Have long-term goals changed as you grow older?

Tuesday 19 November 2019
The goals you have at 21 are probably not the same as the ones you have now. We asked a group of CMI companions about how their career goals have evolved over time…
a chart on a piece of paper with coloured pens on top of it

Our priorities in life are constantly shifting as we juggle our personal and professional lives. Just as when we’re younger we may focus on travelling the world, at some point we long for a corner of the world to call home. We look at what’s influenced where our priorities lie – whether it’s financial, personal, or professional. A common theme? You need to learn to accept change as an inevitability.

Just go with the energy

Jeannette Lichner is a non-executive ‘portfolio’ director across multiple firms, having worked in accountancy for her professional life. When thinking back to her decision to set long-term goals as a young graduate, her focus then wasn’t on following a passion but on financial security.

“I can honestly say that when I was 20, I was just trying to survive university and get my first job,” says Lichner. “I'd be lying if I said I had any thoughts about goals – or perhaps more importantly, purpose. I followed the accountancy route after a period in HR, and went on to launch a financial services company. When life changes such as marriage or children happen, you don't have time to sit down and think about your career – you get busy, you get tied into things. You can have goals that are influenced by some of your personal life decisions – for example, after I took some time out of work when I had children, when I came back to the corporate world, I inadvertently shifted in consulting. Then, as my children grew older, I left consulting and now I do pure portfolio work. As time goes on and you stay busy with other priorities, you lose the ability or even the personal space to think big picture – I learned to just go with the energy.”

Achieve the impossible things

Kevin Murray has worked in public relations, journalism and consultancy, and has also written three books on leadership. Throughout his career, he used timeframes to complete his goals, using them to challenge himself at work. However, he didn’t have one ‘career goal’ which he was working towards, instead having role-specific goals or milestone achievements.

“I don’t think that having a very long-term goal is something that anybody can hold onto,” says Murray. “My career was over 45 years, and I don't think I could have held a 45-year vision in my mind. Instead, I chose in ten-year cycles. I asked myself: what do I want to achieve in the next ten years? More likely, what do I want to do over the next five years, because I can be more detailed about that?

“Then towards the end of my career, I was always told that I have a book in me – so I thought: let's see if I do. So I wrote my first book, which sent me off a completely different trajectory, and my fourth book will come out in February. This is a dream I couldn't possibly conceive of having back then. The realities of my career was in four distinct phases, and each one very different from the last – I don't think that at 21 I would have known that in 45 years I would be a published author speaking at events around the world. I just don't think I would have held that kind of vision in my mind. The ten-year cycles worked for me: by holding myself to these timescales I achieved the impossible things.”

There were so many roles and opportunities open to me

“My school careers adviser had suggested teaching, becoming an air traffic controller, or finding work that provided further training,” says Lesley Cowley OBE who, among other things, is chairman of the DVLA. “I chose the latter and went straight into work after leaving school at 17, as a trainee manager for the Co-Op. I didn’t go to university until some 15 years later.

“When I left school, I did not have any clear career aspirations – these only came along later, when I realised that there were so many roles and opportunities open to me. I think that there are now many more inspirational role models and trailblazers than there were when I left school.

“My current career aspirations nowadays are to work with talented senior teams and boards where my knowledge and experience can make a positive difference. I love my role and the people and organisations that I currently work with. These may be public or private-sector organisations, the important thing is that they are going places and have credible digital and other ambitions.”

Read our article on the many ways that personal and professional goals overlap to understand one aspect of our lives impacts the other.

CMI members can access many life and career-planning tools through our Career Development Centre and ManagementDirect.

Image: Isaac Smith Unsplash