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Building a Goal-Oriented Career

Looking into the future of one’s career can be both exciting and intimidating, with endless opportunities and numerous paths waiting to be explored. In such a large expanse of options, goal setting can add structure and facilitate progress by focusing and outlining a plan to move forward.

As I sat down to begin my first job, no longer a trainee, I was vexed with this new sense of career ambiguity. After working within structured curriculums and requirements for so long, I wondered, “What are the next steps in building my career? How do I proceed?” So, as I sat down on my first day, I began to write down my goals for the upcoming year.

In my previous work and observations as a PGY2 Health-System Pharmacy Administration and Leadership Resident, goal setting was a key component of planning at all levels of the organization. Institutionally, annual goals are presented by executive leadership, outlining how the organization plans to grow and improve over the next few years. From a departmental level, strategic planning is performed every few years to update the mission, vision, and strategic goals of pharmacy practice. Within pharmacy services, smaller teams (e.g., project groups) may utilize quarterly or annual goals to unite members under a common purpose and prioritize their initiatives.

Goals establish a shared vision, set benchmarks and metrics to track progress, maintain focus, and build teamwork between group members. The same benefits apply to individual goals, with the additional advantage of being able to account for a holistic perspective, including personal wellness and non-career responsibilities and passions. 

Getting started:1,2 
  1. Write out your goals:
    1. The format of goal-writing should be tailored to individual preferences. Some ideas include: separating goals into major and minor goals, sorting your goals by category (e.g., career, school, professional organizations, hobbies, health), or organizing goals by a specific value (e.g., organizational impact, personal meaningfulness).
    2. Ensure a mix of short-term and long-term goals. Long-term goals can create a drive for future gratification, but short-term goals are equally important to maintain a sense of accomplishment as you achieve these milestones.
    3. Account for non-career goals, especially if you spend significant time pursuing hobbies or studies outside of pharmacy.

  2. Define a timeframe:
    1. Be realistic about your timeframe and the amount of work you can manage.
    2. Long-term goals may need to be continuously reassessed.

  3. Create measurable goals:
    1. Set metrics to know when you have achieved your goal. This could be a numerical value, a qualitative measure, or an action to be completed.

Once composed, review the list of goals to assess the overall balance, manageability, and value these goals add to one’s career and life. For example, in the article, “Stop Setting Goals You Don’t Actually Care About” written by Elizabeth Grace Saunders, she encourages people to ask these three questions when setting goals:2

  • If you could accomplish just one major professional development goal, what would it be? 

  • When you think about working on this goal, do you get excited about both the process and the outcome? 

  • Is your motivation to pursue this goal intrinsic because it is personally interesting and important, or is it extrinsic, which you feel would please other people?
These questions encourage reflection to pick goals that align with what matters to an individual, ensuring one’s motivations are based on internal desires, passion, and personal vision rather than external expectations.

Taking time to determine one’s goals is highly beneficial, especially at the start of one’s career when there are so many options and opportunities to invest time and effort. Goals will continue to evolve as one faces new experiences, connections, and challenges. Though it may seem challenging to control something that is ever-changing, there are certain steps one can take to ensure goal setting is a productive and successful process.

Maintaining and reaching your goals:1
  1. Set check-ins to hold yourself accountable:
    1. Schedule a time (e.g., bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly) to review and update your goals and measure progress.
    2. Consider a public commitment - maintain accountability for your progress by regularly reviewing goals with a peer or mentor.

  2. Reassess your goals whenever you need to:
    1. Responsibilities can continually evolve, especially following unforeseen events (e.g., a pandemic) or significant changes (e.g., moving, children), shifting priorities, and sometimes even your career direction.

  3. Find support, such as a mentor or preceptor, to help you reach your goals, discuss how to overcome challenges, or connect you with potential opportunities.

  4. Keep in mind that not reaching your goals is not a failure - it is an opportunity to reassess:
    1. If only a few goals are unmet by their original timeframe, it is possible that specific obstacles need to be addressed.
    2. If many goals are left unmet, reprioritize your goals (including putting some on the back burner), set a more realistic timeframe, and create smaller action items to dissect lofty goals into feasible steps.
    3. Maintain ongoing records of your progress. Utilizing your goal-setting documentation to keep track of the work and projects you have completed will be helpful to your future curriculum vitae (CV) writing and interview discussions when needing to recall your past experiences.
No matter where one’s pharmacy journey may lead, honing the skill of goal setting allows both new and experienced professionals to take charge of their career planning and build a sustainable and fulfilling career.

  1. Saunders EG. Stop Setting Goals You Don’t Actually Care About. Harvard Business Review. Published May 3, 2017. 
  2. Grote, D. 3 Popular Goal-Setting Techniques Managers Should Avoid. Harvard Business Review. Published January 2, 2017. 
  3. Greenhaus JH, Callanan GA, Kaplan E. The Role of Goal Setting in Career Management. International Journal of Career Management. 1995;7(5):3-12. doi:10.1108/09556219510093285. 

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