” would eventually help me achieve everything I never knew I wanted.
Art © Fiona Aboud