How to set up your career dreams and goals in life

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Developing a rewarding career and hitting your goals takes discipline and work. 

But it also requires knowing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. 

Far too many people put the cart before the horse and end up in the ditch. 

I know people who’ve worked their tail off and still ended up back where they started or even worse off financially and personally. 

I’ll explain why and how to ensure you’re one of those who hits your goals and career dreams out of the park. 

1) Look in the mirror 

Step one for hitting your career dreams and goals is to look in the mirror. 

What do you see? 

I don’t mean just physically, I mean emotionally and psychologically. 

Who is looking back at you?

Grasping who you are and what defines you is the key to success in life

We all have unique strengths, weaknesses, talents and defects…

Look in the mirror and be honest about this person in terms of their talents and strengths as well as their defects and weaknesses. 

Include five elements here: intellectual, emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual. 

What is the top positive and negative you notice in yourself for each category? 

Be honest: nobody needs to know but you. 

2) Learn your own language

What language do you speak? I speak English and several others. 

But the language that I speak in terms of my values and what drives me is a little more unique and personal. 

That’s how it is for everyone. And we need to learn our own language to achieve success in our career and life. 

Here’s what I mean: 

We’re all human beings, but we have different core values that drive us. 

Many of us go through life grasping our way in the dark and finding out what drives us by trial and error. 

That’s certainly one way, but speaking from experience I can tell you that it wastes a lot of time and can get pretty messy. 

Instead, you’re best off working toward your career goals and dreams by finding out the core values that drive you and then orienting your career development around that. 

One of the best resources I’ve found for discovering what drives you is the free core values exercise from Jeanette Brown of Life Journal. 

This free checklist helps you sort out what matters to you and what doesn’t.

I’ve found it an incredible help in getting clear on what I want in my career and my priorities in life. 

Check it out here

3) Listen to what you hear 

In addition to learning your own language and finding out what drives you, you need to listen closely to what you hear. 

Many times our destiny comes to us in the form of the observations and insights of those close to us. 

Looking back, I can see how close family and friends long pointed out my best skills and hinted at careers I could be suited for. 

But it took me slowing down and seeing the shared pattern in what they were saying to learn more about my mission:

Communication, inspiration, sharing insights and information…

Your mission may be building houses or saving the environment. Maybe your mission is to help those in crisis or become a professional athlete. 

Listen to what others are telling you. They often see aspects of you and your professional talents that you may overlook or underemphasize in your own self-reflection

4) List your top strengths and talents

As you do the free values exercise and listen to what others emphasize about you, it’s time to write it all down. 

List your top strengths and talents from step one, along with the top strengths and talents that others note about you. 

Then write down the results from the values exercise. 

This is a summary of what you’re good at along with what drives you. It’s the recipe for your career success. 

Knowing what you’re good at, what others say you’re good at and the values that drive you, gives you all the ingredients to aim for the career dreams and goals that are meaningful and possible for you.

Make out a list of your top five career choices along with any corresponding goals. You now know, in concrete terms, what you’re aiming for. 

The only ingredient left to add is action and a step-by-step plan for how to achieve those goals and dreams. 

5) Learn your way around your OODA loop

OODA loop is a decision-making process developed by military strategist John Boyd. 

It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act and can also be applied to taking action in pursuing your career dreams and goals. 

The first three steps have already been applied here: 

You have observed yourself and what others say about you, oriented yourself around your core values, and decided what careers are best for you as well as possible with your skillset. 

Now is the time to act. 

This could mean signing up for a college course, doing an internship, beginning a job, moving to a new location, learning new skills from a mentor or joining a program in line with what you want to learn. 

The key, and the loop aspect, is that as you act, you must continually repeat and refresh the cycle. 

Your actions cause motion. Observe what happens as you take action and continue orienting and making decisions to determine if new or different actions are necessary. 

When you fail or have setbacks, observe, orient and choose whatever is necessary to act the most intelligently. 

Keep in mind the core values that are guiding you as you use the OODA loop model. 

6) Leave the well-trodden path behind 

One thing that many people don’t tell you about career and professional success is how many people are running on autopilot. 

They are doing the first job that came across their path, doing what their parents did, or doing whatever came up as the first decent job offer when they needed money. 

That’s not always a bad thing, and sometimes work is not a big focus of somebody’s life. 

But when you really think about it, as something we spend so much time on it’s certainly important to have a career we find rewarding. 

If you go along the same path as everyone else, you’re going to see similar sights and reach a similar destination. 

If you want to end up somewhere more unique and see and experience different things along the way, then you want to dedicate yourself to a career and goals which escape the bonds of convention. 


  • Inventing a new technology or product
  • Rethinking the way we communicate
  • Innovation in dating services or sexuality
  • Discovering ancient wisdom and how to apply it to modern life
  • Developing new models of community, economy, society
  • Running corporate governance in fresh and rewarding ways
  • Finding new monetary systems or ways to trade and barter

All of these are examples of ways to pursue careers and goals that step outside the norm. 

There’s nothing wrong with being part of the “system,” after all even change has to come from inside it. 

But there’s also nothing wrong with wanting to transcend or pursue a new path in your life and career, and if that involves questioning many things that others take for granted or assume to be “normal” in society, then all the better… 

7) Lend a hand where you can 

As you pursue your career goals and stay oriented around your values and OODA loop, lend a hand where you can. 

Materialist society has a big emphasis on individualism, and while that has many valuable results in terms of innovation, wealth and progress, it also has big drawbacks. 

For one thing, hyper-individualism can lead to the perception of career and success as a zero-sum game, where somebody has to lose for you to win. 

In reality, many situations, industries and technologies can be win-win and can lead to everybody succeeding and mutually benefiting from collaboration. 

There’s still plenty of room for healthy competition and knowledge exchange and collaboration to exist side-by-side. 

What’s more is that helping out colleagues and networking with others is a way to grow your own knowledge and professional circle. 

Most opportunities I obtained in my career came from networking and talking with people. They came from linking up with those who shared similar interests and areas of research or investigation. 

Every person you come across is not only a potential friend and valuable fellow human, they’re also a potential link into more career success, ideas and collaboration. 

Help others out because it’s the right thing to do. But don’t forget that it’s also smart for your reputation and career! 

8) Let competence override confidence 

A lot of hubbub is made about confidence and being sure of yourself

Try your hardest, put your best foot forward, highlight your experience and accomplishments on your CV, and so on…

I’d like to offer an alternative perspective:

Competence should always far outshine confidence. 

We live in a world of social media clout chasing, endless marketing and publicity. 

Far too many employers and potential business partners take someone on who talks a big game and then falls far short of their supposed skills and abilities. 

Real competence and skill will always win over bluster, personal skills and confidence. 

You may be an incredibly confident and charming real estate agent who’s simply terrible at his or her job and get seemingly far in your first year or two…

But eventually a failure to try to understand the market or become truly skilled at your profession will catch up with you.

The same goes in almost any profession, whether entrepreneurial, corporate or in any other field. 

Competence will eventually win out and eventually emerge. Incompetence will eventually become clear and be exposed. 

We always have more to learn and more competence to gain in any field. But never believe that just having a good attitude is enough. 

If you want lasting success and prosperity, you need to also actually be good at your job and continually working to get better

9) Learn to ignore and override your inner liar 

We all have tests in our careers and many disappointments. 

This can include everything from losing a job to realizing we dislike our colleagues, our job or feeling held back in what we’re accomplishing and a track for promotion. 

This can include bankruptcy and major disruptions in the industry or sector we work in.  

All of this presents many temptations to give up, ask for handouts or seek an easy way out. 

When we experience disappointments it gives us a basic choice:

  • Learn from mistakes and setbacks 
  • Or play the victim

Your inner liar will tell you that you’ve been unfairly targeted by the universe or hit the worst luck in history. 

Your inner liar will tell you that you’re the most badly mistreated victim in the history of victims and that you’re being dragged through the economic mud and business catastrophes that few have ever had to deal with. 

Trust me: you aren’t. 

Look at all the revolutions, coups, economic depressions and upheavals just in the last several hundred years of human history. 

You’re part of a long line of people who have faced huge challenges economically and in your business. 

Don’t give up. Your inner liar wants you to give up and be a victim

But you have the choice not to do that and to use the setbacks you experience in career as learning opportunities and weights to train your business muscles. 

10) Look to colleagues for solidarity, not salvation 

Many people stress the need for teamwork in your career and goals, and they’re absolutely right. 

As I’ve emphasized, it’s key to network and be friendly with others on your path to success. 

But there’s also a hidden pitfall in here:

Over-reliance and vocational codependence. 

This is when you start to rely too much on colleagues to make your plans and execute your goals for you. 

When this happens, you become weak and dependent and set yourself up for major crises in your career. 

Your colleagues and those you work with can be partners, bosses and subordinates, but they should never be your saviors. 

You can help others and they can help you. But codependency is something else entirely and is a kind of toxic over-reliance that can emerge in work just as distressingly as it can in romantic relationships and friendships. 

Exceeding expectations is about more than hard work

Exceeding expectations is about more than hard work. 

It’s about knowing what you want and why, and then tackling that with all your heart and soul as well as a good measure of intelligence. 

8 signs you’re an independent spirit who lives life on your terms

10 simple ways to live a more joyful life