How long have I had this goal?
What’s been holding me back?
Why have I let that hold me back?
Do I really want this, or do I just think I should want it?
If you’re struggling with unemployment, these can be cruel questions. There’s a blaming-the-victim subtext when you ask someone why they don’t have a job. But no one likes being called a victim, including you. So an honest assessment based on those questions is worth doing.
One place to take encouragement is from your younger self. When did you reach a goal that looked impossible? How did you do it? In my own life, two instances stand as my guides when I need inspiration. One involved buying a house and the second involved writing a set of books.
In the homebuying situation, I was 20-something and single, with no savings and no family loans or co-signers. And yet I thought I was good homebuyer material. Not surprisingly, banks did not. In particular, they were not impressed by my three years of self-employment.
In the end, I decided to attack all parts of the problem: I chose a lower-priced neighborhood troubled by drug crimes, I took a paper route to build savings, I found a city-backed loan program, and I gathered more than two dozen letters of recommendation from past employers, contract clients, landlords, accountants and others attesting to my ability to carry a mortgage.
There were more twists in the story, but the short version is this: After two years of delivering newspapers, I got that mortgage. In the 20 years since, the drug dealers are gone, better neighbors have moved in, and we are blessedly not underwater on our mortgage.
When I set the goal to write the books, I was in more of a hurry. I wanted to write, edit, design, lay out and print six titles in time for a national book show in Chicago — six months from the day I started. When I decided to do this, a colleague suggested that we support each other, as she was also writing a book. To which I said, well, OK, but I’m going to be moving quickly — I can’t schedule meetings if they take away from the writing.
I did meet my goal, and she did, too, but there was a 12-year gap between our publication dates — which let me sell a lot of books while she was finishing hers.
These two stories aren’t meant to elevate me and my goal-reaching powers. Rather, they stand as examples to me of my better self — the person who can be decisive, focused and achieving. I like that person better than the lumpy self who thinks about goals but doesn’t reach them.
You have a goal-reaching self in your background as well. Where is that person, and what could he or she teach you now? When it comes to career goals in particular, remember this: The sooner you reach that goal, the more years you will have to enjoy its fruits. Now is the time to get started.
Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at alindgren@ prototypecareerservice.com, or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.