Select Page

Career goals and more perspective

Career goals in perspective - focusing on the important things in life.

This was originally going to be a post about setting up a career plan for 2014. It was going to outline the process I’ve used to analyse and select the strategic path for the upcoming year and then establish the relevant SMART goals. As it turns out, it’s a lot more important to talk about the context those goals are set in instead.


The blog’s been quiet for a little while. Certainly not for a lack of want or ideas, but because I’ve been quite busy. Big project and general work has been keeping me occupied, and I took a few weeks off at the end of last year to hang out with the family and plan out the upcoming year.

The missus wanted to go overseas for a wedding, so I valiantly (and somewhat foolishly) volunteered to look after the two boys so she could enjoy it without having to run around worrying after them. Yes, that’s right. Single parent to a five year old and two year old for three weeks, and one who doesn’t normally look after them on a daily basis.

Looking back, though, it was fantastic. Once the efficiencies in their routines had been worked out and I had optimised the daily activity flow, we had a great time. We didn’t even turn the TV on for almost three weeks – and they didn’t ask for it either.

Not very unlike taking over in a management role, really. Figure out the networks of influence (the two year old needs more work to be won over), where you want to take the team, and get runs on the board early. But that’s a post for another day.

In any case, I got another opportunity to gain some more perspective towards the end of the three weeks. You read about these things, feel touched for a moment and then move on, but there’s nothing like a little person reminding you about what’s important in life.

Buying cheap bikes

I had put the little one (who is called Talhah) down for his afternoon nap, and was lying on the lounge relaxing. The five year old (named Hamzah) was sitting on me, chattering away as he does. Suddenly, he remembered that I had promised to buy him a “Big Boy Bike”, meaning a children’s bicycle with training wheels that didn’t look like a toddler’s tricycle.

Hamzah Baba, can we buy a Big Boy Bike today?
Me  Sure.
Hamzah But baba, we have to make sure that we buy a really cheap one. It should only cost one dollar.
Me But we can buy a nicer one than that. How about we get one that’s in the middle – not too cheap, and not too expensive?
Hamzah No, let’s get a really cheap one. Then we can save lots of money.
Me But why do we need to save lots of money?
Hamzah If we save lots of money, then you don’t have to go to work and can stay home and play with me. I miss you when you go to work, and I love it when you stay home play with me baba.

That hit me really hard. He kept chattering on, but the last few years flashed before my eyes and I had to admit that I wasn’t around a lot. It’s one thing to say that you know what’s important in life, and quite another to have life remind you that you’re not really focusing on it. Thankfully, this one didn’t involve a car accident.

Career goals in perspective

I find it interesting that most people – myself included – struggle so much with the work-life balance equation. I know that I have two very distinct streams of goals for work and life. Work goals include things like professional achievements, education, etc. Life goals include being healthy (spiritually, mentally and physically), having deep, meaningful relationships with people who are important to me, and raising my kids to be good humans with strong values.

Invariably, though, I tend to construct and pursue career goals at the expense of life ones. The strong reminder I got from the conversation above with my son was that there needed to be a change in that approach. Career goals need to be set in the context of what’s going on in my life. The overarching principle that should – and will – guide all my career goals this year onwards is that these goals will not come at the expense of my family. No career success is worth it if I have to look back in regret about missing out on teaching my kids how to ride their Big Boy Bikes.

Starting again

Easier said than done, but a good first step is to acknowledge the need for change. Next comes finding some pragmatic approaches to make it all happen. I’m starting with managing my energy, as explained by Tony Schwartz in his 2007 HBR article titled “Manage Energy Not Time: The Science of Stamina“. His company’s website – The Energy Project – also has some great ideas and resources.

What are your thoughts on career goal setting in the context of life, and ways to make it work better?