Start with memories to reach your goals

I have about 10 pounds I’d like to lose. Well, actually, I’d like to lose more. But 10 is the number on my goal list — the list I wrote about five years ago, that is.

Also on the list are eliminating credit card debt, finishing some writing projects and taking a vacation. And what’s been checked off that list? Nothing. All goals are good to go for another year.

To be fair, I have achieved other goals in those years, including some that weren’t written down. But why do some goals refuse to budge from the list, year after year?

In my heart of hearts, I know why. It isn’t because I don’t know how to reach a goal — surely by now we’ve all learned that a goal needs to be achievable, specific and broken into steps. No, I think the reason I haven’t been hitting these objectives is because I don’t really care about them. I just think I should care, so on the list they go.

I bring this up for two reasons. One, because it’s a new year and that’s a good a time to talk about goals. But, more importantly, I want to challenge you to think about goals in your career that aren’t happening. Do you want a new job? Have you been stuck with a bad work schedule? Perhaps you yearn for a degree or to relocate. Whatever the goal is, ask yourself:

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.