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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Want to Reach Your Career Goal? Think Like a Traveler

Whether it’s finally finishing that manuscript and sending it into an agent, making a change to another career path, or even launching a startup, I’m willing to bet that you have a goal that you’d like to achieve—but you're not sure how to get started.

Most of us do. And many of us really hold back on our careers and what we really want to do because our goals or dreams seem too big or because life gets in the way.

But what if achieving that goal was as simple as planning a trip? It’s not easy, of course—it takes planning, saving money, booking tickets, and packing. But it’s doable, and it’s always, always worth it.

As the new school year approaches and the work calendar gets back into full swing, I encourage you to take a chance and pursue your goals—and create your own definition of success and achievement by using the same strategy you would when traveling.

Map Your Route: Where Do You Want to Go?

Think back to the last time you planned a trip. You chose a destination, and, even if you’d never been there before, you started mapping out your route and itinerary based on what you knew, what others had told you, and what you wanted the trip to entail.

You can do the same when mapping out your career goal. Though it might seem scary at first, and you might not know what all of the steps will entail just yet, envision what the path to your goal might look like and write it out in an outline, draw a map, or even develop a storyboard that defines your goals and desired outcomes.

When you see your goals mapped out in front of you, you can begin developing your timeline. How will you get there, and how long will it take? Are you going to be flying there (i.e., accomplishing something this year), or will you be taking the slow boat (i.e., starting a business sometime in the next three years)?

Of course, you might be thinking, “What if I’m the type of traveler who just goes with the flow and doesn’t plan ahead?” Well, even if you’re backpacking without reservations, you still have to choose a place to show up, right? So, settle on a place, and even if you don’t have your map ready or your itinerary planned out, start showing up—at events or opportunities that might be relevant to your goals.

Book the Tickets: Commit to Your Goal

If I book a non-refundable flight, I am going on that trip. And even though I can change the dates, I’m still more likely to travel with an itinerary sitting in my inbox.

So, see how you might “book the tickets” and make a commitment to your goal. Will you sign up for an entrepreneurship class? Set up a website to showcase your work? Commit a half-day every weekend to writing? Ideally, set the outcomes you’d like to achieve every few months, and ink them in your calendar.

And, just as you would inform people about where you’re headed when you go on a trip, start telling people about your goals. This is intimidating for a lot of people, because it means you might get some criticism or rejection, but consider it no different than when you tell a friend you’re going to a far-flung place and she replies “Why would you want to go there? Isn’t it dangerous?” You might expect the same feedback when you tell people about your goals, and you have to be ready for that. But for all the bad feedback, you will no doubt get people who are extremely supportive and positive, too.

Pack Your Bags: Prepare Your Tools and Resources

On the road, I can live for a month on nothing more than what I can carry in a suitcase or a small backpack—I’m packed and prepared for everything. And for your career goals, it’s no different. As you strive for your goal, you should gather the tools and resources you need, and “pack them.” Maybe that means identifying the key contacts in your network who can put you in touch with the right people, or creating a small team of trusted friends as your advisory board. Maybe it’s creating a home office you can work from, or ensuring there is extra money in the budget in case your freelance career takes a few months to take off.

You can definitely reach your destination with a light pack and a lot of determination, but still it will be easier if you have the gear you need.

Take Off: Launch Toward Your Goals

When I’m on a long haul flight, I know that there is no turning back—only moving ahead. Consider reaching your career goals in the same way. Even though it may feel like you are stuck in one place for a while, you’re continually moving forward, and you’ll eventually find yourself in a new destination, where all of that waiting and hard work seems small compared to your achievement. And though the journey can be long, it gives you time to prepare yourself for and get excited about meeting your goal.

Consider the moment you send your writing out, taking the step toward that interview or audition, or land that entry-level position in a new industry as part of your flight, knowing that this is a key part of your journey. Good things are bound to happen.

Arrive at Your Destination: Start Exploring

One of the biggest things when you arrive in a new place is getting over the jet lag and actually starting to get going. So, what happens when you finally land that book deal or that promotion? What do you do now?

The first thing I do when I finally get to my destination is start exploring and trying new things, and it should be the same for your career goals. When you finally accomplish your goal, look around, explore, and decide what you want to do next, whether that means seeking more opportunities or pitching creative new programs that would challenge you a little more. When you arrive at your destination and finally reach your goals, that is where your journey really begins.

Right before you set out on a trip, it's easy to get lost in worry and doubt, but you often push it aside because travel is exciting and changes the way you see the world. So, get inspired and break free from your comfort zone by thinking like a traveler. All of us have the potential to reach our goals, if we just approach things from a fresh lens. You might be surprised at how a dream unfolds into a real accomplishment.

Photo of man traveling courtesy of Shutterstock.