“THE tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach,” Nothing captures the importance of goal setting like these words said by the late American civil rights leader Benjamin Mays.
Living your life without a goal is similar to boarding a train without having a destination in mind. The same goes for our careers.
Choosing a career path without a clear goal in mind is indeed tragic. It is a recipe for disappointment and underachieving.
A career goal can be defined as something that you want to achieve in a certain line of work within a given period.
Career goals can be short term or even long term. However, they may be, career goals are important as they give you a sense of direction and purpose in your line of work. Once you have set your career goal or goals, then your journey towards your goals begins and it often takes a lot of effort.
In my interactions with high school and university students, I have come to realise that while many have clear-cut goals for their careers, few have an idea of how they will achieve these goals.
It is certainly easy to say that you want to be an accountant, businessman, lawyer, doctor, publisher or architect and see yourself leading your own organisation, but the truth is, very few people have a plan of how they will bring their dreams to a reality.
So how do you bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in a few years?
The first step is to identify the competencies or skills you need to acquire to enable you to achieve your goal. Getting a degree or diploma is just the beginning. You may need to acquire skills that you were not trained in while you were at college.
When I graduated with a bachelors’ degree, I noticed that if I was to realise my career goal I had to get practical experience in the media industry. Within eighteen months I had worked as a freelance advertising sales representative, an online public relations manager for a start-up online marketing company and as an editor for a newspaper.
While these opportunities were not financially rewarding, they were crucial in giving me invaluable skills that I have used in pressing towards my career goal.
After identifying the skills you need to acquire, the next step is to identify the resources you need. These could be financial and human resources.
Often, financial resources are necessary if your career goal requires some form of capital – as in the case of establishing your own business venture, or if you need to enhance your skills in a particular field through further education. Whatever the case, you must have a clear idea of the financial implications of your career goal so that you decide on whether the goal is feasible or not.
Oftentimes, we set goals that are beyond our means and this leads to frustration. However this is not an excuse for underachieving.
You also need to identify the human resources that you need and you may discover that it is the human resources that will bridge your capital gap if you are able to carefully invest in them.
Human resources in this case may be the contacts or people you need in order to realise your career goal. For instance, you may realise that in order to be the academic, surgeon or business leader that you want to be, you need a mentor.
Or in order to establish your own public relations or advertising agency you need to network with people and businesses that can support your agency.
Investing in contacts is crucial in achieving career goals. As some people would say, you are only as powerful as your network.
Being networked builds your social capital which becomes crucial when you are looking for a job, looking to change jobs or even starting a business.
Now that you have a general plan of what you need to do to get to your goal, you need to ask yourself the question, “What if things don’t work out?”
This is an important question because answering it ensures that you will not have a career crisis — where you find yourself stuck with no idea of what to do with your life.
I often advise my students to have a Plan B in case things don’t work out. Having a Plan B not only helps you avoid frustration, but it ensures that you keep your options at your fingertips.
Building a career is a lifelong process, but if managed well and with the above considerations put into practice, it can turn out to be an exciting experience.
Thandolwenkosi Nkomo is a journalism and media studies lecturer at Nust