Three Tips For Setting Your Next Big Professional Goal

I love a good 10 year plan. Doesn’t everyone? Judging by the look on most of your faces right now, I suppose they don’t. But hear me out. I used to dread that question too, especially in an interview. It seems too cliché for most people to ask now. But like any good product manager knows, if you don’t know where you’re going then how can you possibly know the best way to get there.

I bet most of you don’t really know where you want to be in 10 years, right? Chances are you’ve never had anyone help you with this either. It takes time to set a good long-term goal. Quite a bit of time. For me it was about six months from when I realised mine was lame (and how little time I’d spent on defining it) to when I locked a good one in. Since then I’ve been a lot more focused — focused on the right job, focused on building the right relationships, and focused on where I choose to spend my time. Let me share my experience in the form of three tips. What worked for me may work for you too.

Tip #1 — Think BIG

The 10 year time-frame is somewhat arbitrary. I chose it because 10 years is far enough into the future that you have to think ambitiously. But 10 years actually goes by surprisingly quick. Most personal development plans I’ve seen focus on setting shorter term goals first. One year, three years, five years. I suggest you flip that around and work backwards. Like a product manager setting the product vision and strategy. The strategy doesn’t drive the vision so why should your shorter term goals drive your vision for yourself.

It was the end of 2017 and I was feeling uncomfortable that despite having a clear one, three and five year goal, the 10 year one was pretty meaningless. I was simply following the path of others (albeit people I admired) as opposed to taking my own path to my own future. I was on the typical product leadership route (here in NZ anyway) from Senior Product Manager to Head of Product and hopefully (so I believed at the time) to Chief Product Officer someday. My 10 year goal was something weird like ‘a teacher of product management’. ️🤦‍♂️

I decided during the Christmas holidays that year while relaxing by the beach that I would forget about my lazy shorter term goals and only think about what I wanted to be doing professionally in 10 years time. I had two weeks to think about it so didn’t feel rushed. That was important. Each day I spent just a few minutes visualising myself doing only the parts of product management and product leadership I enjoyed most — which were helping product managers develop and grow through writing and sharing stories about my own experiences and through one on one and group coaching too. The penny was starting to drop.

Tip #2 — Get help

I knew I was onto something but couldn’t quite put it into words that resembled a clear goal. Coincidentally I’d just met a career coach Grant Verhoeven and after talking through my challenge with Grant, he was pretty sure he could help me. It wasn’t cheap though. But rather than think about it as a cost, I thought of it as an investment in myself which would more than pay for itself over time. Over a series of weeks Grant helped me get clarity.

That 10 year goal I set around three years ago was to become a full-time Product Coach. It’s still largely the same goal now but has become more specific over that time — the timeframe has come forward too! So rather than do this on your own, I’d encourage you to find someone who can help. Someone who is empathetic, practical and who challenges you to think big! Begin with the end in mind.

I’ve been following a psychologist Benjamin Hardy, PhD online for a few years now. I think he was recommended to me here on Medium. I’ve read his blog posts and his book and taken some of his online courses. I actually consider him a coach of mine, even though we’ve never met. The reason I mention Ben is that he believes (no, insists) we are continually shaping our personalities into our desired future self and that our current personality got us to where we are but is not going to get us to where we want to be. Because we can only see what our personality is like right now and what it enables us to do today, we think far too small about the future goals we can achieve when our personality has developed and improved further. His book is Personality Isn’t Permanent which I highly recommend.

So for me the combination of help from a career coach and more recently a psychologist took that dreaded 5-10 year goal from something pretty vague I’d created on my own to something far more specific with help from others.

Tip #3 — Start journaling

Another thing I learnt from my (virtual) psychologist coach Ben was the power of journaling towards your goals. Since then I’ve been keeping a journal almost every day. Rather than thinking about my goals every so often I started thinking about them every single day. At the front of my journal are my goals, with my 10 year one right at the top. Each night one of the last things I do is set small goals aligned with the big ones so that every day I’m doing a few things that’ll get me closer. These small things are usually not urgent, but they are important. Urgent things typically get in the way of us achieving what’s really important. I get up around 6am each day and try to smash out something important toward my goals before the chaos of the day begins. By the time most people are either waking up or bored of aimlessly scrolling through social media I’m closer to achieving something that really matters to me. What’s interesting is that I’m more focused throughout the day too. More determined. You make or break your day before 8am!

Conclusion

I hope this story has made you think even just a little bit more about what your long-term goals are and whether you’re heading towards your own hopes and dreams for yourself or just following what others have done before you. Fulfillment in life comes from achieving the things we want to achieve which truly help ourselves, help those closest to us, and help those we serve. It doesn't come from achieving what others think we should. While it’s good to get help in setting that bigger long-term goal, we need to own it and truly believe in it ourselves or it won’t come true.

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