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How to Set Goals for the Journey, Not the Destination

SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. Google “Goal Setting” and this is the first thing that comes up. It is the standard for how everyone from your boss to your personal trainer will tell you to plan for the next great thing. SMART goals reinforce the mindset that success is in the destination, not the journey. They ask you to limit your dreams to a specific, quantifiable target in the future. The problem is, the future feels more uncertain than ever and, quite frankly, it always has been.   

Setting goals should be an exercise in defining what success looks like overall, not limiting yourself to that definition of success at a specific moment in the future. Let’s face it, things change. In reality, that is the only thing you can be certain of. So why build goals with deadlines and numbers that don’t actually push you toward what is the best thing for you in this moment? Do these four things to build meaningful goals that will help you now instead of forecasting the next best thing.

Quality instead of quantity

Often we don’t know exactly what we want to strive for until we go through a process of defining it. Using qualitative goals allows you to have something to aim for while honoring the fact that you’re not going to be the same person or business next month or next year.

If you make $18K in a month and work 35 hours, does that mean you failed? If you launch 1 new product and take on 4 new clients, did that also diversify your income? If you lose 50 lbs. but still feel like crap, have you achieved your goal? Give yourself the flexibility to aim higher but not be confined by numbers for the sake of numbers.

Ambitious but ambiguous

Achievable is great, but seriously aim for the stars. Don’t limit yourself to what you think is possible in this moment, because it is only a moment. Circumstances change constantly. I’ve seen things happen this year, both good and bad, that I never thought possible. Make that ambitious (qualitative) goal, map out a few ways you could get there, and then explore until you find the right path. Chances are you’ll find other options along the way that you never even thought of, that end up getting you where you want to go. 


Make sure your goals are relevant to who you are and where you’re at now. While keeping in mind that who you are, or where your business is, today is not where you’ll be tomorrow. Relevancy is iterative. You should always have a north star and orient around it, but that north star might move in the sky over time. What’s relevant to you early in your career won’t be near the end. Your why will change as your life does.  

Timelines not deadlines

The truth is, most of us set SMART goals, whether for our work or life,  and then put them on a shelf where we revisit them at new year’s or our annual review, and a) feel guilty about our lack of progress, b) see that we’ve blown them out of the water, or c) find that they’re no longer relevant. Reinforce your qualitative goals with quantitative timelines (AKA, actual dates). Do this in short cycles so that you have time to see progress and then adjust as things change, because they will. You don’t have to plan out the next five years of your life right now, just get clear on what you think you want that to look like and what progress looks like in this moment.


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