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Confessions from a Career Coach: Does Goal-Setting Really Matter?

Confession #1: I don’t like setting goals. They scare me.

Setting a goal raises the possibility that I won’t reach it. If I never commit to anything, I can’t fail, right?

Oy. If only that were true.

I spent a few years living without making any goals. The problem was that I wasn’t really living. When I don’t commit to a challenge, I don’t grow, and if I don’t grow, I feel unmoored and lost. Or firmly stuck in a rut. Either way, not committing is a fast-track to depression.

But setting an unrealistic goal, or a goal that I think I should pursue, is also a fast-track to depression.

For the past couple of years, I set an income goal that was too big for me to conceptualize. As a result, I had no way of tackling the goal. I couldn’t even break it into smaller pieces. I mean, I could do the math, e.g., earn XX dollars/month, but I couldn’t visualize what actions would get me to the goal. So I did … a lot of running in circles not going anywhere.

This year is different. First, I’m being honest with myself about what I actually want and what truly motivates me. It is not clicks, likes, sales funnels, or even dollars. I don’t get out of bed to feed capitalism. I get out of bed so I can help people.

So instead of thinking about my revenue goal as a numbers game, I am reframing my goal: I want to help at least 100 new people this year through 1:1 complimentary virtual or in-person coffee sessions. No sales pitch.

Helping people is exciting. Giving workshops is energizing. Filling a sales funnel? Not exciting.

Confession #2: I’ve never accomplished anything by following a goal-setting process.

Let me say that I have accomplished things. Run a couple marathons. Lost a significant amount of weight. Moved across the country. Found jobs and started new careers in new industries. But I haven’t gone about it in any SMART (specific, measurable, action-oriented, reasonable and time-limited), strategic or otherwise organized fashion.

Instead, the process is largely internal. For the things I’ve accomplished, the goal emerged from within.

Two years ago, I enlisted the help of a friend to help me get organized for 2017.

We identified two goals: 1) Double my income and, 2) Decrease my weight by 50 pounds.

While these goals were SMART, they felt abstract. Yes, I needed more money. Yes, I wanted to lose 50 pounds. But I felt disconnected from them. We did the math, e.g., How many new clients would I need per month? How many pounds per month would I need to lose? It was all very logical and reasonable.

Every day, I blocked out my calendar for the tasks I would accomplish during that day. But I didn’t do it. I’d walk the dog. Or take a nap. While there was overwhelming pressure and great need, I wasn’t committed.

The goals were just a piece of paper with words written on it. I knew I could lose weight. I’ve done it before. But I wasn’t ready to do the necessary work.

And when it came to making more money, I didn’t know how in a way that preserved my integrity.

Needless to say, I didn’t reach either of the stated goals. My income stayed about the same and so did my weight.

But I achieved something else pretty huge: I stayed sober.


I didn’t write anything down. I didn’t have to plan or create a strategy, develop sub-goals or quarterly projections. I didn’t put anything on my calendar.

My commitment to sobriety is unwavering. When I decided to get sober, I experienced a foundational shift that led to an overhaul of my priorities. I have daily and weekly habits that all help me stay sober. The difference is that I am 100% committed. No need to write it down.

While I wanted (and needed) more money and wanted to lose weight, I wasn’t committed. It didn’t matter how good the strategy was; I wasn’t ready to follow it.

Confession #3: I believe the mindset we have when setting a goal matters more than the goal itself. (I guess this isn’t really a confession. So be it.)

The reason we set goals in the first place is because of how we think it will make us feel when we reach the goal. But we need that feeling in order to achieve the goal. Stick with me on this one. Think about a goal you have. How do you think it will make you feel to reach it? That’s the real goal—the feeling. Right?

Setting a goal from a place of fear, “shoulds,” “have-tos,”need or lack means we are creating an uphill battle for ourselves. These negative mindsets create more resistance. There is a very wise part of us that wants to rebel when we order ourselves around with “shoulds” and “have-to’s.” Our goal becomes an obligation, or worse, a judgment and proof that we are unworthy. Ugh. Who wants that? No wonder our motivation suffers.

Bottom line? Be honest. Listen to your gut about what you are ready to commit to. Make sure your goal comes from love.

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