Bad Goals: Not Every Goal is Good or Worth Having
At one time I was able to bench press 300 lbs. I was going to the gym, let’s say more regularly than now, and decided my goal was to realize that number. I spent considerable time on the exercise that mattered, ignored other parts of my body and I “benched 300”. This falls within an odd set of numbers that different groups I know may compare and contrast including their SAT score, credit rating, number of grandchildren, golf handicap or salary.
In hindsight, this is a little ridiculous to share, but I am more comfortable than many in detailing the less impressive decisions I have made. We all have set bad goals in our personal and professional lives, frequently because we make them in isolation.
In a career setting, not every goal is worth having, or makes sense. For example, the focus on one area of my anatomy did not really help with my overall goal of being healthier or more aesthetically pleasing. I stopped seeing the overall goal, my health (the forest) instead emphasizing a silly data point (the tree). So, it was a bad goal.
Let us put aside my muscular development, forever. And let us talk about your career goals. Whether you are thinking about making a change from your current job, or seeking to grow in your current role, having goals matters. Making sure that they are realistic, within a time frame and align with your most important objectives is also essential.
Common Bad Goals
When I chat with jobseekers who are trying to locate a new position some of the more common goals include:
- I will submit my resume and cover letter to five jobs a day
- I do not quite know what I want, but I have employed people to get a perfect resume and LinkedIn profile
- I want to leave my current job and will take the quickest route to any other job
Why are these bad goals? For most people the truth is not that they want “just any job.” You likely want a position that improves on a variety of aspects from your current role running the gamut from your boss, salary, and hours to the kind of work, length of commute and colleagues. Knowing what you want then lets you pull together a plan to make it happen with the smartest strategies to get there. The consistent problem across the bullets above is their grounding in not working in the smartest way. You do not want a different job, but a better one. I have helped many people who jumped to a different job only to find out that the role was worse, and they suddenly felt that they had to stick it out longer for fear of looking like someone who could not keep a position.
If you are a founder or leader, bad goals and no goals often happen. Lacking goals, they may work haphazardly and lack any way to determine if they have been productive. As result, many will choose goals that are big, varied and under resourced such that they are setting themselves up for failure. For example, a million-dollar Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) might be great, but it could be unrealistic if you are starting at zero. And arbitrary numbers create anxiety.
If you have a manager and are in an institution or field where you aspire to greater prominence, having a set of goals that has metrics tied to them is necessary so you grasp their view of success. I am team #Goals. However, bad goals in this situation might be:
- Attend a professional networking event three times a week
- Speak at a TedX event
- Be the first to speak at every meeting
In each bullet, some might be worth pursuing at some point, but typically are not an end, but a strategy connected to a larger goal. You need to ask yourself, and have asked of you:
- What would each of these accomplishments lead to?
- Are these the ‘best’ ways to make that happen?
- Are they realistic given your available time?
- Can you do this given your resources?
The difference between good and bad goals is refinement which often comes from contemplation and feedback.
Who Helps You Set Goals?
It may not surprise you to know that I did not have a workout partner when I was on my 300lb push. As you consider goal setting, I beg of you to talk to some people who you respect to get their feedback about the goals you have, why you have them and the timeline and resources for realizing them.
Whether or not there is a person with the official responsibility of giving you feedback, find people who have professional standing and let them ask you the hard questions about the Why and the When of your goals. I promise you will thank me later.
—Russ Finkelstein is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and his new book, "Let's Sort Out Your Career Mess, Together..." is forthcoming in 2021.