Set yourself up for success

content career plan success

The popular belief is that we can have and be anything we wish. There’s never been a larger number of celebrities and influencers, who have already made their fortune, telling us that because they manifested their success, we can too.

Now, I do believe we can change our stars – but not by meditating over an abundance candle while repeating affirmations, or by pushing ourselves to the limit, striving for the next goalpost (the one we've just moved further away), or rushing to get ‘there’ sooner.

The first step down the path to success involves defining what you mean by it. We each hold different measures of success. So take a moment to ask yourself what you want to achieve. What would you like to be, do or have in the future? Perhaps you are aiming for a particular salary, an impressive job title, to work with a particular brand or client, or to start your own company.

Next, ask yourself how this became your measure of success. Sometimes we find ourselves working towards goals that weren’t consciously set by us. They have been influenced by external forces, such as our parents’ hopes and desires for us (based on their own personal failures or successes), our friends’ desires (peer pressure can be powerful), or societal and cultural norms (which also directly influence the previous two).

Authentic goals

So often I meet people who are struggling to attain a goal because it’s not actually an authentic goal, one that they have chosen for themselves; it’s something they believe they should be striving for: status, money, power, and because it’s been on their wishlist for so long they have adopted it as their own.

Ask yourself some searching questions. To what extent are your goals influenced by others? Are you trying to please others by living your life according to their expectations? Are you comparing yourself to others and defining your goals on their terms? In short, how realistic is your goal?

If a goal is not authentically yours, you will find it harder to achieve, your journey towards attaining it will be more stressful and less enjoyable, and, ultimately, even if you do attain it, it probably won’t make you happy.

Live your best life

At this point I’d like to introduce you to what psychologists refer to as 'the ideal self' – the concept that we hold a future possible version of our self in our mind’s eye. You can probably visualise yourself in the future having achieved all the goals you are currently working towards. This future version of yourself is living your best, ideal life.

We know that being able to imagine your future success motivates you to take specific action that is likely to lead to attaining that success – if my goal is to have a more senior role, I will continue to apply for promotions that move me up the career ladder.

Search hundreds of roles from all over the world on ACCA Careers

Sign up for a job alert tailored to your desired location and role

But sometimes our own goals, even the ones we’ve set for ourselves, can seem overwhelming, especially if we lack the self-belief to go after them, and we may freeze with a fear of failure. Or, we may avoid applying for promotion because we don’t believe we deserve it. Inaction is a common form of career sabotage.

Worse still, we may begin to berate ourselves because we haven’t yet achieved all the goals on the list. Or, we may think that if we’ve not yet reached managerial status there’s little hope of becoming MD, which may in turn cause us to lose hope and begin to think, ‘why bother?’.

In addition to this internal warring, there are triggers in the external environment that can demotivate us, such as social envy: your less-experienced colleague gets the promotion instead of you; social comparison: the constant feed of LinkedIn posts where everyone else has something to celebrate; or negative feedback: even constructive criticism can set us back if we are not open to learning from it.

Practical solutions

Looking at the issue from a psychological perspective can help deliver change. Here are nine ways you can revisit your goals and set yourself up for success.

  1. Realign your goals to what you truly desire, focusing on how you want to feel.
  2. Accept that 'perfect' is not possible and that your ideal might not be attainable – rewrite your goals so they are realistic.
  3. Improve your emotional resilience by acknowledging when you make a mistake – reflect on what went wrong and learn from it.
  4. Recovering from setbacks is a lonely experience – ask others for their support.
  5. Take teeny-tiny steps – take goal-oriented action that is within your control (this also helps to prevent procrastination and inaction).
  6. Focus on you and your personal journey – limit comparing yourself to others (you don’t know their full story).
  7. Work to your own strengths in your own way – you have a lot of value to offer the right team or company.
  8. Learn to approve of yourself as you are right now – it will reduce your need to seek approval from others.
  9. Acknowledge that your value as a human being is worth vastly more than a collection of accomplishments.

Author: Jess Baker is a business psychologist and leadership coach

More information

This article was first published in AB magazine July 2022See also AB’s special edition on skills

Back to listing