Goals vs Values in a Career Change

When committing to a career change it’s useful to distinguish between values and goals because they have different motivational properties.

  1. Goals can be met.  This is why they motivate – we enjoy the feeling of purpose and progress they bring.  Yet, once the goal is achieved what then?  Very often we revert to our previous behaviour.  This explains the diet industry.  And why it is so hard to get a taxi in New York in the rain*.
  2. Goals can’t be achieved right now.  So they can be bad at motivating right now.  Which is kind of when I need it.  For example, I currently have a goal to lose a half stone over the next 2 months.  The trouble is I’ve had that goal for about 3 years….  The problem is that whilst I cannot meet the goal right now, what I can do is eat a piece of cake.  So, when I see a piece of cake a question arises in my mind; can I eat the cake and still meet my goal?  Then some uncertainty arises – maybe I can have both?  Minds hate uncertainty.  So what happens next?
  3. Goals are powerful motivators.  But it’s possible to set goals without really examining why.  Once set, their gravitational pull can pull us away from the things we truly value.  Hence, for about 10 years I pursued promotions which I didn’t really care about.  I felt busy and purposeful in the pursuit, but empty and sad afterwards.  I worked so hard to climb the ladder, only to find the ladder leaning against the wrong wall…

In contrast values have different motivational properties which can help us in many different ways:

  1. Values can’t be achieved.  So values retain their motivational properties long after a goal has been ticked off.  Whilst my goal of losing half a stone could be achieved, acting in accordance with the value of health is an ongoing commitment.
  2. Values can be lived in each moment.  Viktor Frankl was not ‘free’ inside Auschwitz, yet he was able to live the value of freedom by choosing his response to the atrocities he saw.  In this way, values can bring us powerfully into the present moment irrespective of the situation.  Over time, this can create coherence to patterns of behaviour over long periods of time, and ultimately a powerful sense of meaning in life.
  3. Values are what we most want to stand for in life.  They are how we want to be remembered and what we want to stand for in life.  When we act in line with our values we act authentically and in alignment with our deepest motivations and aspirations. They are a way of rewarding ourselves in the present, by pulling on our long term aspirations.

Why does this matter for people contemplating career change?

Maybe (like me) you have spent much of your life pursuing meaningless goals before realising that life is a musical thing – and we are supposed to sing and dance whilst the music plays…

Career Change, Getting Unstuck coaching

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