Goal Setting for Regular People

Personal    2012-07-03

I've been writing code for a little over a decade now, and have spent the last four years of that time working for the same company. Lately I've been feeling more than a little restless. It could be frustration with the current project, boredom after the long term with my current company, or just a good old fashioned mid-life crisis making me re-evaluate what I'm doing with my career in general.

Whatever the cause, I know that something has to change.

I've never been the kind of person to make big plans for myself. I've never set specific goals. My motto has always been "the journey is the destination"; in other words, how I get there is more important than where I'm going. Sure, as a kid I thought I wanted to be a ballerina, then a veterinarian, or maybe a novelist. By the time I hit college, I decided that I wanted to teach children. That didn't work out - I discovered that the only way I could make my living as a teacher would be to marry well.

And ever since then, I've kind of let life take me where it would. I never set out to be a programmer - the internet boom came along and I discovered that I had a natural inclination for it, maybe because my father was a programmer. Don't get me wrong - it didn't take long after entering the field to develop a real passion for it. I love what I do. I just need to take it in a different direction now.

A few months ago, a friend and mentor got me started on a goal-setting program based on the work of Zig Ziglar. It's called the "Pick Four" system. The first chapter has you start by compiling a huge list of fantasies/wishes, etc. No dream is too big or too small. I gave myself a few weeks to complete that part, as I hadn't ever really given myself time to think about all the things I might conceivably want out of life. The book then walks you through the process of narrowing those down to just four goals - again, that narrowing down took a while for me. It really made me think about what I want.

The rest of the process basically just involves keeping a diary - tracking the steps you're taking towards each of your four goals every day. They don't have to be big steps - the idea is that a whole lot of baby steps, taken consistently and methodically, eventually lead to a goal reached.

Pick Four by Seth Godin

As I say, it took a long time to get started - narrowing that big list of goals down to just four was the hardest part. But once I chose four, I committed to doing something - no matter how small - towards each goal every day.

I have two professional goals: learn how to build a mobile site, and get a new job, preferably working with Python. The other two are personal goals: get my Etsy shop open and bringing in a bit of pocket money, and get better with my body (that's a sort of broad description, I know - it's part about losing weight, part about learning to stop hating the body I have - I don't know how all that is going to go).

I am finding it hard to do something towards all four goals every single day - I usually manage to hit three out of the four. When you're already working full-time, it's sometimes impossible to find time during the day for anything else, and when the work day is over, it can be hard to find the energy for anything else. But I am making progress on all four goals, mainly by breaking up tasks into small steps that I can manage with a few minutes out of every day.

I've joined Weight Watchers and am tracking my meals every day, still working out several nights a week. For the Etsy shop, I've got plans for some new products. They'll be a cross between history and technology, but that's all I'll say in case they don't work out. I think they will though - I've got some fun ideas. I've got a big batch sewn already, I just need to make some time to set up a mini photo studio and shoot everything.

I've taken a jQuery Mobile class and gotten about halfway to getting my personal sites set up with mobile versions. After that, I want to start a whole new mobile project, but I haven't decided what I want to build yet. It's all a bit fluff, I probably won't even put it on my resume, but I wanted to start something new before I move on to learning how to develop mobile apps.

And on the professional front, so far I've gotten my resume revamped and am using my phone interview experiences to put together a comprehensive set of interview notes, and that's just the start of my job hunt. There's more coming - new web projects, OS contributions, even more blogging. But all in good time. Small steps.