Meet Your Career Goals by Planning Backwards


When I was younger, I loved the game of M.A.S.H. Some of you might remember it, right? It’s where you list your future in different categories and then find out how your life will end up. It was always fun to find out what my career would be, where I’d live, and by what age I’d meet all of my goals. But of course, that was a game. This is real life, and when figuring out your future, leaving it up to fate simply won’t do. When you think about your future career, what comes to mind? How do you plan to achieve those career goals of yours? Many people have a beautiful vision of what they’ll be doing five to ten years from now, but no plan of action to bring those goals to fruition. Others use detailed S.M.A.R.T. goals to get ahead. If you’re stuck in between these two ends of the spectrum, allow me to suggest another strategy: plan your career backwards. In another post (that will be posted tomorrow), I write about how I met my academic goals by planning them backwards: focusing on the end goals and working my way back to present day. That method worked so well that I began using it for my career. For the past 15 years, I have planned my career, starting from my end goal date and plotting my steps backwards to present day. In all of my plans, I either met my goals on time or earlier than expected.

Following Stephen Covey’s strategy of “beginning with the end in mind,” backwards planning starts off with you setting a career goal with a future date. Think five years from now (it’s easiest to start with 5 years to avoid getting overwhelmed) and write down what you want your career to be at that point. At minimum, think of the type of job you want. If you want to add in specifics, include a location, desired salary, and type of company/organization you’d like to work for. The more specific, the better. Next, write each year in descending order until you reach the present year. For each year, starting with five years from now (2025), write down where you should be in your plan until you reach where you are now. If it’s more realistic for you to skip years, then do so. For example:

2025: Officially Start own graphic design company (set aside funds to go on my own by 2026)

2024: continue growing client base/ improve connections as VP at design company

2023: start doing side projects in different fields (keep in touch with new clients)/take on mentor

2022: continue growing as VP/take advantage of professional development opportunities

2021: VP of X

2020: Complete fourth year as Manager at graphic design company/apply for VP position

If you have years that are blank, write in goals for those years such as 1) secure major account, 2) present at conferences, or 3) take lead on a project. Get as specific as you’d like. Don’t worry if you find yourself revising this timeline. When we plan from the present day on, we tend to cram a lot into the timeframe in order to meet our goals. However, when we plan from the future backwards, we tend to take a more realistic perspective about things that can reasonably get accomplished. Therefore, you may find yourself revising your timeline to reflect what you want and what can actually get done. By doing so, you’ll have a career plan with attainable goals. From there, you can decide which steps to take to meet each goal, such as reaching out to others (strategically) to ask for what you need: mentor, job reference, advice, etc.

Thinking with the end in mind and planning your career goals based on that strategy ensures that you’ll not only reach your targets, but reach then sooner.

Be well and keep leading,

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