It’s the time of year when we start saying things like, “Wow, I can’t believe it’s almost the end of the year” and, “Wow, I’ve accomplished literally none of the career goals I set out to achieve” and, “Wow, I’m despondent and filled with shame.”
What’s unfortunate — aside from our abject failure — is that many of us tend to spend about 10 minutes feeling guilty about not fulfilling our New Year’s career resolutions before saying: “Well, I’ll start with new New Year’s resolutions in January.” (We then go get a doughnut, because we have also failed our “stop eating doughnuts” resolution.)
The problem with giving up and waiting for the fresh start of a new year is that it’s only November. We’ve got more than a month left in 2016 and, like it or not, that’s enough time to get something done.
So, I have a proposal for everybody out there who had hoped this would be the year they fought for a raise, moved into a new position at the company, started a business, found a new job entirely or did something — anything — to make their work lives better.
It’s simple: Take one step. You don’t have to move mountains. You don’t have to invest countless hours. You just need to do one thing that moves you in the direction you want to go.
I spoke with Jennifer Edwards, a founding partner at Edwards & Skybetter, a consulting firm that helps creative companies facilitate change. She’s also an artist facilitator and educator at New Inc, a New York City incubator for art, design and technology entrepreneurs.
She regularly works with people striving to make changes and move in different directions, and she said one of the main mistakes people make is setting goals that aren’t particularly clear.
“Many people set very abstract goals,” Edwards said. “People say they want to lose weight. How much weight? What does that mean? ‘I want to change jobs.’ Are you happy in the area you’re working in? Does this mean changing careers and not just jobs? Stepping back and assessing what changes you want to make is very important, and then breaking down the goals into very small pieces. The less abstract a goal is the more doable a goal is.”
Taking your career goals from abstract ideas to a series of specific steps is, in itself, a step. You can certainly do that before the end of the year.
As an example of breaking goals into pieces, Edwards suggested that rather than saying you’re going to rewrite your resume — “That takes a lot of time!” — decide that on Monday you’re going to refresh half of the first page of your resume.
Are you reaching your overarching goal? No. But you’ve taken a step. And that’s good.
Edwards had three specific suggestions to help people struggling to change their work lives.
1. Identify your own personal process. Edwards said, “Understanding how you approach any decision or any goal, whether it’s doing the laundry or changing jobs, we often have a certain rhythm that we’re unaware of. Take the time to step back a minute and say, ‘How did I do that last thing that I accomplished?’ That might be a good place to start this time.”
She said the process could seem like stalling. Maybe you have to lay around on the couch and stare at the ceiling, then make a list, then take a walk and then finally come up with a plan. That’s not wasting time, that’s just how you do things.
If you don’t recognize your own process, you might feel like you’re going nowhere and just give up.
2. Try an online tool called WOOP. It can be found at www.woopmylife.org. It’s a system developed by a psychologist that helps break goals down into: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle and Plan. Identifying the obstacles is key, as you take them into account when concocting your plan. There’s also an app that saves your goals and tracks progress.
3. Pick a place and just start. Edwards said: “If you have this goal of changing jobs, pull out a paper and start writing what you want. Writing down the statement of what you want is really powerful.” Anything you do, any way that you start is an accomplishment, and it puts down a steppingstone in the direction you want to head.
If between now and the end of the year you try even one of those three ideas, you will have accomplished something. It doesn’t have to be some grand achievement. It just has to be one step.
It’s tempting to say forget it and wait for the calendar to reset in January. Believe me, I know that feeling all too well.
But 2016 isn’t over yet. There’s still time to start something.
There’s still time to take one step.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune.