Goal Setting: The Key to Staying on Track

Millennials own the dubious stereotype of being entitled and impatient. As much as the word “Millennial” makes me cringe, the cohort’s sociological trends, financial well-being, and career aspirations are interesting topics. So many Millennials, myself included, have been haunted by the question “What now?” In this post, we will talk about what it means to set goals as a young adult, and why it is important.

No one will do it for you.

I remember my first day “out on my own” as a young adult like it was yesterday. I was standing in my dorm room with my father and sister. After moving in the hot Texas summer, and in the midst of new student orientation, the time had finally come. My dad looked around the dorm room, and then at me. With a tear in his eye, his voiced cracked, “I am so proud of you, son.” I hugged him, knowing the love he gave me helped me get there. After a few moments, he left, and there I stood, alone for the first time, bewildered by the newfound freedom that filled me. At that very moment, I was in control of my destiny.

However, freedom is a double-edged sword.

The first time I slept through my alarm for a class, I woke up in a panic. I knew that the professor would call me out on it the next time I went to class, or that I would somehow be reprimanded/publicly shamed. During the next class, I walked in with my head down, expecting the worst. But, it never happened. My professor didn’t even know my name, much less care about whether or not I attended class.

And that’s when it hit me — no one cared what I did, for better or for worse.

As the years of college went on, I began to see some changes. One by one, several of my friends dropped out. They each had their own reason, but none of it really changed the end result. Their actions, or lack of action, led to the termination of their time at the university. Their lack of focus on a goal allowed for their lives to spin out of control. They were distracted by the freedom instead of inspired by it, and it ultimately led to their scholastic demise.

The same is true with personal finance. No one will tell you how to manage your money, your career, or your life. Well, some lenders may have a word or two about it. But in the big picture, you are free to succeed or fail to your heart’s content. Having a goal of any kind will help you make decisions when no one else will. It will help you stay focused on long-term gratification rather than fleeting happiness. It will help you find your way in this crazy-ass world we live in.

Avoid burnout. 

Are you overly cynical at work? Are you irritable or easily upset with coworkers? Do you lack energy or feel tired, even after a good night’s rest? Then you may be experiencing work-related burnout. According to the Mayo Clinic, these symptoms and more may be signs that your job is causing a certain kind of stress that can be unproductive and unhealthy. There is a litany of causes for job burnout in the long-term, but one that affects Millennials in particular is lack of goal setting and long-term vision.

As I have said before, Simon Sinek is one of my favorite authors and authorities on inter-generational relations. In an interview about Millennials in the workplace, he discusses why so many Millennials experience dissatisfaction with their jobs. His main reasoning is that we have been programmed to desire constant, rapid feedback and meaning from our activities. However, Sinek postulates that job satisfaction is not something that can be achieved in a day, month, or year, but rather it is the culmination of work and skills that one amasses over a very long time that brings real meaning.

So, what are we Millennials to do? Do we suck it up, be miserable, and pray that we may be happy some day? I would argue that there is a better option — goal setting. By setting a goal, the humdrum, day-to-day trials in the workplace are put into perspective. Every action is a step towards the goal and long-term satisfaction. When your job gets you down, it can be helpful to know that temporary discomfort can lead to lasting satisfaction and pride.

Be flexible. 

Lastly, I believe that your goals should never be set in stone. They should be a living document, with various time tables and criteria by which to meet said goals. When I wrote down my very first goal in college, it was to finish my film degree by the year 2011. Well, 2011 came and went, and the degree in my hand certainly was not one of the fine arts persuasion. Still, it didn’t mean that I didn’t achieve my goal. Rather, my goals took on a life of their own and changed organically.

Now that I am out of school and in my career, I have a long journey to plan. My entire life, goals were set in predetermined time frames. Graduate from high school. Graduate from college. Graduate from graduate school. Get a job. All of these goals had clear, definitive, relatively small time frames. That is, until I began living in the “real world,” where goals are not-so-clear and nicely-spaced.

So what do I do now?

My shortest-term goal is to lose 15 pounds by June. My mid-range goal is to pay off my student loan debt in 2.5 years. My long-term goal is to retire early and start a scholarship fund. These three goals are enough to get me through the toughest of times, not because I am super-human, but because they give me perspective. And to be honest, they will probably change as time goes on, and that’s okay.

What are some of your goals? If you could give advice to someone younger than you, what would it be? Let me know in the comments below!

8 Replies to “Goal Setting: The Key to Staying on Track”

  1. My number one piece advice is to pick a direction and stick to it. Consistency makes everything much easier and most directions (careers, investing plans,etc.) If we’ll thought out will pan out if you stick to it.

    1. Totally agree. I heard an analogy that made me really appreciate how small changes in trajectory make big differences in the long term. Imagine a ship in the ocean on a 1000 mile cruise. Turning the wheel one degree to the right won’t change much at first, but it makes a massive difference to the final destination. I believe the same is true in life. Make fine changes along the way, but no matter what, keep chugging along. Thanks for reading!

  2. I definitely have a hard time staying motivated in the daily grind. Gotta keep the eye on the prize! How do you make sure you’re still making progress towards your goals?

    1. Someone very smart once told me to find something to be proud of every day. Sometimes celebrating the little things can get you through tougher times.

  3. Great post! One of my biggest challenges for 2017 is sticking to the plan and being consistent. Our goal is to pay off our remaining $100k in debt by the end of 2018, and this will require focus and long-term commitment. We’ve got a good income to put to use, but it won’t happen by itself.

    If I could share one piece of advice with a younger person, it would be that nobody pays as much attention to you as you think they do. That goes two ways; fewer people are judging you than you think, and you need to hold yourself accountable for your goals because nobody else will.

    1. That’s a great goal to have! Definitely going to take some focus and commitment to get there.

      As far as other people not noticing so much, that was a tough lesson to learn. I think we are all a little narcissistic, and it can sometimes get in the way of personal growth. I have made decisions based off of what I thought others would think about me, even though no one really cared 😉

  4. My grand pappy once told me “the egg is longer on the side than the car is long” which is why I set goals with me my wife and my dog named Hogan after hulkster.

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