Goal-setting is a common prescription doled out to the professional. But even if you’ve diligently put down your career goals and created a personal vision board, you might be setting yourself up for the Elusive Goal Syndrome, or a bout of Sisyphus-itis!
Greek mythology talks about the story of King Sisyphus, who was known for all things kingly, until he landed in the bad books of the mighty Zeus. Sisyphus spent the latter half of his life under a curse, rolling a massive boulder uphill, only to see it rolling back, all the way down, each time… This is happening even as we speak, as the curse was to span ‘an eternity’! Such stories might make for amusing reads, but we all live with the compulsion of the ‘elusive goal’ that Sisyphus is known for.
Call it an inescapable professional reality, but setting ‘goals’ to direct one’s career is a contemporary mantra that is put forward by universities, management gurus, books and blogs, to name a few. It makes the promise that ‘Career Goals’ having been set, have the magical quality of aligning meandering careers with achievement and prosperity. What’s more, they imply that these aims are no more than what a simple to-do list can handle.
We acknowledge that setting goals for yourself can help you to stay focused on what you want. It can help to counter a bias towards short-term thinking and short-term results. But even if you’ve diligently written down your career goals and created a vision board, just being goal-focussed is not enough.
Not just the Goal, but the Road to it
Working towards a goal and the learning that goes with it, are more important than attaining the goal. Now that you’ve set yourself the goal of that higher take-home or a CXO role, don’t discount the invaluable experience of working towards it. An important learning from the Sisyphus myth is also to know when to stop and change your approach to the goal. Had Mr. Sisyphus stopped rolling the boulder up the hill, and instead made a contraption to do the job for him, wouldn’t his eternal punishment become an example of ingenuity rather than of tedium? He would have also had the last laugh on Zeus, by overcoming an unrealistic punishment through a practical solution.
Short-Term Milestones and Long Term Aim
Dreams and goals are the moving forces that shape lives and careers, but on a day-to-day basis it’s a series of short-term milestones that drive success. The skill lies in breaking the ultimate, long-term aim into bite-sized, achievable goals. While the big breakthrough and dream job can happen, more realistic, immediately attainable goals are usually the stepping stones to it. Immediate gains also lead to a sense of continuous achievement that is often what keeps you going.
A Goal is only as important as its deliverables
That x-Lac CTC is really fine if it translates into a particular take-home, or a tax break that you had not factored in; the greater exposure that the new role delivers is more meaningful than the designation you were looking for. It’s important to have a goal and but it’s equally important to know when to let it go. Step back and analyse that new opportunity with an open mind, stay flexible and look at all related factors. When the goal is in sight, it may be time to look at what it really needs to deliver for you.
Either you drive the goal or it drives you
It has been argued that unrealistic goals have a way of pushing professionals beyond their limits. Over-ambitious goal-setting can also overshadow the real reason behind a goal – the satisfaction that will make it the effort worthwhile. While it’s important to aspire, it’s equally important to value your efforts. In the relentless pursuit of ever-larger goals, it’s important to remember why we they are there.
Sisyphus could take solace that his pursuit was the outcome of divine rage; professionals who set themselves up against Sisyphean goals do not have even that consolation! You win the goal-setting game when you know when to push the stop button!