I have set goals since childhood. When I was young, I set goals related to my sports activities, such as free throw percentage in basketball, strike outs and earned run average in baseball, and average yards per carry in football.
When I started law school, my goal was to finish in the top five of my class. When I became a lawyer, my first goals centered on what I wanted to learn and what I wanted to experience. I remember one year I wanted to have five jury trials. Even though I did not have five jury trials that year, having goals motivated me, stretched me and forced me to prioritize my activities.
Because I owe so much of my success and career satisfaction to setting goals and working to achieve them, I struggled when I learned many, if not most, associates do not set goals or have career development plans. Naively, I assumed all associates would enjoy setting goals, having a plan and working to achieve them.
Setting goals is a difficult process. To set goals, an associate must focus on something other than doing billable work. To quote John Lennon” Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” For lawyers that means doing billable work.
To set goals you must be willing to look inside and determine what you really want. That’s tough to do. Many associates are uncomfortable looking within themselves. They know how to please others – parents, teachers, law professors, bar examiners and partners, but do not know what they really want.
Sitting down and writing out what they want to achieve in the short-term as well as the long-term is daunting and often leads to a feeling of helplessness. Achieving goals requires a commitment of time and energy, and willingness to take a risk.
Yet, taking a risk can make your career way more enjoyable. I know that has been the case for me. I also know that the feeling of having more control over your future can make the commitment of time and energy well worth it.
If you are a regular reader, you know that I have written many times about how to actually achieve the goals you set. One way is to hold yourself accountable.