Trade in New Year's Resolutions for Achieving Life Goals

by Janey Osterlind on 19 January 2011 3 comments
Photo: Jess Hall

It’s that time of year when everyone is throwing themselves enthusiastically into their New Year’s resolutions. Running a marathon, paying off credit cards, finding a new job — these are all wonderful resolutions, but they are all fairly fleeting. New year, new goal. Next year, another goal. How are these goals helping you to achieve your overall life plan? Chances are, unless you’ve already articulated that plan, you’re not sure how each year’s resolution is helping bring you toward your big-picture goals (if at all). This year, why not try writing a strategic plan for your life? The strategic plan forces you to articulate your biggest life goals and then empowers you to take action.

Businesses do strategic planning all the time. Once a year or so, all high-level executives get together to discuss where they see the company going, where the company is presently, and how to get to achieve their objectives. Here’s how to get started on your own strategic plan:

Define Your Goals

Before you get started on pursuing your life’s dreams, you first need to clearly define what they are. Now, I can tell what you’re thinking (I’m awesome like that). “Umm, Janey, that’s stupid,” you’re saying. “I want to be a lawyer. Easy. Done. Finis.” WRONG. What kind of lawyer would you like to be? A corporate lawyer or trial lawyer? If you want to be a trial attorney, do you see yourself working in healthcare fraud litigation or insurance subrogation? (Twelve points if you know what insurance subrogation is.) See what I mean? Clearly defining your goals means visualizing the details and having the ability to verbalize them to others. Doing so gives you a clear goal to work toward.

Research Your Goals

I recommend taking several weeks to define your goals in three main areas: career, relationships, and personal life (this is where I toss everything on my bucket list). This will take some serious self-reflection, as well as thoughtful research. If one of my goals was to be a biomedical engineer, for example, I would talk to professionals in private practice and in academia, research career paths one might take after obtaining a degree, and identify companies or institutions where I might like to work. Armed with that information, I would write a description of my ideal job. And relationship (with spouse, family, friends, etc.). And other life goals.

Assess Where You Are

After taking the time to define your life’s biggest goals through research and introspection, I would assess where you currently are on your way toward those goals. You may already know that you’re a software engineer at company X who wants to be CEO someday. Simple enough, right? Wrong again. Until you state your position in words, it might not become crystal clear that your company only hires outside talent to high-level management positions. Who are rabidly involved in community involvement through the company. Which you’re not.

Determine Action Items

Of course, these intellectual exercises are fruitless if you don’t attach some sort of actions to them. Once you know where you’d like to be and where you currently are, connect the two. The bigger the goal, the more intermediate steps need to be taken to achieve it. In the example of the software engineer wanting to be CEO someday, it would be necessary to break action items into one-, five- and ten-year plans. Year one might be identifying a technology company that actually hires from within and networking with employees of that company, while the five- and ten-year plans would detail steps the employee might take to get a job there, become well-known in the company, and put herself on the path to upper-level management.

As with all goals, each of these action items should be specific, measurable, and have a time-related component. Like a business, too, I would suggest putting together an “advisory board” — people who you respect and admire who have an interest in your success with the goal at hand. Tell them about your goal, as well as why you would like them to hold you accountable. Then, follow through. Set a reminder on your calendar to review your goals every three to six months and reassess whether you’re on the right path and what progress you’ve made. Update your advisory board. And congratulate yourself on taking action toward accomplishing your wildest dreams.

For more information on setting goals, check out these articles on finding your passion and financial tips for kicking off your career.

What are your thoughts on a strategic plan for your life? Have you created something like it, or do you plan to? Share your views in the comments!

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Guest's picture

I had the exact same idea! I call it the Anti-New Years Resolution Movement, and it's all about setting annual goals in line with your life goals. I think most resolutions fail because people forget why they were important. By tying them to life goals, it's impossible to simply say "well, I didn't really mean that..."

Janey Osterlind's picture

I like the name! Great post on the Anti-New Years Resolution Movement, and good luck achieving your goals for 2011!

Guest's picture
Pat S.

Resolutions don't work, lifestyle changes do.
Pat