Overcoming the challenge of career goal setting in a rapidly changing world

goalHaving a future career goal is a good start. Problem is, in a rapidly changing world, the original goal may be inappropriate due to change.

For the most part, our careers are a result of the choices we make. Of course, there are careers that are made, reshaped or broken from situations well beyond our control. These range from a sudden and unexpected illness or injury that irreversibly changes our working lives, through to a fundamental change in government regulations or a natural disaster wiping out your employer, or your industry shifting overseas.

Other than anticipating major disruptive events and taking steps to manage and mitigate the likely risks, whether through insurance or, for example deciding to no longer live next door to a nuclear power station, you have to assume that the ultimate fate of your career, for the most part, rests in your hands.

In our increasingly disruptive technologically rich working environments, some of the assumptions that have proven to be valid thus far, may be decidedly less so in today’s digital environment.

Career Goal-setting worked for me – therefore it will work for you, right?

There are entire industries based on the concepts of success. Attending a workshop where the inspirational, charismatic and apparently fantastically successful presenter is offering a prescriptive methodology, framework or recipe may be of value in helping you gain different perspectives or new insights on your career and job challenges. My experience (and probably yours as well) in the real world, however, is that each individual’s career situation is unique, and that will also vary with time.

Moreover, the logic behind the assumption that “It’s worked for me or someone else, therefore it must work for you” should be tested – especially in an environment that is undergoing substantial and disruptive technology induced change.

Be acutely aware of the hype associated with industries that exist in the ‘cult of success’ in career planning. The assumption is that everyone would succeed by completing the program or course. The fact remains that it is just not possible for 100% of the population to be in the top 5%.

The potential pitfalls of having a specific goal in a disruptive environment

To many, conventional wisdom on career planning revolves on setting a career goal. To illustrate the point, as an employee, consider the following hypothetical career objectives:

  • My ultimate career objective is to be the CEO of a publicly listed corporation with annual revenue of no less than $500 million in the healthcare industry by the time I reach the age of 45.
  • My medium career objective is to be a principal violinist in one of the top 5 European orchestra’s in the next 10 years.
  • My career objective is to be a partner in one of the 4 leading legal firms dealing specifically with Intellectual Property Law by the age of 35.
  • My 5 year career objective is to successfully move from full time employment to being a respected independent contractor in the field of software engineering.

In each of the above examples, the objectives are relatively concise. Whilst helpful in crystallising your thoughts as to how you think you would like to end up at some point in the future, the reality is that your achievement of a specific, well defined goal that would define your career’s high point (or endpoint, even) may be self limiting.

There are a number of factors to bear in mind when considering this specific, goal oriented approach, and include:

  • Great! Goal achieved: So what now? Assume you’re in the ‘ideal’ situation of having achieved your goal. Do you assume that the environment will remain predictable from that point on?
  • Role ideation. If you set yourself the goal of being a CEO of an organisation, be sure about what’s involved. What are the likely downsides in that situation? (Other than possibly making more money, gaining status or being able to meet with the rich and famous). Remember, here we are discussing you as an employee with no financial equity in the organisation – your employer’s business is not your business, your career is.
  • The nature of the role changes. Not all types of jobs remain the same in the face of disruption. New job categories are being constantly created and others disappearing, especially those associated with, or impacted by modern digital technologies.
  • Your expectations and preferences change. If after some time in assiduously working towards and achieving your goal, you find that your ideal job is not what you expected it to be. What will your options be at that point?
  • Concentration of risk. If you are single minded about achieving a specific goal, you may miss the opportunity to develop important complementary and supplementary skills and competencies, and acquire additional qualifications in related domains of expertise – all of which add to your career resilience.
  • Your experience gained may well change your expectations. Life, even on a good day, is not certain and the accumulation of ‘life skills and experiences’ will most likely influence your expectations about your objective. The original objective set at the start of your career journey may well change as part of that journey, either as a result of maturing along the way or your life’s situation changing.

Appreciating the difference between setting specific, targeted career goals and a being able to articulate those attributes that will define your career’s  future-state may make all the difference in ensuring career relevance and resilience in our uncertain and volatile world.

If, however, you are one of those fortunate few that have a clear and abiding goal in a defined industry that is unlikely to fundamentally be reshaped by technology, and you are intrinsically drawn to a specific job, then apply yourself to achieving that objective.