Whether you’re planning your long-term IT contracting career or working on getting your next gig, setting goals and working towards them is a surefire way to make sure you get to where you want to be. Our team at Eagle has shared a number of posts on the topic, specifically using SMART goals to plan for the future.
The SMART acronym has a few variations, depending which expert you speak with, but for the most part, it’s agreed upon that great goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant (sometimes Realistic) and Time-Based. That Attainable/Realistic step is key. Failing to get that right can lead to expectation creep and you will find yourself feeling inadequate and miserable.
Ambition is a strong character trait but too often, we set goals with too much of it and combine it with a vision of perfection. This creates fantasies of achieving something we can’t, setting us up to be doomed for failure and feeling depressed about life.
Make Sure Your Goals are Realistic…
First and foremost, when setting goals, you have to know yourself. Ask some internal questions. What is your motivation for accomplishing this goal? Is it something you even want to accomplish or have you set this goal to please others? Taking on a goal that lacks intrinsic motivators is less likely to be accomplished.
You also must understand your weaknesses. Setting a goal to learn a new, in-demand skill is a great idea. But, if it means working in a subject where you’re generally weak or if you have a learning disability, then associating short timelines is unrealistic.
In summary, to set realistic goals, you must know yourself.
…for Your Life
Once you know yourself, you must also take a step back and understand where you are in life. Do you even have time to work towards the goal in the timeline you set? Does it have a financial, education or geographic requirement that would destroy other parts of your life?
Setting goals that will not fit with your current lifestyle is not only a recipe for failure but it can also have serious consequences on your health when you try to squeeze too much in. Know when to say no, both to yourself and to others.
While your goals might be fully achievable for you and your life, there is a strong chance that complete success depends on external factors. Perhaps you want to get a job within a certain client or industry that isn’t hiring right now. Or the economy in the region you would like to work is weak at the moment. Or, maybe that job is stuck behind a recruiter with whom you have a terrible relationship and there will be extra work to get around that barrier. Truly realistic goals will take these external factors into account.
An IT professional who is fresh out of school is setting themselves up for failure if they expect to get a Senior Software Developer position within their first six months of graduating. If you’ve always been an accountant, planning to land that developer job next week is a joke. Understand time and physical boundaries and don’t set goals that only one in a million people could ever accomplish. While this ambition may look great on paper, this type of failure will not be helpful to your career or your mental health.
Do not be discouraged by the points above and eliminate your goals because they don’t meet the criteria of being realistic. Begin by brainstorming all possible obstacles to your goals (internal and external) and set plans to work around them. They will become smaller goals to work towards with your larger one being the big picture goal. Next, look at the timeline and adjust it based on those smaller goals and the other factors holding you back. Set mini milestones to help celebrate all accomplishments and understand that you are moving closer to the ultimate goal.