Setting Career Goals- Are You Going for Gold?

There was a lovely quote from Aussie Olympic swimmer Leisel Jones in the paper this morning.

In response to questions about her recent challenges in the 2012 London Olympics, she replied: “Smooth sailing doesn’t make a skilful sailor.”

How true this is. Yet, in our pursuit of our most fervent hopes and dreams, who amongst us would wish for a rough ride to the finish line? Surely we can simply stick to the easy path, and achieve just as much, if not more, than those who struggle? If we set our goals clearly and aim high, need we suffer in the attempt?

The Olympics are, so often, about expectation. The contenders, often young and in their early career, for whom nothing but Gold will shine. A Silver or Bronze is almost more devastating to them than never qualifying. Then there are the battlers, from countries with no history in their chosen event, or the ones who have self-funded and trained, often later in life, to fulfil their dream. They stand no real chance of winning against competitors with a lifetimes’ dedication and the financial backing of a nation, but for many of them just being there is the reward, and their triumph is achieved when the starter’s gun sounds. And, in London, we had the unusual case of Jones, who became the first Australian swimmer to compete in four Olympics, yet who has been criticised for failing to medal, and had people wondering if that achievement itself had been enough.

If you choose to work in the Special Effects Makeup Industry, you are choosing a rough road. That’s a given. Like any Olympic sport, many try to achieve greatness, and few succeed. But for many people, ‘just doing it’ is as far as their goal-setting ever got. When you have had your heart set on just being able to do Makeup FX, somewhere, somehow, that may be enough for you… Are you content to simply drift along through life, never knowing what is round the corner, as long as you are doing SOMETHING in that field? Then there are those who have a good run, who consistently achieve moderate success, or even, fleetingly, the glory of national or international recognition. At some point, your career will inevitably begin to wane, whether through age, ill health, or simply having lost touch with the up and coming in the industry, and therefore being deemed irrelevant. Do we judge our industry as harshly as the public judge our Olympians? Should we be allowed to pursue our chosen career as long as we choose, as long as we feel capable, or do we allow ourselves to be pushed aside in favour of someone younger and less experienced, but hungrier? And what do we do if that happens? Where do we turn then?

In order to be your best, in any field in life, even in life itself, we need clear and defined goals, and the discipline to pursue them. But goal setting is a risky business in itself. Set the wrong goals, and risk failure. It is sadly easy to spend too much time and effort climbing the ladder, only to realise, belatedly, that it was up against the wrong wall…..

And every four years, as Olympics fever and fervour surrounds us, we have a chance to see the benefits- and disadvantages, of goal-setting at its highest level. What do the experiences of our elite athletes teach us about how to turn our dreams into achievable goals?

“It’s a pretty tough Games in terms of just learning things,” Jones said. “So I think I have got all the skills for life now. I would rather have a tough experience than an easy one because you don’t learn much about yourself then.”

So how do you choose your goals? There are whole sections in any bookstore, devoted to Self-Help and Self-Actualisation, and in the Business Section, there is Management and Leadership. Sometimes there is a large crossover in those topics! There are many fantastic resources out there to help you discover what you REALLY want from life, as opposed to what you THINK you want, or even worse, what you think you SHOULD want. It often doesn’t hit people till their late twenties that they have spent the first third of their life pursuing goals set for them by their family, society and culture. Then there are the minority who KNOW, in their hearts, from a very early age, what they want from life, and have relentlessly pursued it until they got there, only to find that having achieved their one goal, they have nothing left to do? No matter how you got there, you may wake one day and realise that you are on a completely different track from the one you feel you should be on, and you can even see the ‘right’ train whizzing past you and disappearing into the distance. What do you do then?

If you are truly stuck at this point then believe me I understand where you are coming from- I spent YEARS of my life thinking “But if I do this, then I can’t do that….” or “I can’t follow my dreams, because I have responsibilities…”
Those statements were true for me, and as real and restrictive as a 40 foot concrete wall across my path, because I believed them to be real. It was only when I finally learned that all beliefs are subjective, and can be changed, that I was able to choose more advantageous beliefs, and say “I CAN do this, if I just…..”

“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.” Richard Bach

Along my way I found much useful information, each providing another piece of the jigsaw puzzle, until I started to see my bigger picture for what it really was. If you have a favourite self help book, Ive probably read it!! But there were two significant things that made all the difference. I was looking to fix my backache when pregnant with my second child, and I came across Robert McLeod, a teacher of the Alexander Technique. Some months later, when to my stubborn surprise I began experiencing panic attacks and anxiety, Robert came to my rescue once again with another technique he had developed over his decades of working with people, that he calls One Touch. This technique recognises the intimate links between the three ‘legs’ of our experience- physical, mental and emotional, and allows you to recognise current issues causing you discomfort in any of those areas, and realign your balance. I liken using this technique to ‘waking up’ for the first time, and realising that you have been in a waking dream your whole life…
Over the next few years Robert became a dear friend and mentor and he taught me the tools that allowed me to change my life. Make no mistake- If you have something you want to change or achieve, then you are no different from any Olympic candidate – no-one and no thing is going to do it for you! You need determination, dedication, but most of all, desire, because it will be work, mentally, emotionally, and for some, physically. It gets easier as you go, but its still going to take a concerted effort from you to change your life, and the amount of discomfort you are in right now, is directly proportional to your motivation to change. Most people wont put in the effort required to change until the pain of staying where they are outweighs the pain of changing.

In the words of Dr Sheldon Cooper    “It’s called the comfort zone for a reason.”

I changed my life myself, and it took time. Robert provided a balancing aid along the way, and he happens to have given me a particularly useful toolkit to carry through life. I credit him with showing me that I could allow myself to be the “real me”, without fear of inadequacy, without disappointing anyone else, and in fact that being honest about who I really was would not only make ME happy, but improve my relationships with everyone around me. I still use his technique every day of my life in many different ways.

The second thing I found that made a massive difference to my progress, was a book called Five Wishes, by Gay Hendricks. To be honest, I didn’t even buy the book until years later- I had merely picked it up in a bookstore and read the first couple of chapters (yes Im a very fast reader). I went home and made a list of goals, using the very particular technique he described. It was just another thing I tried amongst many, but it made sense to me, and it tied into a lot of the things I had learned using Robert’s techniques, too. A few months later I casually glanced at my list, and nearly fell off my chair. I had somehow, without even realising, achieved major progress towards every single goal on my list. So much so, that I had to go home and make a new list. I continue to use this technique today, and continue to be pleasantly surprised at how much easier it makes my progress towards my goals.

So in life, and in your pursuit of your dreams, are you going for Gold? Or are you just happy to be in the race?

Your answer will dictate the approach you take and the amount of work required of you, but in any case, you should set S.M.A.R.T. goals.

S.M.A.R.T Goals are:


  • Well defined
  • Clear to anyone that has a basic knowledge of the project

For example, you need to be able to answer the following questions about your chosen goal

*Who: Who is involved?

*What: What do I want to accomplish?

*Where: Identify a location.

*When: Establish a time frame.

*Which: Identify requirements and constraints.

*Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.

EXAMPLE: A general goal would be, “Get in shape.” But a specific goal would say, “Join a health club and workout 3 days a week.”


  • Know if the goal is obtainable and how far away completion is
  • Know when it has been achieved

Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of each goal you set.  If you want to be able to run a half-marathon, but you currently barely make it to the front fence before you’re puffing, then you are going to have to break it down into smaller goals along the way- be able to run a mile, then five miles, then ten…. Having visible milestones along the way makes for a much easier path….

When you measure your progress, you stay on track, reach your target dates, and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs you on to continued effort required to reach your goal.


  • Agreement with all the stakeholders what the goals should be- who is involved in this, just you, or are you depending on other peoples participation and support?

When you identify the things that are really important to you, you start to figure out ways you can make them come true. Over time you will develop the attitudes, abilities, skills, and financial ability to reach them. You begin seeing the world differently, and are better able to spot opportunities that will take you towards your goals.

Most goals, no matter how unattainable they may seem at first, become possible when you plan your steps carefully and give yourself a time frame that lets you complete those steps. In a limiting state of mind you may dismiss some things as impossible, but if you ‘dare to dream’, you can conquer many things you may have thought insurmountable. You can find examples everywhere- the man born without limbs who climbs mountains, the blind girl who sails solo, and countless others. Simply listing your goals is a powerful beginning. Eventually you will move closer to your goals and they can become attainable, not because your goals shrink, but because you grow and expand to match them. To achieve these goals, you first must allow yourself to see yourself as worthy of them, and develop the traits and personality that allow you to possess them.


  • Within the availability of resources, knowledge and time

To be realistic, a goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able to work. A goal can be both high and realistic; you are the only one who can decide just how high your goal should be. But don’t make the mistake of aiming too low. A study I once read concluded that it is actually easier to achieve high-risk, seemingly impossible goals, simply because there is less competition!! Most people will have already decided that the goal was impossible, and so they never even try, aiming instead for what they consider a more ‘realistic’ aim, with the result that there are hundreds or even thousands more people competing for the same thing! The few who dare to aim for the stars, are often surprised to find they are the only ones who have. And even if you don’t quite get there, aiming high and falling short will oft times et you further than aiming low and getting there!!

There is also the question of motivation. What is your risk and reward?   A high goal is frequently easier to reach than a low one because a low goal exerts low motivational force, but if you want something badly enough you will move mountains to get it.

”Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” –James M. Barrie


  • Enough time to achieve the goal
  • Not too much time, which can affect your performance

A goal should be grounded within a time frame. With no time frame tied to it there’s no sense of urgency. If you want to lose 10 lbs, when do you want to lose it by? “Someday” won’t work. But if you anchor it within a timeframe, “by May 1st”, then you’ve set your unconscious mind into motion to begin working on the goal.
Your goal is probably realistic if you truly believe that it can be accomplished. Additional ways to know if your goal is realistic is to determine if you have accomplished anything similar in the past or ask yourself what conditions would have to exist to accomplish this goal.

T can also stand for Tangible – A goal is tangible when you can experience it with one of the senses, that is, taste, touch, smell, sight or hearing.

When your goal is tangible you have a better chance of making it specific and measurable and thus attainable.

But there are so many things I want to do- how do I choose?

When  selecting a sport to compete in with hopes of getting to the Olympics, does an athlete hedge their bets?  Play it safe?  Try and cover all the bases?  Do they attempt several sports and figure they will pick the one they are best at later? No, they stick to one.  Unless of course they are competing in the Triathlon, which is a skill set in itself!  If you want to get to the top of your chosen activity, you need focus.  Dedication. Single-minded determination. If you merely want to enjoy a satisfying hobby, then the level of involvement is totally up to you….

Say there are a couple of activities competing for your attention. You feel equally passionate about both of them and as far as potentially satisfying career paths go, you simply cant tell them apart. How do you choose which one to focus on?  Do you have to choose at all or is there some way you can incorporate both?

You could try a S.W.O.T. analysis on each of your goals… its a business tool that works equally well for personal goal selection.

S.W.O.T. stands for:


  • What advantages do you have?
  • What do you do better than anyone else?
  • Are there any unique resources you can draw upon that others may not have access to?
  • What do other people in your potential career area see as your strengths?
  • What is unique about the way you do what you do?

Consider your strengths from both an internal perspective, and from the point of view of potential clients and people who may hire you.

You should also be realistic.  Wishful thinking and sheer self-belief is not a strength.  When looking at your strengths, think about them in relation to your competition. If you are attempting to enter a highly competitive market, then you need to know what the base level skills are that you have to compete against.  In Makeup FX, artistic ability is not a strength, but a necessity.


  • What could you improve?
  • What should you avoid?
  • What are people in your market likely to see as weaknesses?
  • What factors lose you jobs?

Consider these factors from other people perspective- do they seem to perceive weaknesses or strengths that you don’t see? Do people constantly remark on characteristics of yours, good or bad, that you have never given serious thought to?

It’s best to be realistic now, and face any unpleasant truths as soon as possible.


  • What good opportunities can you spot?
  • What interesting trends are you aware of?

Useful opportunities can be such things as providing a service that is currently unavailable in your area, or in being able to travel for work.  You may be great with new technology and able to take advantage of the latest computer aided design methods….   You may have a great networking ability which will help you to get yourself widely known in your chosen industry in a fairly short time.


  • What obstacles do you face?
  • What is your competition doing?
  • Are qualifications and standards for your job, products or services changing?
  • Is changing technology threatening your position?
  • Do you have bad debt or cash-flow problems?
  • Could any of your weaknesses seriously threaten your business?

Compare the S.W.O.T analyses for your potential goals, and then pick the one that is more achievable and realistic.  There is nothing to stop you changing your mind later if you really want to, but for now you just need to focus on one thing at a time.

Of course there is no reason you cant pursue any goal you like, if you believe its worth the effort, no matter how unrealistic other people may think it- sheer willpower can get you a long way in many jobs, and it is important to remember that determination will win out over raw talent anyday, because someone who wants it desperately will often put in more work than the person who may be naturally gifted but isn’t inspired to do their best everyday…  Still, best to bear in mind that an athlete choosing to compete in a contest of speed had better be fast!

Another tool you can use to help you focus on your strengths and assess realistically your chances of success in your chosen field is to look at your Core Competencies: 

A core competency has the following attributes:

  1. It is not easy for competitors to imitate.
  2. It can be re-used widely for many products and markets.
  3. It must contribute to the end consumer’s experienced benefits.

An example: You might consider strong industry knowledge and expertise to be a core competence in serving your industry. However, if your competitors have equivalent expertise, then this is not a core competence. All it does is make it more difficult for new competitors to enter the market. More than this, it’s unlikely to help you much in moving into new markets, which will have established experts already.

Sounds great, doesnt it?  Just pick your goal, divide it up into manageable chunks, and get going!  After all, as the saying goes, “how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time… ”

When I say focus on one thing at a time, we have been talking about your goals for your life and career up to this point.  But goal setting should include other aspects of your life too-  family and friends, spiritual goals, health goals, wealth goals. Setting all of these doesn’t mean you need to execute all of them at the same time. Setting goals means that you have a view of what you want in the various aspects of your life, but start with one goal first, the one that is currently demanding most of your attention, and then you can add another once you are underway… and so on.

If you don’t have more than one goal, you risk getting fatigued.  As you begin executing one action at a time on one goal, remember to enjoy the journey with your goal in mind, instead of simply doing it because you decided to do it, and thinking you will enjoy it once you get there! Life is short, unexpected things can happen, and we dont always get to where we think we are gong.  Make sure you haven’t wasted opportunities to enjoy your life while you still have it!

Instead of relying on compliments from others, take some time to pat yourself on the back. Don’t compare yourself to others. Just think back on your journey, how you struggled, how far you’ve come, and really congratulate yourself.

Personal goals are just that- personal. It’s nice to have someone else who appreciates what you are doing, but the reality is that a lot of the time other people are preoccupied with their own lives, so learn to recognize your achievements and congratulate yourself on how far you have come.   If you have worked hard and done your best you deserve to feel proud of yourself.  It doesn’t really even matter if you get to the finish line, as long as you put your best effort forward in the attempt.

But what if its NOT that easy?  

Ok, so you have a couple of goals, you get started, make good progress, and then…. you lose momentum. Suddenly there are other things demanding your attention, taking your focus away from what you really want to be doing. Whenever you think about your goal, you feel tired, unmotivated… What happened?

Several reasons:

1. We fear failure.  Thats the biggie.  If you never try, you cant fail.. When people have a lot vested in a particular goal this one is a huge problem. “What if I set myself up to be this great thing and suddenly I doubt my ability to pull it off? Everyone is going to know I am a failure….”

2. We lose faith in our goals.  When we started out, they seemed the right thing, but something has happened in our lives and now we aren’t so sure that its worth it.  Maybe it isn’t, or maybe we just need to reassess and tweak our goal slightly to bring it into line with what we now realise is truly important.
3. We change our goals.  This is ok too- sometimes as I said, you start with a clear goal and work towards it, only to realise when you get there or get close that it isn’t what you thought it would be after all. Many people make the mistake of hanging on to it because of the time and effort they have invested into it so far.. they will continue to pursue a goal they no longer want to save face…. That is a recipe for misery.  The smart ones, as soon as they recognise that their stated goal is no longer desirable or relevant, drop it like a hot potato and head off for the more appropriate one they have replaced it with.  No effort is ever wasted, and you have learned much about yourself along the way.
4. We lose sight on the importance of our goals as we go through our daily lives.  Sometimes everything else can get a little overwhelming. This is where techniques like the Five Wishes one come in handy. It focuses your attention not on how or when ad much as how you want to feel about it afterwards…. a surreptitious way of engaging the full cooperation of your subconscious mind, so that you will get there eventually no matter that you may slow down from time to time…
5. We get tired and need a rest.  Goal fatigue is a simple thing but not to be overlooked.  Sometimes when you have been working hard towards your goal, you suddenly find it hard to get motivated and pay attention.  Not because you don’t want it, but simply because you have been working so hard you need a break, put your head up and look around, take a few deep breaths and take the pressure of performance off yourself. And thats an important part of the process. The strongest marathon runner needs a break between races….

What now?

So, you have achieved what you set out to do. You got there in the end, but now, its over.  Finished. Caput.  What do you do when the thing you have strived for, perhaps for your whole life, is finished?

You have heard the common stories about the elite athlete who achieves their goal, takes home the prize, and a few short months later is suffering from depression, or seeking solace in food, alcohol or drugs….   What happened?  It is not uncommon on reaching your long-held goal to feel a little…..    underwhelmed.  The process of goal setting sometimes focuses on the achievement with little regard for the aftermath.  Getting to the finish line may not bring you the release and satisfaction you had imagined. Instead you might find yourself lost without anything to aim for. What now? Where to from here?

This is why the best coaches are already beginning to train their charges for the NEXT challenge before they have completed the first.  It gives them something to aim for and focus on, even as they are reaching for the final hurdle…

And sometimes achieving your goal feels, not like the birth of a new ideal, but like the death of an old one. Its ok to grieve for the loss of something that has driven you for a long time. Its necessary. But its also necessary to pick yourself up, after a short time, pull yourself together, congratulate yourself on what you have done so far. Not by anyone else’s standards, but by your own.  Maybe you won Gold.  Or maybe your reward was just being there… knowing that you had a go, and you made it to the starting line, even if you didn’t place.  Elimination isn’t the same as failure.  We have only failed if we never tried.  And the challenges we faced along the way have, with any luck, made us more skilful than when we started out… “Smooth sailing doesn’t make for a skilful sailor.”

And then, sit down and have a think, find the goal that feels like the next best place to be, and begin the next stage of your journey…..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


attention to retail

Brandon Robshaw and the English Language

A liberal pedant's view of the state of the language

Shitty First Drafts

A US academic goes to Russia

Everyday Asperger's

Life through the eyes of a female with Aspergers

magrathea farm

Bits of it were dullish grey, bits of it dullish brown, the rest of it rather less interesting to look at.


fabulous recipes for feijoa lovers

%d bloggers like this: