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Career Goals and Stress
by: Debbie Brown, MSM, MSW
Career Goals and Stress:
How to Achieve Goals and Maintain Your Sanity

Deborah R. Brown, MBA, MSW

"Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time."
Max Ehrmann

When it comes to career success, direction and focus are crucial. But beyond direction, how effective is it to have goals?

Requirements for Effective Goal-Setting

Much has been researched and written about the effectiveness of goal setting.
The findings say that :

 Difficult goals lead to higher performance than easy goals.
 Difficult goals lead to higher performance than "do your best" goals.
 Setting specific goals results in more precise performance than setting "do your best" goals.

Just having the goal is not enough. You must develop a strategy to make it happen. What are the activities you need to perform everyday? Plan those activities, but also stay alert and open to new ways to achieve your goals as they present themselves.

There are three critical requirements that dictate how well goal setting will work:

 Commitment to your goals.
 Periodically reviewing where you stand regarding goal achievement (getting feedback).
 Belief that you can achieve your goals (self-confidence and self-efficacy).

You need to genuinely desire the goals you set. If you don't like your job and don't want to be there, then it is difficult to be committed. It's also crucial that you believe that you can achieve the goals you set for yourself.

Stress and Goal Setting

Goals create striving which results in more stress. So how do you deal with this stress?
Since I am notoriously poor at pacing myself, I created a structure to help me with this process. My plan includes eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, but also not scheduling clients on Fridays. I never work past 8 p.m. I plan vacations and weekends away, and schedule social events with friends at least once per week. Part of my stress management program also involves not over-booking myself with social activities so that I have time to retreat for rest and recuperation.

As I approached graduation from college many years ago, I wrote a poem about goal setting which I titled, "My Brook and I."

I remember the brook
streaming though the woods;
spending hours around it,
building forts, wiping the mud off me with skunk cabbage.

I remember the brook on sunny days;
Water babbling over stones and rocks, pieces of wood;
making the water ripple the way it did.

I wondered what happened to the brook
traveling away from my yard.
I had a goal for my brook
to flow to the ocean...but then what?

I see goals for myself
thwarted, rearranged, fulfilled.
But the goal for my brook;
What happened to it?

Deepak Chopra, in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, says that if we want to have a successful career, we should first center ourselves and then release our intentions (our career goals) to the universe. We should not be attached to the way these goals develop, or to the exact outcome, but leave the details to the universe. We can get the same results through effort and trying, he says, but the result is stress, which can lead to heart attacks and other physical illnesses.

Sometimes we focus more on our unhappiness with our present situation, than on what we want to achieve. Chopra says that we should accept where we are now, be fully present in the moment and concentrate on our deepest intentions (goals).

Goals should be difficult, but achievable with persistent effort. Goals that are too extreme, such as doubling your income in one year, can only discourage you.
Goals work because you persist and focus your efforts in a specific direction.
Without that direction, we can find ourselves floating through our lives, more at the mercy of outside forces that are not devoted to our welfare or success. But we can manage our goals in a way that does not create undo stress by not being attached to the exact way they are achieved.

Having set goals the brook and I
build toward them.
The brook unable to know...
about a pipe in the ground, a seeping marsh, a dam.
Myself not knowing the course I will follow.
Knowing what I want,
yet finding it hard to grasp.

I remember years of competition, of struggle, of acceptance.
Then discovering what is real, important;
myself, my friends, expression;
a soft kitten purring on my lap;

Being more than a doctor, a lawyer.
Knowing comfort, relaxation.
Being myself.

Approaching the completion of one goal,
I set new ones.
But fulfilling them means going away, sorrow.
Like the brook moves on, streams to the river...
the ocean.
Saying goodbye to familiar things,
Facing a reoccurrence of similar past memories,


In my business I set performance goals for myself every year. I also set goals for relationships, finances, home, physical and mental health, as well as spiritual development. I can attest to the fact that the more specific the goal, and the more frequently I review that goal and focus on it, the more likely I am to meet that goal. It helps to write down your goals, read through them periodically, visualize them and keep a picture journal that represents the achievement of those goals. But it also helps to listen to the feedback from the universe, and make adjustments to those goals when necessary. We should have a career plan, but be flexible with how it unfolds.

I know a word...self-fulfillment.
Being vulnerable, can I take chances?
Being strong, grinding ahead through disappointments.
Being weak, letting go of crippled goals.
Like a brook who misses the river,
finding another happiness.

Being motivated, seeking what I am after,
But not too aggressive.
Being easy, tension-free.

Making it through the insecurity
Like cool water in a brook;
not knowing what will come.
Traveling through the seasons of time.
Molding myself to the environment like the brook
makes its path through nature.
Sliding over any obstacles
the brook continues over rocks, pieces of wood.
Freezing in the rough, cold spots;
melting in the warm.
Praying for a map free of dams to follow
in a steady, unchartered progression.
My brook and I.

Debbie Brown is a career consultant and executive coach who works primarily with professionla, attorneys and entrepreneurs.
D & B Consulting
3475 Lenox Road, NE
Suite 400
Atlanta, GA 30326
404-240-8063 FAX: 678- 530-0661


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