Realising your career goals is a two-step process

Decorative image of business woman walking up a staircase with her shadow showing a superheroWelcome to the third and final article in this mini-series on how to get un-stuck if you find yourself in a career rut.  In this article, I want to offer you my third suggestion for putting yourself back in the driver’s seat of your career.

So far, we have looked at two significant actions you can take to help get you out of your career-rut. The first task was to get dramatically more curious about your interests, strengths, values, early aspirations, paths not taken, recent developments in your industry, what new trends are emerging around you and the ideas that this new information brings to your mind.  The second activity centered on cultivating a fuzzy vision for how your career life-role could be if you were playing this role at your best.  Having a fuzzy vision of what might be possible for you in your career life-role is one of the four conditions necessary for change.[i]

Sheldon and Elliott[ii] remind us that “it is common for individuals to set goals but fail to follow through with them. It is equally common for individuals to attain their goals but to be no happier than before.”  Do you know anyone who did all the “right” things?  They climbed the ‘corporate ladder’, only to find, after years of sacrifice that their ladder was leaning against the “wrong” wall?  Since the point of getting unstuck from a career-rut is to get more satisfaction from more aspects of your career, more often.  It makes sense that you choose the “right” goal(s) for you.  In this article, I will discuss a two-part strategy for pursuing career satisfaction.  The first part is how to choose career goals that will add to your sense of career satisfaction and subjective well-being.  The second part of your strategy for career success is how accomplish what too many people find too hard to do.  Let’s start with how you choose better goals.

Part 1 – Better Goals

Research suggests that people who choose goals that are concordant with their ideals, interests, and values are happier than those who pursue goals for other (e.g., extrinsic or defensive) reasons (see Sheldon & Elliot, 1998).  Goals that are aligned to your interests and values are known as “self-concordant” goals.  Studies involving university students and employees in a variety of industries have demonstrated that goal self-concordance was related to job satisfaction and life satisfaction.[iii]

Two tests of self-concordance

Below I have suggested two methods of determining how self-concordant your career goal(s) may be.

  1. Interests and values:

Go back to your fuzzy vision (article two).  On a scale of 0 to 10 with ten being you are living your vision completely.  How would you rate your present situation?  Assuming your present situation is not a ten.  What could you do in the next three to six months to move one point closer to your vision?  Let’s call this a goal.  Refer to the lists of interests and values you may have developed after reading article one.  Now rate how well the goal(s) you have created, aligns to your interests and values.

  1. Reason Why!

For each goal, you are considering, rate to what extent the following four questions are true for you.  “I am choosing to pursue this goal because:

  1. “somebody else wants me to” (external motivation)
  2. “I would feel ashamed, guilty, or anxious if I didn’t” introjected motivation)
  3. “I really believe that it is an important goal to have” (identified motivation); or
  4. “of the fun and enjoyment which the goal will provide” (intrinsic motivation).

Use the following rating scale when answering the questions regarding why you are choosing each goal:

  • rating scale ranged from 1 (not at all for this reason) to 9 (completely for this reason)

By taking the time to think about why you have selected a goal or system of goals.  You increase the chances that you will be following a career path that is representative of your actual interests and values.  Rather than doing things that you think your “should do” or “ought to”.  A meta-analysis of seven published studies that examined the relationship between goal self-concordance and goal progress concluded that participants were significantly more likely to make successful progress when they had selected goals that were self-concordant.  The study also suggested that it is more likely that goals, when attained, will afford the experiences of autonomy, competence, and relatedness that are essential to enhanced well-being..[iv]

Part 2 – Getting things done

The second part of the two-part strategy focuses on setting yourself up for successful goal striving.  Coming up with a self-concordant goal (goal intention) is only halfway there.  Doing the things necessary to make progress on your goal is what makes the difference.  And the best way to get started is to develop your Implementation Intention.  Peter Gollwitzer “introduced the concept of implementation intentions or if–then planning”, as an effective method for overcoming the many obstacles to goal striving.[v]

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy,
not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” ​
– Socrates

Implementation intentions specify what you will do; where, when, and how you will do it in order to move toward your goal.  Whereas your goal may have the structure of “I intend to achieve…”.  Gollwitzer suggests that your implementation intention should take the form of, “‘If situation Y is encountered, then I will perform the goal-directed response Z!’’  Studies have shown that participants were significantly more likely to make successful progress when they had furnished their goals with implementation intentions.

In conclusion, I would like to encourage you to be curious about your current career situation.  Define what better looks like for you.  Consider the gap between your current situation and your preferred future and tease out self-concordant goals.  Then take committed action toward realising your meaningful goal by developing your implementation intentions.

* * * * * * * *

[i] Solution-focused Coaching: Managing People in a Complex World, Tony Grant and Jane Greene

[ii] Sheldon, K.M. and Elliot, A.J. (1999). Goal Striving, Need Satisfaction, and Longitudinal Well-Being: The Self-Concordance Model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 76, No. 3, 482-497

[iii] Judge, T.A., Bono, J.E., Erez, A. and Locke, E.A. (2005). “Core Self-Evaluations and Job and Life Satisfaction: The Role of Self-Concordance and Goal Attainment. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 90, No. 2, 257–268

[iv] Sheldon, K.M and Elliot, A.J. (1999). Goal Striving, Need Satisfaction, and Longitudinal Weil-Being: The Self-Concordance Model.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol. 76, No. 3, 482-497

[v] Peter M. Gollwitzer, P.M. (2014). Weakness of the will: Is a quick fix possible? Motivation and Emotion.  Vol.38(3), pp.305-32

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