If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there. It seems so simple, but every day I talk to professional women who want to make a change in their career or lives, but don’t know what their ultimate goal is. That’s a recipe for a lot of wandering around and frustration. To build a career and life that are fulfilling, I believe you need One Big Goal. Your One Big Goal is the overall outcome of your life – the thing you want people to say about you when you’re gone. But, how do you know what your One Big Goal should be?
As we go through school and begin our careers, we tend to get very outcome focused. Take the class, make the grade. Get the degree, then the job. Check, check, check. But to know where we really want to go, we have to take time to find out who we are. We have to pay attention to what we like, what motivates us, what drains us, what our special gifts are. To do that, we have to be willing to really tune in.
And, we have to get curious. To tune in and really see who and what you are, you can’t be focused on judging or criticizing yourself. You can’t be constantly focused on how you don’t measure up, or what you want to improve. You just have to see what is there. Doing this is especially tough for high-achievers. We’re used to always improving, looking for ways to be better, to do more. But that’s not the goal here, so take a deep breath and just soak it in.
Once you start to see who you are, you should take note of the things you appreciate about yourself. Sounds easy, but it’s hard to actually do. Don’t believe me? Try it. Make a list of twenty things you appreciate about yourself. Not things you think will make you successful, not things someone else has told you are good about you – what you appreciate. Big or little doesn’t matter, as long as they are something you like about yourself.
Know What You Want, and Why.
Now that you’re paying attention, ask yourself what you want. What do you want more of in your life? What do you want less of? Make another list, this time of twenty things you want in your life. Some you may already have, or may be on the way to achieving. That’s okay. Noticing that you have much of what you want in life is a key to contentment.
After you’re clear on what you want, look at why you want it. Here’s where the real work is done. If you want something because it will make you feel better, happier, more secure – you aren’t setting a goal. You are running. You plus the goal doesn’t equal contentment. You plus contentment equals the goal. The same thing is true for pleasing other people. Achieving a goal in your own life won’t make someone else feel a certain way – no matter what they tell you! But, if you can say that you want something because you think it would allow you to contribute to the world, or to express love your family more fully, or any other reason that comes from a place of peace, you’re on the right track.
Look for Themes.
Armed with the list of things you appreciate about yourself and the list of what you want in life, start to look for themes in your life. For instance, do you appreciate your love of children? Did you list a career as a teacher as a want in your life? That’s a theme. Love the way you can spend hours alone and be perfectly content and want a job in a research field? Theme. These themes are hints to your One Big Goal.
Write It Down and Let It Breathe.
Put your One Big Goal on paper (or at least capture it electronically). Know that it will be less specific than a short-term goal, and that’s okay. This is an overarching mission for your life, so it has to have some give in it. Your life will twist and turn in ways that you never planned or could have expected. Being able to fully embrace the twists that further your One Big Goal is a beautiful thing. But getting a draft down, thinking through it with enough specificity to reduce it to words, is important.
Once you have a draft you can live with, look at it every day. Live with it. If it doesn’t quite get there, tweak it. If it does, great. Over time it will morph and grow with you, but focusing on the overall goal for your life will keep your eyes on the horizon and keep you moving forward.