When I was in college, I was all about creating my five-year plan. I gathered up all of my Post-It notes and my class curriculum so I could figure out what classes I was going to take, when I would take them, and what I could do with all of this knowledge once I graduated.
Now that I’ve been out of school for 5 years, it’s not nearly as simple. There’s no handbook that tells you what steps you should take to have the career you’ve always wanted. So what do you do when you need to create career goals, but you don’t even know what you want to do for dinner?
Unfortunately, it’s not the easiest process. And the goals you create are probably going to change regularly. But that’s okay! Once you’ve asked yourself a few questions, you’ll be able to point yourself in the right direction.
What Career Goals (if any) Have You Had in the Past?
When coming up with my career goals, I like to think back to my time in college when my life trajectory felt so clear. What did I want to do then?
I thought I had it all figured out. I wanted to work in social media for a nonprofit organization. I was in love with the nonprofit Invisible Children, and after a marketing internship with a local movie theatre, I fell in love with the idea of working in social media. So naturally, I wanted to combine the two.
Knowing your past career goals can help clear your mind of where you want to go in the future. Take away all of the expectations of your boss, your significant other, and even yourself. Stop telling yourself “you’re supposed to do this” or “you should do that.” What did you want to do when you were younger? Let those goals give you a push in the right direction.
What Do You Enjoy about Your Current Job?
Next, think about what you actually enjoy about your current job, whether it’s in your preferred field or not! If you work at the front desk at an automotive shop, but you have a degree in social work, there’s likely still a little bit of crossover.
Maybe you really love talking to people every day. Or you love covering for the accounting team when someone is on vacation. Maybe what you really want to do is work one-on-one with families so they can get on their feet financially.
There are always going to be things you like about a particular job, as well as things you won’t like about a current job. Keep track of what you really enjoy doing and see how those fit with your career goals.
What Type of Lifestyle Do You Want?
Your personal goals are just as important as your career goals. What type of lifestyle do you want? Because if you want to be able to have slow mornings where you wake up and read for a little bit while enjoying a cup of coffee, a morning radio host or broadcast journalist probably aren’t going to be the best jobs for you.
Similarly, if you love working no more than 40 hours per week, you might be better off staying at an hourly job than trying to climb up the corporate ladder, where you’re going to be expected to work overtime for no increase in pay.
Or maybe you want to fully immerse yourself in a job that you love. In that case, don’t let the number of hours you’ll work distract you; if you’re going to love doing it, you might not actually mind working some overtime.
Who Do You Envy, Career-Wise?
When you think of where you’d like to be in five years, is there a specific person whose job you really want? I definitely have that person in mind. While envy isn’t the best emotion (because it can definitely turn toxic quickly), it can also give you a really clear path to follow.
What role is that person in now? How does it differ from where you’re at? Is there a way for you to transition in that type of role within the next few months? If not, what steps did that person take to get where they’re at? Study their career and see what changes you need to make to get where you want to go.
Are You Open to Moving?
In all honesty, not every career path is going to be open to you in the city you live in. Even if you live in a major city like New York or LA, your geographical location could hinder you and your career goals.
Ask yourself if you’re open to moving. Sean and I have now moved twice for his career, and both were really good choices for us and his career. It was scary, yes, but both have ended up being very positive.
If you really love where you’re at now, that’s okay! Maybe you’ve got family or friends that you can’t imagine leaving, or you’ve started a family and picking up your life wouldn’t be the best for everyone involved. There is nothing wrong with that! Just remember that it might limit what career goals you can set for yourself. Again, it’s all about prioritizing what’s important throughout your whole life: lifestyle and career included.
Keep in Mind, Nothing is Permanent
And finally, keep in mind that nothing is permanent. So maybe you thought you’d love a new industry, so you accepted a new job and you hate it. There’s no shame in trying something and deciding it’s not the best fit for you.
Or maybe you decided you need to move to a new city to take a major step in your career, but you can’t imagine leaving your hometown. There’s nothing preventing you from moving back to your hometown once you’ve got a few years under your belt.
Experiment with your career as much as you can. You never know what you’ll learn about yourself along the way!
It can be really difficult try to plan out career goals when your life doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. But with a little bit of introspection, you’d be surprised what you can discover about yourself!