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The Trouble with Those Darn GOALS

The Trouble with Those Darn GOALS

In this post, I discuss the four major causes of our frustrations with career goals. With each one, I provide a solution for turning these sources of stress into fuel for success.

Most everyone has seen the 1993 film ‘Rudy’ about the true-life tale, Daniel E. ‘Rudy’ Ruettiger (portrayed by Sean Astin) who wants nothing more than to play football for Notre Dame. Unfortunately he lacked the grades, skills and physical stature to ever be considered for the game. Yet, he worked his way through every single challenge put in front of him with an undeniable ‘can do’ attitude.

Linking to personal values. People are most motivated to pursue change that fits with their values and hopes. If a change matters little to people, they won’t pursue it. In the movie, Rudy valued a sense of accomplishment, hard work and progress. Each one of these values pushed him along the path to realization of his goal. Our values influence our behaviors and guide us in choosing between alternatives. Imagine that Rudy didn’t value hard work. It is unlikely that he would have endured the years of study and practice for that single moment of glory when he dressed out and played in the final game for Notre Dame. If hard work wasn’t important to him, he wouldn’t have been able to complete these tasks, and subsequently would not have reached his goal.

I was recently asked by a recent MBA graduate if I thought the MBA held any value to Corporate America. Intrigued by this question, I probed into his logic behind the pursuit of the MBA. The answer was a need for more money and opportunities. So, let’s analyze this a little. To get the MBA, this graduate had to first hand money to the university for their tuition and books (already money is going the wrong direction). At graduation, the university handed him a piece of paper (again, no money coming in). Lastly, HR notified his manager that he had met all of the requirements for graduation (one more time, no bonus or raise). By linking his value of money to graduating, this graduate set himself up for disappointment because going to college doesn’t pay dividends right away. For working professionals who obtain the MBA, more change is necessary to reap rewards such as money. The MBA by itself doesn’t have a lot of ‘money’ value. It’s a tool. The value comes from what you build with it.

Balancing expectations. Our expectations define the future good or profit we anticipate from a particular activity. In the previous example of the college graduate, he expected to make more money upon graduation. For Rudy, he expected that his hard work would eventually pay off and gain him the opportunity to step on the field during a game. In the first case, the expectations were not met and may have been unachievable. In the second case, Rudy was allowed to play, which exceeded all of his expectations. While the graduate’s goal was clear and defined, it was a little unbalanced. While he may have expected to make more money immediately after graduating, the company he worked for did not. Having new skills on paper is not the same as demonstrating them by performing useful tasks for the company. The graduate did not balance his expectations with the expectations of his environment.

Breaking them into manageable steps. Rudy knew he was missing a lot of the key requirements to get into Notre Dame, not to mention, make the football team. He carefully laid out a plan to get good grades, be accepted for admission to the college and a job to pay for his expenses. Without all of these, he would not have the opportunity to try out for the football team. By establishing a plan with many activities to achieve each of these, Rudy found a way to get into Notre Dame. Then, the process started all over again to gain a position on the football team. The MBA graduate could have learned from Rudy. You can’t just show up on the field, tell everyone you’re a great player and win a starting position. You must work your way through the system. Surely, some of us move faster through it than others, but that is due to the fact that we all have different abilities that meet the many different needs of our environment, whether it’s a football team or a company.

A career can last a long time. You can’t get to the corner office any faster (unless you’re an entrepreneur). The average climb to the top is about 26 years. You’ll need a lot of motivation to keep trudging the path, which can be maintained by setting goal steps that are achieved with a little hard work. Over and over, you reach each step until you ultimately win a seat in the big chair.

Evaluation. As a high quarterback, I learned to watch videos of the teams on our schedule. Each game gave me ideas on what type of defense they run, where the weaknesses are and what plays I should avoid. Unfortunately, stepping up to the center every Friday night brought a new surprise. The defense would change up. Players would move around, forcing me to change my plan and call a new play. This is exactly what we must do with our goal steps. While the end goal may remain the same for many years, the path to them may need to change. Sometimes we change the path and sometimes it changes by itself. As an MBA graduate, I wanted to make more money too. I actually had hoped it would have come much easier than it did (by just getting the degree), but it didn’t. I’ve had to work to prove myself. The path to great success comes from practice (or evaluation). We practice by defining our goal steps and working towards them. If we fail, we define a new way and try again.

We need goals. They keep us moving in the right direction and help us adjust when we veer off on the wrong exit. However, poorly maintained and ill-defined goals serve to just frustrate and de-motivate you. As Malcolm Gladwell claims in his book, Outliers, greatness isn’t achieved in less than 10,000 hours. The key is to define your goals, create a good plan to achieve them and set aside plenty of time to do them.


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