Creating A Career Path: The Importance of Goal-Setting

by Amy Steinberg Published Sep 11, 2018 Last updated Sep 11, 2018

Many professionals who love their careers will stay where they are in their journey. These folks have found their ideal place in their desired industries and are among the 30 percent of Americans who are fulfilled and engaged in their work.

But how did they get there?

Chances are, they were clear about what their success would look like. They had goals that – like rungs on a ladder – helped them to measure each step towards their success and identify when they reached it.

It may sound tedious but if you think about it, we all have goals each day – mental to-do lists that keep us on track in our daily lives – and career goals are really much the same thing.

So, if you’re feeling restless or less-than-satisfied with the work you are currently doing, perhaps a career bucket list is an ideal way for you to start developing a path to your successful career. It’s difficult to get to where you want to go without a map to guide you on your way.

Without these milestones to help measure your successes, you’ll be blindly driving towards an unknown destination which certainly can lead to burn-out and disappointment. Whether you have chosen to follow a traditional career path or a work-based career path, goal-setting is a simple but effective way to empower yourself and reach your end-goal of having the career of your dreams.

According to the Business Dictionary, a goal is defined as “An observable and measurable end result having one or more objectives to be achieved within a more or less fixed timeframe.”

But the process of creating goals is not as simple as just visualizing what you want to achieve. Setting the right kinds of goals is vital to achieving them.

Define Your Success 

As with any roadmap, you’ll first need to determine what your destination is. Do you want to move up in your current organization? Do you want to start your own business? Do you want to move to a different industry altogether?

Before you can make a list of goals, these are questions you should mull over. It’s important to have a specific point at which you will realize that your goals have led you to where you meant to go. Without knowing your ultimate objective, you can risk burning yourself out because you’re constantly striving to do more (or less) than what you truly want to do, and all of your efforts will be leading you to an unknown place.


In 1981, a paper written by George T. Doran was published in the Management Review entitled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives.” This became a powerful impetus for leaders to set achievable goals for themselves as well as their companies and employees.

Specifically, S.M.A.R.T. goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-related

Whether setting life or career goals, using this anagram as a guide to setting goals is an invaluable tool to get started.

Start Small

It may be tempting to sit down and list a whole litany of tasks, goals, and objectives but for many, this can become overwhelming or, worse, lead to disappointment and failure.

Experts say that setting smaller goals will generate momentum which, of course, will lead to achieving the next goal. With each small achievement, our brains release a boost of dopamine – a feel-good chemical – that is the root of many addictions. When the brain experiences a flood of dopamine in relation to achieving a goal, we feel motivated to repeat the experience.

Conversely, if we are unable to achieve our goals, we can experience a lack of concentration and repeat the same failures in the future.

Write It Down

A study done by Dominican University revealed several important aspects of achieving goals. One of those is that of writing them down.

Participants in their study who wrote down their goals achieved significantly more than did their counterparts who were asked simply to think of their goals.

Own It

In that same study, researchers found that – of all the participants – those who were somehow held accountable for their goals, reached far more success than all others.

When you share your goals with someone, this creates a buy-in which means you own it. It’s yours and you’re accountable for it.

Cornell University did a study that showed what they termed the Endowment Effect. Researchers found that individuals who owned something were more likely to hold onto it. In the same way, if you own your goals, they become a part of your life and future.

Further, we all have a tendency to want to impress or satisfy others whose opinions matter to us. By sharing your goals with someone who can hold you accountable for reaching them, you add a layer of motivation.

Follow A Leader

If there is someone specific that you admire, research that person and find out what things they did in their career to achieve their success. Maybe you can reach out to them as a mentee and get invaluable tips and advice for how you, too, can reach the same level of professional contentment.

Don’t Give Up

As mentioned, failure is a tough pill to swallow and when we are unable to achieve our goals, we can feel defeated and distracted. But one small unachieved goal doesn’t have to knock your train off its tracks.

Nelson Mandela said, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.” In the same way, take a look at your unrealized goal and determine where the problem was. Maybe you didn’t allow yourself enough margin to achieve it. Maybe something out of your control happened that took away your attention. Or maybe your goal is too big and you can start with a smaller step towards it.

Whatever happens, it’s important that you don’t let your inner critic take over and steal your motivation. Forgive yourself and try again because nobody can reach your career goals except for you.


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