How to Set Career Goals that Scare You

Climbing career ladder


Growing up, I had a poster on my wall that read, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” As a teenager with big ambitions, I loved that poster, and I continue to appreciate it as someone old enough to have achieved some of those early dreams.


When working with people to help them set career goals, I often find that they don’t dream big enough. In our curriculum, we ask people to set three BHAGs — big, hairy, audacious goals — that look 20 to 30 years ahead in their careers. This is a struggle for many folks, who want to be realistic or feel timid after struggling to find work for a few months (or even years). Their inner critics have them thinking much smaller than we want them to when they are setting their intentions for their careers.


A BHAG must be something that you would love to do in your career and that you would be very proud to share if achieved. Examples include:

– organizing the baseball hall of fame induction ceremony,

– giving a TED talk that inspires behavior change regarding energy use,

– ringing the bell when your startup company goes public,

– discovering a new species.


So how do you reconnect to your dreams? How do you begin to believe in BIG possibilities for yourself?


Don’t look backward

Past experience can be a good predictor of future behavior, but we see people get stuck in past patterns. We want you to consider your future without the burdens of your past. That doesn’t mean you have to go in a totally different direction, but we want your focus to be on a destination 20 to 30 years in the future.


Look for inspiration

Who do you admire? What people and organizations have had a significant impact on you or the world? Whose career would you want to relive? Considering these questions and finding role models can help you focus your future. Again, we don’t want you to be restricted to their achievements, but they can be a great guide and source of inspiration for your journey.


Stare down fear of failure

Push yourself to be completely audacious, which means to be “extremely bold or daring; recklessly brave; fearless.” I often ask people this question from pastor Robert Schuller, “what would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” This has helped me expand my dreams and fearlessness. Recently, I heard author Brené Brown speak about daring greatly, and she challenged me to think even deeper about this quote by asking, “what is worth doing even if you fail?” Your BHAGs should be worth striving for even if you may fail while pursuing them.


It’s not easy to articulate your dreams and give yourself a deadline, but that is what BHAGs help you do. Write them down. Look at them yearly and evaluate if you are still on that path and interested in living that dream. If not, find another dream worth pursuing. If so, keep developing the smaller tactical goals that keep you progressing toward your extremely bold and recklessly brave self.


Written by Courtney Young-Law, Ed.D.


Fundamentum coaches you to take control of your career and find your fit. With our expert help, you receive the personal attention you need to change your career trajectory. Through our flexible program, you’ll meet with your coach over the phone in small-group WebClasses or one-on-one coaching sessions to build critical job search skills and start getting results.


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Posted by Team Fundamentum