When you hear the expression, “can’t see the forest for the trees,” do you wonder if it applies to you? Is it possible that you’re getting so wrapped up in the day-to-day grind that you’ve failed to see the bigger picture?
Bigger picture doesn’t just mean the scope of the task you’re working on today or this week or this month even. Zoom out more. A lot more! Examine why you’re doing the daily grind at all. Why are you working? What are you working towards?
Whatever job you do each day, whether it’s for a small company, a large organization, or even your own business, you started it for a reason. But where’s it leading? Do you know where your career is progressing too, if anywhere? Have you got clearly established long-term professional goals, with milestones to measure how you’re doing on the path towards those goals?
Or are you, like so many of us, mired in the minutia of work…so focused on the trees that you truly don’t notice the forest anymore? If that sounds like you, don’t worry! There’s no time like the start of a new year to evaluate where you’re at, where you want to go, how you plan to reach those goals…and how short of a time to can get there.
Step Out of the Comfort Zone and Think Strategically
Veterans are especially keen on promotions and “making rank,” but don’t always strategically plan out their “career pyramid” (even though they’re supposed to, with their supervisors). And civilians can be even worse, often completely neglecting to take into consideration what exactly they want to achieve or what the steps they need to take to achieve those things.
And unlike veterans, who operate in a somewhat self-imposed competitive work environment where everyone focuses on studying for promotion and leadership (ideally) goes to great lengths to recognize those promoted, civilians are at another disadvantage. Often, nobody is pushing them to excel or to go for a position of higher authority.
So, many don’t. They stagnate and settle into a comfort zone where they might stay for years, even decades.
This is the exact opposite of goal setting, just existing for the day with no forethought to the future. When hiring managers ask, “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” it’s because they want to understand whether or not they’re talking to a person who plans to settle or someone with aspirations.
If no one’s ever asked you that, ask yourself now. Where do you want to be in 5 years? Too long to think about? What about 5 months then? Because when we talk about “long term” goals, that’s a subject term. A lot of people don’t want to look that far ahead, or sometimes they can’t plan that far out due to various life circumstances. That’s not always a bad thing, though. In fact, sometimes planning too far out can be almost an excuse to procrastinate. That’s why “longish” term goals can also be beneficial!
Get Detailed in Your Plans
Let’s consider a brief example of planning out both long and longish goals.
Maybe you have a long term goal of finishing a degree “one day,” which is great! So how many classes are you enrolled in this term? Good, that’s short term. Have you got your academic plan mapped out from start to finish for the year? Great, that’s longish term.
What year will you graduate? Get specific, even though it is long term, having a “due date” in mind will help keep you focused and on task.
And then what’s next? Go longer. Will you go on for a graduate degree or a Ph.D.? If that’s too long, tighten it back up and focus on the shorter term. These are only examples, of course, but they illustrate the point that when you do have goals, you must also have a plan to accomplish them, then set up a viable timeframe.
If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail
If you don’t have specific goals, have you at least got some general ideas? Maybe you want a better paying job. That’s an idea. How can you turn that into a goal? You could, for instance, say you want a job that pays $20,000 a year more than your current one, and you want it within two years. That’s much more specific.
So, research the type of job you could transition into that would pay that much. G.I. Jobs happens to have some great resources to help you in that area!
After you do some brainstorming, ask yourself what’s holding you back? Education? Experience? Whatever it is, make a checklist to eliminate those obstacles, then start working through that checklist. But you must make a plan! It may seem obvious and yet all too many people take it for granted. And all too often, they fail to realize their dreams.
If the issue is education, find out precisely what degree or certification you need in order to get where you want to go. Then find a school, apply for admission, enroll in classes, and get to work on your academic plan, mapping out term by term with an advisor! Now you’ve turned the idea into a goal, and have established clear plans (with timelines) to achieve that goal. Once you’ve worked through your checklist, and gotten where you want, you’ll have turned your dream into a reality!
How? Through goal setting and, most critically, through setting plans!