Written by Community Contributor Madison Clark, a freelance writer, editor, and strategist.
Growing up, my mom told me to make sure that whatever career I pursued was something I loved enough to let it take me away from my family each day. While my 30-year-old childfree by choice family looks a bit different than what she likely imagined then, this advice still rings true. (Look, leaving my 13-year-old cat at home when I go work from Panera is hard, okay?)
It prompts me to consider questions like, “I really like the owner of this small business, but is the work intriguing enough to keep my attention away from a higher-paying client?” or “Is the enjoyment I’ll get from this project worth the trade-off of synchronous meetings multiple times each week?”
I’ve found that my best solution to these questions is to: 1. Identify my top 2-3 goals for a specific time period. 2. Rank those goals based on priority level.
Let’s walk through it together.
But I have too many goals to choose from…
I earned two BAs and one MA in remarkably different subject areas, lived abroad for five years, traveled to over 40 countries, and made numerous other life decisions that showcase the full gamut of my professional goals and personal interests. I get it. This is where the “for a specific time period” part of the exercise comes into play.
We are not ranking our goals for the rest of our lives or the next decade. Hell, unless we announce these goals publicly, there’s no reason we even need to explain ourselves if we change our minds and reprioritize along the way!
How do I choose my goals?
I recommend identifying at least one financial or income-based goal, as well as one lifestyle-focused goal. This will help make sure you remain balanced while pursuing these goals. As you consider your options, think about what’s worked for you in the last six months and what you know is coming down the pipeline in the next six months.
In 2022, my goals boiled down to this:
Unadulterated time freedom
Savings (higher pricing = higher income)
At the time, my income was far less important to me than my sense of freedom. I wound up building asynchronous, DIY-scheduled non-linear workdays, with afternoon naps always included – primarily because I’d been living on a grad student and/or teacher budget since 2015. Making $45 an hour as a freelance writer felt like a windfall because, to me, it was.
I now know that those numbers are incredibly low for my skill level, extensive experience, and turnaround times. And yet, then, I couldn’t have been happier.
Goals are meant to evolve over time.
As 2022 wore on, I managed to include a surprise dental procedure, an emergency room trip for a terrible case of COVID-19, and an unexpected surgery… You probably get where this is going. As I began preparing for 2023, I knew that building a stronger financial safety net would be at the top of my list.
But, because of the absolute joy that time freedom brought me in 2022, I refused to throw that goal out. So for the first two quarters of 2023, my goals boil down to this:
Increase income / work more hours
Use time freedom for health reasons
Let me be perfectly clear: Goal #1 is not a return to the hustle culture approach that carried me through undergrad. I promise. It’s more about trading in a few Netflix binges for a few new clients, swapping some afternoon naps for some more social media audits, and carving out time for a fun professional return to the world of secondary education.
Alternatively, Goal #2 revolves firmly around my mental and physical health. Like many, the COVID-19-related lockdowns put me through the wringer. I finally feel like I’m through it all enough that I’m carving out time for weekly in-person therapy sessions (Hey Jennifer!) and returning to my roots of competitive weightlifting and sports, namely Spring Kickball with Stonewall Sports (Go Babe Ruthless!).
Our goals will not be the same – and that’s wonderful.
The version of my identify + rank approach to goal setting I’ve outlined here may be oversimplified for you. I’m only financially responsible for myself and my cat, and my only debt is the last few grand on my car payment.
If you are a caregiver, own a home, are looking to take extensive time off, or any other number of big life factors: This process will be more complicated for you. It doesn’t mean it’s a waste, nor does it mean that you should stop reading here. It only means that you may want to expand the 2-3 goals I recommended above to be 3-5 goals; you may want to shrink down my six-month time frames to 30- or 14-day sprints. This is a tool that can work for you – it just takes a little extra creativity!
So if you see me in Panera in a few weeks’ time and ask me about my goals, they may have changed by then. But even if they do, I’ll be able to confidently say 1. Which goals are most important to me right now and 2. How I’m using that knowledge to structure and inform my day-to-day behaviors.
Madison Clark is a full-time freelance writer, editor, and strategist. While her clients range from fintech startups and venture capital firms to marketing agencies and small businesses, they all have one thing in common: A need for authentic and polished storytelling that is strategy-driven. Reach out to Madison via LinkedIn or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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