Goal-setting in a career-driven world
Wow, another semester’s coming to an end. For me, this isn’t the same as all the others. After four years of college and three years of law school, this semester is my last. Recently, someone asked me how it felt to be nearly done with so much school. My reaction made me a little upset, though. I realized my feelings were feelings of anticipation and anxiety. I realized that I’m already working on the next phase of my life – getting a job and succeeding in my career. And that’s a shame.
I’m sure lots of graduates do the same thing, though. Our world is focused on continuing results, so we barely pause to look back at what we’ve done in our lives. We hardly stop to celebrate our successes. But graduating from college, graduate school, professional school, welding school, or whatever other kind of school, is a big deal.
I could be taking time to think about how much I’ve worked. I could be enjoying some time to relax and reduce my feelings of stress. Instead, I’d guess that my stress level in anticipation of the coming six months is higher than just about any previous time in my life. And I worry about what that says about me. On the cusp of my greatest personal achievement, I’m infinitely more focused on what’s next than I am on the moment. What is the point of setting goals if we ignore them once they’re achieved?
Since that question and my less-than-enthusiastic emotional response, I’ve been evaluating myself. We should all do this from time to time, and I’ve been too busy to take the time to look at myself and see if I like what I am. I’ve always imagined myself as the guy who finds success in his career without letting that get in the way of his family and personal life. Who doesn’t?. I bet, though, most people who get addicted to work start out planning to be that guy, but end up being something else altogether. It’s too easy to work hard and let that be your focus, knowing that your family will still be there after you finish your MBA, get that raise or make VP. But are you ever stopping to make that conscious decision?
It’s important to set goals, but it’s more important to evaluate the purpose of these goals. Why is one thing important in your life? Does that thing justify sacrificing other things? For example, are you willing to sacrifice a chance to spend an evening with your wife to stay late and impress your boss? Why? These questions, obviously, require context. Their answers are different for everyone and every situation. The important thing is to ask the questions rather than setting ourselves on autopilot and focusing on a single goal, while forgetting why the goal is out there.
There will be times in our lives when we have to decide whether it’s more important to advance our career or spend time with our loved ones. The trouble is, people often don’t stop to consider that the decision really does involve those two choices. I think the point when a person can most drastically see that is when they achieve some goal. Sure, this graduation is a step toward my career goals, but it’s also an opportunity. I have a chance to breathe without the spectre of another semester taking away some of that breath. I have a chance to look back at a long stretch here on the Hill and think about all the times I’ve enjoyed and dreaded. I have a time to pause and bask in my own success.
We all have these chances throughout our lives. What we choose to do with them can determine our happiness. Don’t read this to mean that work isn’t important. It is. Read this so that you’ll consider the question of why work is important. Is it important because it defines you as a person? Is it important because it allows you to demonstrate your success to others? Or is it important because it allows you to enjoy a life and help to provide for your family? Work shouldn’t be the thing that defines you.
Take the time to think about your successes. Then think about why you decided to go for that goal, what you hope to accomplish in the future, and what goals you will set to get there. Work will come to you, but you always run the risk of burying yourself in it to the detriment of your family and, ultimately, your own happiness. And happiness, after all, is the goal for everyone.
Reed Luthanen is a law student at the UA. His column appears every other Wednesday.