How To Gain More Clarity Of Goals

September 4th, 2017 by LaRae Quy

As a kid, my parents gave me no choice—I was going to go to college after I graduated from high school. I had no clarity of goals for my life, so I followed the blueprint laid out by my parents.

I followed the path chosen for me all through school, and when I graduated, some fool told me to follow my passion. Clothes were fun and interesting to me, so I looked for a job in retail. I was miserable, bored, and restless. To get out of the rut I had dug for myself, I went back to school to pursue a Masters degree—but in what?

I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. Most of my friends had gotten married and started families. Was I supposed to do the same thing? I’d had enough of the “follow your passion” crap advice so I set out to pinpoint when and where I found joy in my life. Not vacuous happiness experiences, but deep and meaningful joy.

Two things came to mind: I loved history and books. Did that mean I was to be a writer of historical fiction? Or were history and books to be my favorite hobbies?

Leadership is understanding how to help people plot out clarity of goals. It can be a difficult and messy process and it takes mental toughness to work through the uncertainty. 

Do you follow the blueprint of someone else’s life or create one of your own? Parker Palmer wrote in his book, Let Your Life Speak, that he grew up admiring people like Martin Luther King and Ghandi. He set out to change the educational system from within. His goal was to become the president of UC Berkeley, and he was almost able to achieve his goal.

The problem was that he hated his job. Palmer finally realized that he could be inspired by people like King and Ghandi, but he didn’t have to walk their path. He resigned and started another career that was more authentic to him.

There are powerful and wonderful voices in the world that provide ideas of what we can do and where we should go. Ultimately, however, you must choose to create your own unique blueprint and not try and imitate the lives of others.

At the age of 25 I became an FBI agent. I had found a path that resonated with me. The values held closest by this venerable organization are Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity. I loved the grit in integrity because I grew up a scrappy kid on a Wyoming cattle ranch. My new career wasn’t in history or books, but I didn’t leave them behind, either.

It was a trade-off, but the values of the FBI were also important to me. I cut myself a deal: I was living in alignment with my goals even though not everything was in perfect order. There were connections between what I was doing and what I believed to be true.

I retired from the FBI after almost 25 years and wrote 2 books about leadership development. And we’ll see where my love of history takes me in the future.

Here are 5 ways you can gain clarity of goals that are important to you:

1. Create The Right Morning Ritual

Research confirms that our brain is most active and creative immediately following sleep. Unfortunately, 80 percent of people between the ages of 18-44 check their smartphones within 15 minutes of waking up, thereby losing those precious creative moments.

In Morning Papers, Julia Cameron suggests we sit down every morning and write out 3 pages of whatever is on our mind. It might sound like a time-waster at first, but neuroscience backs up Cameron. Your brain is most creative upon waking up; use this time wisely to gain clarity on goals.

How To Make It Work For You: Go to a quiet place and grab a journal. Data dump whatever is on your mind but loosely direct your thoughts on how to gain clarity of goals. Write down whatever comes to mind about those things.

2. Focus Your Energy

Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca states that, “it’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”

Today’s entertainment-on-demand world provides instant distractions. It’s easy to catch ourselves getting off track. As a result, our clarity of goals tend to rolled over by those distractions.

Steve Jobs suggested that we ask this question everyday: ”If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?” It’s a powerful question because it forces us to focus on what we want to accomplish each day. Our approach to our day is purposeful because we identify which tasks are essential.

How To Make It Work For You: Say “no” to opportunities that do not align with your goals for the day. Forget the “busy work” that doesn’t move you toward your goals. Leave social media until the important work is done.

3. Align Immediate And Long-Term Goals

Psychologists Ken Sheldon and Tim Kasser have found that people who are mentally healthy and satisfied with life have a higher degree of vertical coherence among their goals. Long-term and immediate goals all fit together. The connection, even if loose, is important. The pursuit of short-term goals also advances the pursuit of long-term ones.

How To Make It Work For You: Always keep in mind that successful people achieve their goals not because of who they are, but because of what they do.

4. Create A Work Blueprint

Psychologist Martin Seligman found that people who can make a connection between their work and something socially meaningful are more likely to be satisfied. They are better able to adapt to the inevitable compromises that we all have to make in our job because they have clarity of goals.

How To Make It Work For You: Take a look at the questions below. The answers to them shouldn’t be a job description of what you do. What you do for a living is not important because the real question here is: why do you work. This will give you a general idea of your view of work:

  • What is work for?
  • Is it just about the money?
  • How does my work relate to what I feel is important?
  • Is my work worthwhile?
  • How does work provide you opportunities for growth and fulfillment?

5. Place Yourself Under Surveillance

Surveillance can produce a mother-lode of accurate information. FBI agents surveil terrorist suspects to get answers; you can surveil yourself at work to get answers about yourself. Create your own surveillance log.

How To Make It Work For You: Each evening, go back over the day’s activities:

  • Pinpoint where you were most engaged and energized.
  • Zoom in where you were least engaged and energized.

Rate each on a scale from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest).

Reflect on “why” for each of the above. Did it have anything to do with environment, people, activities, or technology?

Now that you know where you are energized at your work, and where you are not, what can you do to change your situation? These are indicators of clarity of goals. Once you pinpoint the areas that breathe life into you, either look for ways to expand those areas in your current job, or start looking for a job where you can.

Remember that life is often a series of trade-offs between the values that are important and the opportunities in front of us. Many things in life are a compromise. Give yourself permission to cut a deal with yourself as long as there are connections between your short-term and long-term goals.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

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12 Responses to “How To Gain More Clarity Of Goals”

  1. LaRae,

    I loved this article because of the clarity it brought it.

    Your site is always my goto place for getting clarity on so many aspects of leadership esp because you have experienced them first hand in the most demanding situations.

    I loved the “place yourself under surveillance”. This aspect is so different from just capturing your heart rate while running or the number of steps taken. What you are encouraging us to see the patterns in our behavior which either damage or support us.

    Thanks again for action-starter article.

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Thanks so much for your feedback, Santosh! Placing yourself under surveillance is an excellent way to pinpoint your behavioral patterns. The reason is that surveillance forces you to notice things that you might not otherwise notice about yourself. We all have so many blindspots! So glad this article spoke to you!

  2. LaRae, I love hearing about your journey from the ranch to the fashion world to the FBI!

    The connection between work and something socially meaningful creates pure energy for me. And the lack of it is an energy void.

    • LaRae Quy says:

      My journey has not been easy…or even logical! But it was the right one for me 🙂 I agree…if there is not something socially meaningful in our work, it leaves us empty.

  3. Hi LaRae,

    I’m a big fan of Dr. Seligman and recently completed some online classes in Positive Psychology he taught. What you wrote regarding “Creating a Work Blue Print” is scientifically based upon the VIA Character Strengths assessment offered through Penn State.

    It’s fascinating stuff, and the assessments are available for all, without charge, on the Penn State website.

    • LaRae Quy says:

      I love Marty Seligman as well. It’s interesting that he labels himself as a pessimist! There are lots of work blueprints out there that are used over and over again because they are effective! Thanks so much for the link to the Penn State website 🙂

  4. First, I think the picture under point #4 is bleeding into your sidebar… okay, I know it is. lol

    Second, I’ve lost a lot of clarity over the years I’ve been self employed. That’s because I’ve gotten to do very little of what I got into business for, and the work I’ve done has mainly been because of others than myself. I’m not overly complaining because I’ve been okay, but I envisioned having way more control than I’ve actually had.

    As for that passion thing… I pretty much lost passion 8 years ago. I still do many things I like, but I think some of it is more because of routine than anything else. Thus, I think #3 above is most important for me, and it’s something I need to reconcile myself with.

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Hey Mitch, thanks for telling me about the picture under point #4…I’ll check it out!

      You make an interesting point about passion, finding it, and then losing it. That’s why I think it’s more important to focus on values when looking at our jobs and careers. I never lost my love of writing and history but I’ve come to realize that history will always be my favorite hobby—not my career. Would I have been happy as writer as a career in my early years? No, I don’t think so but reading is another favorite hobby of mine. Only recently have I thought of becoming a writer instead of just a reader.

      Someone asked me if I had to do it all over again, would I do the same thing? The answer is yes, even though the FBI didn’t exactly fit into either writing or history. BUT, the values of the organization were a good fit with my values and that is actually what mattered when it came to a career that carried value and meaning for me. I do think we need to cut a deal with ourselves and make compromises…it sounds like you’ve done that as well.

  5. So many excellent points about finding a meaningful direction for each of us!

    I really love your questions in Creating A Work Blueprint. Your questions help us see our views on working and how we can make that fit into our dreams too. We are not always in our perfect jobs or careers, but learning how to grow from each work situation can be so impactful and lead us towards our ultimate goal.

    Thanks LaRae and will share!

    • LaRae Quy says:

      I think that is the key, Terri…to give ourselves permission to cut a deal in order to move further down the road. It doesn’t have to be perfect. What’s more important is that intermediate and long-term goals are in alignment. Too often I hear people talking about long term goals that bear no resemblance to their immediate or even intermediate goals…

  6. Alli Polin says:

    I’m with you, LaRae! Follow your passion is crappy advice. What does that even mean? We can be passionate about a lot of things and the key is to find an alignment between values, challenge and interest like you did at the FBI. I think we also need to remain open when our interests, skills, and abilities change over time. Staying on the same path forever works for some but for most of us, we need to bravely make a shift to stay engaged. Thanks for your insights here.


    • LaRae Quy says:

      Great point, Alli…our interests, skills, and abilities change over time and we need to keep that in mind as we mature. A shift in our environment can be exactly what we need to re-evaluate where we’re headed and if we are still on the right path! I know: follow your passion is the WORST advice ever…

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