In most companies, every quarter — or at least twice a year — you’re tasked with setting goals for yourself. As a way to manage your responsibilities, help you prioritize the most important deliverables and keep you tracking toward something, goals are often used as benchmarks of progress. If you meet ’em, you might earn a raise, a title change or bargaining power to ask for more vacation or flexibility. If you don’t — it’s time to work on improving your performance.
That’s what makes setting personal professional goals are bit trickier — since no one is holding you accountable, it’s tough to stay on track and pushing forward. That’s why long-term aspirations are recommended by career experts since you give yourself years — and hey, even a decade — to achieve them. As career coach and author Mary Camuto explains, these targets create focus, momentum, and markers of your success.
“Goals should be tangible steps towards both your short-term needs/wants and your longer-term vision for your life Time will pass quickly whether or not you have set a direction or career course,” she shares.
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Here, some ideas for each decade of your career:
In your 30s
Once the day of your college graduation has come and gone, you’re running full-speed ahead toward that job you paid so much money to be qualified for. Your 20s and 30s are defined by climbing – up the ladder, up the ranks, up the SEO search pages, up, up and up. And if you’ve ever rock-climbed, you know how much strength and endurance it takes to keep pushing. What’s nice though? The semi-comfortable peak you should reach by 40, where you’ve created a name, a reputation and hopefully, a skill set that’ll propel you into the next phase of life and working.
Have a killer online — and offline — presence:
As a generation that’s redefining the metrics and requirements of working, challenging employers to think differently and more digitally, who you are online is arguably just as important as who you are face-to-face. Branding and career expert Wendi Weiner, Esq., stresses the importance of having an sharp presence in the interwebs. This pillar will help you reach where you want to be once those 40 birthday candles arrive. “Your 30’s should be spent building your network and growing your professional stature. Attend events with business cards, have a professionally written LinkedIn profile, and begin to pinpoint where you want to see yourself in 10 years,” she encourages. “Begin keeping a brag book that you can update every couple of months with key career wins and projects you are leading.”
Don’t forget to take that elbow-rubbing and quick wit offline, too. Camuto says by the time you reach the end of your 30s, you should be in a leadership position within the community or industry you’re part of. “Build and participate in at least two networking groups related to your career: join or lead a committee, volunteer at events. This goal has impact to both your current and future success in that your resources and contacts broaden as well as your professional reputation,” she explains.
Set yourself up for future success:
Money matters are difficult for most people to discuss — and even harder to do something about. Though discussing retirement in your 20s or 30s might feel way too soon, the earlier you begin prioritizing your financial health, the better off you’ll be when 65 (or 70 or 75 … ) comes. “You should plan to pay off some debt in your 30’s and open a 401K at your company to begin planning for your financial future,” she shares. The less you worry about dollars in your banking account, the more time you can spend wowing your manager.
In your 40s
For many, your 30s are a time of tremendous growth, whether it’s finally reaching a c-level title or starting and completing your family. With demands from every corner of your life, most people feel stretched thin, and well, really happy. Even so, it’s important to keep your career progressing as you inch through your 40s, navigating the process of aging mentally and physically. You never want to lose your competitive edge, considering you still have a good 20 years of work ahead of you.
Get an advanced certification:
This doesn’t mean you have to go back to school, Weiner clarifies, but it does mean having a candid and open look at your skill sets to seek areas of improvement. You might fall off track as you become further removed from those college days, but a commitment to knowledge will allow you to keep up with recent grads. She suggests finding certifications — like Google Analytics or a coding course — that add another gold star for your resume.
Take executive leadership classes:
There’s a difference between a manager and a leader: even if you have ten direct reports, if you’re not inspiring them to greatness, you’re missing the mark. Not everyone is a natural-born trailblazer, so Weiner encourages 40-something professionals to acknowledge their weakness in this department. “Consider enrolling in an executive leadership or executive management program to enhance your leadership value and skill set, and start to get clear on where you will want to be for the next decade,” she says.
By doing this, you will be more qualified to go for keynote speaking sessions — or at least some sort of panel or conference — that adds more overall value to your brand. As Camuto explains, having a public image that others follow “not only impacts your recognition and success at your current organization but also lead you to a new path/new goals.”
In your 50s
As you reach mid-life, you’re probably going through a period of transition. Your children are getting older — as are you — and you could worry the best days of your life are behind you. Or more to the point: the most exciting times of your career have passed. Looking down the eye of retirement can produce a slew of emotions, but before you allow yourself to get carried away, remember there are still many years to shape your performance. Since most won’t retire until at least 65, discounting the last decade and some pennies will shortchange your career.
Strategize your retirement exit:
You can’t go over it, can’t go around it — you must go through it … with a plan in mind. Weiner says strategizing your exit will rest your angst and also put you in the best possible situation once your final working hour closes. So go on, ask yourself: where do you want to be — and who do you want to be — when that day arrives? Probably not over-exhausted to your bones, but in a happy place of balance and accomplishment. “You might be looking for a big shift in your career and where you want it to take you on the tail end of your final decade of work. By now, you are practicing more work-life balance and also realizing the importance of vacation days and time away to travel,” she says. Sit with your investment advisor and with your family, and determine your timeline so you stay the course—sans fear.
Serve as a mentor:
Workplace expert and industrial-organizational psychology practitioner Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D. says professionals in their 50s will reap rewards (and hey, some karma) from giving back to budding workers. Not only will you be an important figure in their career, but it might ignite a renewed sense of optimism and creativity in yours. “One of the biggest gifts you can give to your field and community is to help those who are in need of mentoring. As you teach a mentee the tricks of the trade, you may even be inspired by your mentee’s enthusiasm and overall interest,” she explains.