A while ago I realized that I had a pretty significant blind spot: developing long-term goals. Short and medium-term goals — the decisions that are a day, a month, or even several months out — were no problem. But sifting through sets of complex information to decide a way forward that might affect me a year or more out eluded me. I sat in the proverbial waiting space from “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” and just… waited.
Setting long-term goals can be easy if they’re lofty, like: make more money, or exercise more, or learn to cook. But these aren’t necessarily achievable (in that they aren’t quantifiable), and they don’t prescribe a way forward that addresses the complex nature of the problem. Why aren’t you exercising, what’s preventing you from earning more, etc.?
And so I set about to devise support systems that would help me identify root causes to issues that I faced, and chart a path forward to their solution. Not too much time has passed since I’ve done that, but I figured it might be interesting to share some of the things I came up with in case it could help anyone else.
- Find objective mentors in positions you’d like to be in. This doesn’t just mean professional mentors, but people who you look up to in life, play, and family. After you’ve developed that list, set up a regular meeting with them to lay out where you are at, what you’re having problems with, and what opportunities you see going forward. Having a group of outside mentors helps you bring in a more diverse array of information that may lay out paths you’d never considered. These might be paths you could follow, or paths you want to avoid.
- Ask yourself worst-case scenario questions. Your mentor might provide insight into where you need to go, or what you need to avoid, but they aren’t you. Only you know what the worst-case scenario is for any potential decision: could you lose your house, or your job, or something even more valuable? Asking yourself “what is the worst thing that could happen?” helps identify potential pitfalls that you force out of your mind. Even more, it forces you to think through why that thing might happen.
- Lay out multiple potential paths. There is no one correct way forward, and best options are subjective and time-based. For me, then, it’s important to lay out multiple potential paths and mentally map their potential convergences and divergences. How can these objectives complement each other? By doing this, you prevent yourself from putting blinders on and chasing after one goal when, in fact, another potential opportunity could overlap and complement it.
Using this short methodology, I’ve been able to identify three long-term objectives that I’d like to work on. Then I’ve started breaking those larger goals into shorter, more achievable tasks with milestones. More importantly, I feel like I finally have a productive path forward that is leading me toward what I want to do.
I’ll let you know how it goes in a year.