Why is it so daunting to declare long-term goals?

Goals are daunting

Goals can be daunting.

Goals show up everywhere from interviews to development conversations. The question ‘what are your personal and professional goals?’ can be enough to bring on #fearface.

With long-term goals, the question is really about what do you think is important enough to be your life’s work. To be the thing you are remembered for, and eulogized about. Your headline. And so, it seems very permanent and daunting to declare a long-term goal.


It doesn’t have to be that way.


Most decisions that you make can be altered. Including long-term goals. Tattoos can be removed. Homes can be sold. Bad hair color choices can be re-dyed. That inadvisable picture you posted online….maybe there isn’t hope in that specific situation.


Take it back to Freshman year.

I liken setting long-term goals to choosing a major in college. You start off ‘undeclared’. You don’t know what you want right away; early on it’s a good idea to try a bunch of things. You take biology and literature and calculus to get a sense for each subject.

As you learn more about what you like and don’t like, you pick a general direction and declare ‘this is what I’m heading towards’.

The beauty of selecting a major is that it helps you make short-term decisions like what classes to register for next term. But it isn’t permanent. If you discover that Urban Studies means a bunch of reading and essay writing and maybe isn’t for you (like I did), then you can drop it, no questions asked!


Setting long-term goals is similar.

It is absolutely okay to be in the ‘undeclared’ camp, especially early on. As you build an understanding of your likes and dislikes, and what gives you energy, you can make an educated guess.

The first step is to understand what you like:

  • Energy journal – at the end of each day, log what generates energy and what consumes energy. It can be activities, places, people, styles of work. Look for trends over time. (I subscribe to the theory of energy management over time management)
  • Calendar retro – print out your last few weeks of daily calendars and go through each activity or meeting starring what was a good use of time and crossing out what was a bad use of time. Do you love having coffee with friends in the morning, but dread it in the afternoon? Do you find one-on-one meetings to be great, and group sessions to be ineffective?

Use these building blocks to form an idea about what your long-term goal might be. Think about what things could enable you to do what you like most of the time. How could you avoid doing the things that drain your energy? 


Try your goals on for size.

Once you have an initial idea, try it on. Walk around with it for a few days to see if it feels right. Don’t tell anyone about it yet; experiment with different goals for a few weeks and figure out what fits best. Put it in your phone, and look at it once a day.

When you are internally aligned, then start to tell people what you think your goal might be. Having conversations, especially with people who know you well, may also help you refine your thinking and language about the goal.

Having a long-term goal in mind will help with career decisions like what role to accept next, and who to seek out for mentoring. The beauty is that you have the power to change it at any time.


My obligatory powerpoint:

understand how you like to invest time


2 Replies to “Why is it so daunting to declare long-term goals?”

  1. Love it! Now this is useful and actionable. Thanks so much Kathryn!

    1. Kathryn Montbriand says:

      Thanks Kristin! Glad it is useful 🙂

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