When we speak to children, whether they are 5, 10 or 15, we often ask them: What do you want to be when you grow up? Some will say they want to become a pilot, a firefighter, a school teacher or a doctor. Some others do not have a straight answer. I was one of them. I never really knew what job I wanted to do. The only thing I knew from a young age, is that it had to do something with languages, with traveling, with living abroad.
When we get older, we often fall into a routine; getting up, working (whether it is to work for a company or for oneself), going to bed. We frequently forget to pause and ask ourselves the question: What do I want to be when I grow up? How do I want to look back at my life when I am 80? Thinking strategically and having a long term goal in mind is something we have to do if we want to be successful and achieve our goals.
Have a long term goal in mind
Answering the question ‘How do I want to look back at my life when I am 80?’ is not an easy question to answer. It can take days, weeks, months or even years to answer it. You also may not be able to answer that particular question but you should ask yourself, every so many years: what do I want to do in 5, 10, 20 years? Once you have found your purpose in life and/or your long term goal, you can start working backwards and establish (short, medium and longer term) goals so that you can look back at your life and be proud of what you have achieved.
Having long term goals in mind helps you stay focused. You may not know yet how you are going to achieve these goals, you may not know when you will achieve them. But by staying focused, you’ll be able to recognize when an opportunity will present itself and you’ll just have to grab it. In 2003-2004, I wanted to leave the Netherlands. I wanted to go and live either in Spain or in Italy. I was not speaking fluent Spanish or Italian, I did not know how I could move to one of these countries. Yet, this was my goal. And in 2006, the Quality and Training Manager of the Italian subsidiary of the company I was working for, resigned. The Italian Management team approached me and asked me if I would be interested to take over his job. I of course said yes. I was thrilled. It was because I had put my goal out there, to the Universe, that my dream came true somehow. Many people knew what my goal was. I had worked hard and had done my research. I had never anticipated my Italian colleague would resign. When he did, I was ready.
Identify the gaps
Once you have a clear idea of your goal, you can identify the skills you need, the habits you need to have. You know where you are now which helps you identify the gap between the current situation and your goal. You can then start to work on them. What new skills do you need to acquire? And do you need to unlearn something? What habits do you need to get rid of? What new habits do you need to start doing?
You may have already started to work on some new skills or competencies. But you may need to level up, read books, follow some webinars or training to develop them and improve yourself.
You may also want to hire a coach or a mentor to brainstorm to have an accountability partner, who can challenge you and ensure you are taking action. Being motivated and taking action are sometimes not enough. You need to be disciplined and act on a consistent basis to make progress (see one of my previous articles here.)
The main challenge is that people often do not prioritize the right things. They think everything is important. And by putting everything at the same level, nothing stands out. That is how the routine starts. People no longer know what is a priority.
It is critical to spend some time planning. Of course, being spontaneous once in a while, doing things at the last minute, is ok. We all need some flexibility. However, when it comes down to the bigger picture, this is where you need to stay rigid and focus on your goal if it is important to you. The way you approach things may change, the timing for which you’ll want to achieve your goal may also vary, as some things are outside of our control (the situation we’re currently experiencing is a perfect example). However, if something is important enough for you, you will find a way to achieve your goal. Take a break. Reflect, pause, evaluate and ask yourself: what do I need to do this week, this month, this quarter, this year, the next 5 years, so that I can achieve my goal by 20xx.
Remember this: the most successful persons are planning years, decades ahead. They have also had setbacks and certain things probably did not happen as planned. But they keep working at it. Continuously. Focusing on their long term goal, their vision.
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