I’ve always been a fan of goal setting. Making and sticking to my resolutions has improved my life in meaningful ways—from running the New York City marathon to successfully launching my own business.
Typically, I’ve used the principles of SMART goal setting: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time dependent. But, recently, I’ve found that recipe for achievement lacking. By limiting objectives to a specific time frame, like one or even a few years out, I worried that I’d been failing to consider a grander vision for my future—setting goals only in response to my current circumstances and momentum, rather than intentionally navigating toward my dreams.
Turns out, there’s something to that. “When we set SMART goals, we might reach that goal. But many times we get burnt out along the way or we realize we didn’t want to end up at that goal—that it doesn’t fulfill our bigger vision and values,” says organizational analyst Peter Matthies , founder of the Conscious Business Institute.
For example, what good is paying for a home in cash, if you later realize you’d rather spend your days traveling the world and working remotely? And what good is going for a higher-paying job at your company, only to find it characterized by tasks you don’t actually like doing?
“This is a fundamental flaw in the way we have been educated in our culture: to do more, accumulate a lot of stuff—titles, goals, etc.—then become somebody,” Matthies says. “There’s no room for what we really desire and strive for in life and work, which are `essences,’ or the feeling states we desire to experience, [like] joy, abundance, freedom, creativity and accomplishment.”
At my own crossroads of simultaneous career success and crisis, I set out to find my vision.
Hunkering down one evening last October with a large glass of wine, I let go of my SMART goals and allowed myself to dream audaciously. I wrote a “blue sky bio” for myself, including all my greatest aspirations—like hosting an award-winning talk show, delivering a viral TED talk and founding a nonprofit to support creative entrepreneurs.
It was a version of my life not dictated by my present or even what could be. It was informed entirely by my dreams and broader vision. Only then could I begin the process of recalibrating my goals effectively—ruthlessly reprioritizing my to-dos in the direction of my desired big picture outcomes. I steadily let go of writing assignments that simply paid the bills, and aggressively pursued ways of earning my living that aligned with my vision: pitching myself as a speaker and on-camera talent to clients instead.
And it worked. One year later, my business is not only more profitable because of the broader scope of work I now offer and the more prominent clients I’ve been able to engage, but it’s also characterized by tasks I love and look forward to on a daily basis.
Want to give it a shot in your own life? When you’re jotting down your dream bio, Matthies says to consider both your desired purpose (big-picture goals) and essences (the emotions and values you care about most). And don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to just career goals. Your bio can include financial dreams, like finally being debt-free , reaching a specific net worth or having the freedom to travel as often as you’d like.
Once you’ve identified your broader visions and values, begin to rethink your existing goals—or start over with new ones entirely—that will help turn your dream bio into reality.