Setting career goals is like climbing a mountain — it sounds exhilarating and achieving it will be an amazing accomplishment. Yet there's that point in the middle where it feels like... well, work.
There’s a crucial point of difference between the daily grind and mountaineering, though. Taking a hike offers the benefit of your line of sight and a GPS. Even if you can’t see the destination, you can likely track exactly how far away it is. Whether you’re a tenth of a mile or 10 miles from your landing spot, you can expect to arrive at a certain time. It gives you the opportunity to see — and celebrate — your progress.
Reaching the peak of your career is a little more ambiguous. While you may be able to guess at an amount of time necessary to complete your goals, there are a lot of factors at play, and you may meet resistance along the way. The daily grind can feel repetitive and even discouraging at times. One way to stay on track and be ready to face whatever setbacks you encounter is to keep the right attitude. Mindfulness is a critical component to creating and keeping your goals. This is why you should follow up your to-do list with a “ta-da!” list.
Making a “ta-da!” list isn’t an exact formula, it’s more of a reminder to cultivate joy around the process of achieving your goals. It’s about acknowledging the small steps you’re taking and praising yourself with a pat on the back (or a latté). The practice of thanksgiving is commonly associated with better physical health, mental well-being, and increased happiness, according to a recent white paper from Berkeley. Quality of life is a huge component to the emerging field of gratitude research, and work is a big part of how we spend our lives! Follow these three steps to create effective to-do and “ta-da!” lists, while keeping a positive attitude in the process.
Clearly define your goals, but be willing to go off-course
Putting words to what you want to achieve will help you make an effective to-do list. Whether you’re working a 9-to-5 or trying to build a side hustle, writing out a list of goals and tasks is essential to getting stuff done. However, be willing to pencil in a little room for the unknown. Just as the best view of the mountain might be slightly off the beaten path, the most successful individuals plot out a course and know when to pivot. Maybe it’s an unexpected job offer that will allow you to gain valuable experience, or an opportunity to collaborate with someone you could learn from. Reevaluate your to-do lists regularly to make sure they’re still working for you.
Write it down
There’s a famous study from Harvard Business School that followed their MBA graduates for 10 years — a decade later, the Harvard MBA grads who had physically written down their goals had earned ten times more than the others. Your goals and daily “to-do” list will keep you on track to achieving those mountainous goals. But don’t underestimate the power of your “ta-da!” list. According to the Berkeley white paper, a study found that workplace-specific gratitude was negatively associated with burnout. Just like goals and to-do lists are more effective when you write them down, gratitude works the same way. Write down encouragements for yourself and even positive mantras rather than just drawing a line through the things you’ve achieved. You worked hard, celebrate it!
Celebrate it all
While it’s easy to pop champagne for those huge milestones, the whole point of this exercise is to infuse more joy into the day-to-day. When you look back, most days aren’t memorable on their own, but each one makes up the seasons we’ll someday look back on as stepping stones that led us to the next. Focusing on the wins — however small — will make you less likely to get burned out on the journey. And we’re all here to reach the peak, aren’t we?!
Ana Elliott is a writer, photographer, and small business owner residing in Springfield, Missouri. In her free time, she can be found seeking out a good honey latte and/or just trying to keep another houseplant alive. You can find more from her on her personal blog: She Learns Things.