Career Goals

June 29, 2014

When I got out of college, I set my first career goal. I think everyone does this at some point - it’s a natural and almost expected thing to do. Everyone uses the same barometers too, and mine was no different. My first career goal was to make $100,000 a year in salary.

This sounded very lofty to a new college grad. It was a lot of money, and I assumed the prestige/fame/expertise/whatever that accompanied it would be concomitant. I gave myself until 30 to scale this mountain.

I’m past 30 now, and I’ve seen more than just my own career goals come and go. It’s not the success or failure that matters actually; I succeeded in my own, but in doing so I realized that the scales I and everyone else used were broken.

Wrong Metrics

We gravitate to the most direct and available metrics to measure anything. For a career, the most direct metrics are:

  1. How high have I risen on the corporate ladder?
  2. How much money do I make?

The problem with (1) is that it’s completely relative to either others or time. You’ve either outdone your peers or you’re old enough to simply be above people younger than you. Either way, you’re comparing yourself to averages, and averages.. aren’t very good.

The problem with (2) is that it’s a scalar value that fails to encapsulate an entire career. There are far too many variables that either go into the salary number or are not reflected in the output. Is your salary based on some merit you’ve accomplished or is it based on your boss’s expectations? How many hours-per-week were required to get you there? Are low hours a sign of efficiency or laziness? Are high hours a sign of obsession, poor working conditions, or drive? How much time off did you get? What other experiences did you have during that time? What did the money allow you to do? Did it enhance your life or detract from it?

As a final judgement of a job, I think that last question is the one that most people miss. The common metrics for career goals are completely separated from our lives and the qualities that often matter as much - or more! - than our work productivity.

Don’t get me wrong, work is an inseparable part of life. Good work is a necessary condition for a good life. But the cycle of work in a typical company or a typical 9-to-5 job is usually soul-crushing, dead-end, leads to a spiral of empty consumerism, or some combination thereof.

Better Metrics

So…

Now that I’m a bit further on, I’ve decided on a new career goal. And I’m much more satisfied with this one than with my first. Here it is:

I want to spend my summers, from June 1 through September 1, at Bethany Beach with my family.

Before I list the qualities of this goal that I find satisfying, I should provide some backstory.

I’m married with two kids so far. My wife’s family has been going to Bethany Beach, DE since way before I was born, and my wife grew up spending her summers down there. Her Mom was a teacher and would take her three kids down to the beach the day after school ended. Her Dad would come down every Friday night for the weekend. As a kid growing up, I don’t think she could imagine having better summers.

Since my wife and I started dating, I’ve been spending more and more time at the beach. I’ve fallen in love with it. The more time I spend there, the happier I am. More importantly, my family finds peace, unity, and happiness from the time we spend together there.

At first glance, these ideas don’t seem to have much to do with a career, or work at all. But they do.

First, these are the kind of life-enhancing virtues that qualify as valid criterion for studying the quality of a career. If not for your family and for a satisfying life, why are you working at all? Because someone told you that you had to?

Second, there’s actually quite a list of things that need to line up to make a summer at the beach happen. Let’s enumerate, shall we?

  1. Flexibility. Most importantly, this goal is not an excuse to not work. I want to work. As I said earlier, good work is vital to a good life. I’m not a teacher (currently and for the foreseeable future), but I also wouldn’t expect to just take a 3 month hiatus. I plan to work at least 20 hours a week during the summer. So, I’ll need the flexibility to work at the beach, whatever that means. Obviously, it could mean a lot, but probably some combination of:

    • My work can be done virtually
    • Whoever I’m working for provides a great deal of freedom and responsibility
    • Whoever I’m working with has similar principles
    • My workload is variable and can scale up/down as needed. Maybe some weeks will be 0 and some will be 40.
    • I’m working for myself or with others and can dictate my own schedule and workload
  2. Financial Success. Living at the beach for 3 months requires a significant financial commitment. We either need to own our own house there (vastly preferable) or be able to rent and pay for the whole summer. Either way, in the more traditional characteristics of a career goal this is a high bar, and will require a large degree of financial success.
  3. Personal Discipline. Even though work is important, it’s not often at the very top of our list of things-we’d-like-to-do-right-now. Even less so at the beach when the rest of the family is relaxing on the sand. Doing this successfully will require a good amount of personal discipline.
  4. Family Discipline. My family will need some discipline too. They’ll need to know that 8-11a is Dad’s work time and be willing to leave me be for awhile each day.

When I first thought of this career goal, it was like a gear in my mind clicked into place. It makes so much sense for my family and I. I think it makes a ton of sense for most families honestly, but our current world isn’t well-suited for this type of model. Signs are starting to point in the right direction. Workplaces are changing and jobs are virtualizing more. Smart and motivated millenials are leading the charge, eschewing typical jobs and traveling the world while writing books, web apps, travel guides, or selling products. Thank God for them, because the typical view of the 20-something millenial living at home with their parents in a risk-free environment is not especially endearing.

I wish I had that view of life when I was in my early 20’s. It’s an incredibly wide-open time of your life, when you have an immense amount of promise, no responsibilities and very little risk. There is no better time to pursue freedoms and passions than your 20’s.

I missed that chance and went the more typical route - a job with salary plus benis. I had “expensive” tastes and liked cars too much. I’m slowly learning my lesson and starting to pursue freedoms and passions over belongings and belonging.

I gave myself about ten years for my first career goal. I’m hoping to do the same this time around. Hopefully by the time I’m in my early 40’s, I’ll be spending every summer at the beach with my family.


Greg Olsen
Hi I'm Greg. Occasionally, I do things.ArchiveTumble