Sometimes Your Goals Need to Change

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No matter how you slice it — as human beings we are destined to evolve. As we slowly morph into the person we are to become, other areas of our lives also require “realignment”.

This can directly impact our goals for work and career.

We are notorious for our lack of ability to predict when and how we might change. In fact, longitudinal research completed by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert has revealed a dynamic aptly named “The End of History Illusion”. This is the misconception that the end of our history is today — when in fact we will continue to change with time and experiences.  (You can watch Dr. Gilbert’s TED Talk, “The Psychology of Your Future Self” below.  I guarantee it will rock your world.)

In a series of studies, Gilbert explored the process of how we view personal change over time and its impact upon our lives. Their research revealed that we tend to underestimate changes in both our core personality traits (represented by the “Big 5”: conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability, openness to experience and extroversion) and our core values (measured by the Schwartz Value Inventory) over the decades of our lives.

The magnitude of the illusion seems to decrease as we age, but it remains present. We see ourselves as “complete” — which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Meanwhile here is a bit of sage advice concerning “realignment” and what should be on your radar career-wise.

Try Not to View Your Career Path as Inflexible
Just as we see our own persona as unchanging, we can feel stuck or stalled because we see only one path — and that path likely travels in one direction. If we can step back, (down or even sideways) to learn something new, interesting doors present themselves. Yes, it is challenging to be a “rookie” once again. However that same challenge can be the key to a more fulfilling future. Whitney Johnson, author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work offers this advice:

“Be willing to step back. Backward could be your slingshot.” – Whitney Johnson

Reflect Your Evolution With Your Personal Brand
Acknowledging how we have changed over time — and aligning this with our communicated personal brand is also something to consider. Has what you truly desire to accomplish career-wise changed? Do others understand that shift? Cynthia Johnson, co-founder of Ipseity Inc, a firm that helps others develop their brand voice, encourages individuals to differentiate their personal brand in a way that is authentic. (See more of her tips here.) Utilizing digital avenues to craft and communicate your evolving personal brand, may also help align career goals with the new you. She advises you take this in steps:

“It is important to include short-term and clearly defined goals while mapping out your brand strategy. If you try to do everything at once you will become overwhelmed and do nothing at all.” – Cynthia Johnson

Bring New Elements Into Your Path
Aspects of work that may have thrilled you in the past — may no longer motivate you. What could you bring into your work that would “meet you” where you are now? I love the advice of Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project) concerning work and those painful feelings of “envy”.  She advises that feeling envy when considering another individual’s role, may signal elements that you might incorporate.

Here are a few additional ideas to consider:

  • Embrace it. People change — it is a fact of life. You are allowed to evolve, as well. A role that brought you happiness at 25, may not suit you at 35. One that was perfectly aligned with your goals before having a child, may no longer suffice. Life and experiences will change the essence of how we might derive energy from our work. This is completely normal.
  • Listen intently. Not to others around you — to your inner voice. If you have the distinct feeling that your work is not bringing the fulfillment it once did, pause and reflect on that realization. Explore how you arrived at this impasse.
  • Make a list. Start with a list of work life elements that currently bring you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction — then compare with what you would have chosen 5 or 10 years ago. What changes do you see?
  • Attempt to see yourself in a new way. Flexing your “envisioning” muscle isn’t easy. However. we all tend to ignore this mind-expanding step. We often  focus on the “here and now” and never take time to consider where we want to go. What do you see there?
  • Develop a revised learning “agenda”. As described in this HBR post, we must prepare for our future. It is critical to address any existing knowledge deficits strategically. Examine your skill and knowledge base carefully. Is there something you could do to better position yourself?


Marla Gottschalk is an avid blogger and Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. You can follow her at LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Live.Work.Think.Play shares observations concerning a wide array of topics — it is designed to share lessons learned, from a variety of perspectives.


4 thoughts on “Sometimes Your Goals Need to Change

  1. After a highly successful 30 year career, I elected to “step back” for some “me time” and reflect on the future of my career path. Fearful but persistent, I chose to walk away. Furthermore, I could not have been more CORRECT in my decision despite being told that “I was making a mistake” from senior management. If my decision was a mistake, I can’t wait to make my next one!


  2. What a great article I am sharing this with my twenty-three year old daughter who is more on the introverted side plus she is slow to implement needed change. This is thought provoking for me also.


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