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Your Career

Set SMART Goals

Your dreams or visions for your future can be powerful motivators. Setting goals based on your dreams will give you the strength and energy you’ll need to face challenges and make changes in your life and career.

Maybe you have always wanted to run your own business. Or maybe you want to own a home, or complete your degree to become a Registered Nurse. Whatever your dream, the key to achieving it is to break it down into manageable steps. You can create a plan to achieve them by setting SMART goals.

What makes a goal SMART?

SMART goals are:

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Achievable
R = Realistic
T = Time-limited

Let’s look at some examples of goals that are not so SMART and goals that are SMART.


  • “I want to work with animals” is too general to be useful.
  • “I will take veterinary technology so I can work as a vet’s assistant” is specific and gives you something to aim for.


  • “I will do well in this course” does not give you a way to assess your progress.
  • “I will get at least 80% on each quiz and paper in this course” is a measurable


  • “I will win the lottery” is not effective because you have no control over whether or not you achieve it.
  • “I will start my own online business by the time I’m 30” is effective because you can take steps to achieve it.


  • “I will not miss a class” is probably not a realistic goal for a single mom with school-age children during flu season. A realistic goal isn’t necessarily easy, but it is something you stand a chance of doing.
  • “I will get the notes for any class I have to miss” is a realistic


  • “I will apply to an upgrading program” does not commit you to a time frame—you could put this off indefinitely.
  • “I will apply to the upgrading program at ABC College by June 15” is more likely to motivate you because you have given yourself a deadline.

Many small steps

The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. When you understand this, you can set goals and not feel overwhelmed by how far you have to go to reach them. Here’s how it works.

When your goals arise from your dreams, they are the right goals for you. They’re connected to what you need and desire. Setting goals based on your dreams will give you the strength and energy you will need to face challenges and move toward change in your life.

Try writing a goal

The process looks like this:

  1. Your long-term goal is your dream or vision—the general direction you want to move in.
  2. To move toward your dream, you divide the distance between where you are and where you want to be into many smaller short-term goals.
  3. You take steps to reach each of those smaller goals one by one, over a period of time.
  4. By reaching each short-term goal, you eventually reach your long-term goal.

For example, Patty’s long-term goal is to own a hairdressing business. She has set up a number of short-term goals to help her realize her dream. The first goal is to upgrade her high school marks. Another is to get up half an hour earlier in the morning so she can get herself and her children out the door on time. Both of these goals are designed to help Patty reach her dream. Both of them are important.


Share your goals and your action plan with friends and family. Ask them to help you reach your goals.

Imagine different scenarios

Take a page from business leaders and think about what might happen when you start taking steps toward your goal. A good company will plan for 3 scenarios: typical, positive, and negative. This kind of strategic planning helps you be prepared and feel in control if something happens.

For example, let’s say you want to go into business with a friend to make and sell a product. You should imagine these scenarios:

  • After a few years of small profits, you build a loyal and steady customer base. Your profits are reasonable, and you have a comfortable income. Everything goes pretty much as expected, and you know how many people to hire and where to find the supplies.
    • A famous influencer puts your company on social media and your product becomes a global sensation. You’ll need to plan to hire more people, find extra supplies, make sure that more people can buy your product easily, and keep product supply from running out.
    • Someone creates a product similar to yours, but at a lower price point, and your customers melt away. This encourages you to keep your eye on trends and marketing. You might also develop ways to update your product so the competition is not a threat.

Stay open to change

As you continue to create positive change in your life, your dreams and goals may change too. Working toward goals that are based on your dreams can be a nurturing, strengthening process—so your new experiences, skills, and relationships may lead you in new directions. And that’s OK.

When you base your goals on your dreams, you will know when they are no longer working for you. Keep checking back on your dreams and goals every few months to see how you feel about them and to make adjustments as you go.

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