How to set realistic goals for career success

The definition of career success might be different from one person to the next. For some, it can be landing a specific role or securing a bonus, while others may dream about that gorgeous corner office with glass windowpanes. It’s a subjective term. On the other hand, setting realistic goals for career success is a universal formula to achieve that success. It’s an invaluable tool in your hand, a compass pointing you in the right direction, pushing you to face challenges and barriers with grit and perseverance until you’ve reached your destination – your full potential!

How to set realistic goals for career success

Below, we offer some pointers on how to set realistic goals for career success – right-size goals that are ambitious yet do not overwhelm you.

1. Visualize success

Start by peering into the future:

  • What’s your vision of success?
  • Where do you see yourself in one, three, or five years?
  • What’s your job like?
  • What skills do you have, and what are you excel at?
  • What kind of responsibilities do you have?
  • What type of team do you work with?

Asking yourself questions like these and being as specific as possible will help you create a vision for your ideal self and career. That’s your long-term goal, something similar to your life ambition. By visualizing your fixed result, this desired outcome won’t seem so unachievable. From there, you can see the possibilities and steps necessary to build your plan.

A close-up photo of a hand holding a blank card.

2. Break your career goals down into bitesize steps 

Now, let us say that you aspire to become a lawyer. But before you can tackle this ultimate goal, you first must complete a series of others like spending four years getting your bachelor’s degree, another three attaining your Juris Doctor degree, and passing the state bar examination. And in order to do that, it is necessary to excel in entrance exams, apply to college, etc. Also, since grades are crucial for reaching those goals, you’ll need to break down your short-term goals, like maintaining a strong GPA, planning your course selection, engaging in extracurriculars, preparing for the admissions tests, etc.

Similarly, if you want to get a new job, you may need to do a job search, update your resume, write a cover letter, and send applications on a weekly basis. And if your new job requires moving to a different city or state, you need to start planning your move as soon as possible. According to Allstate Moving and Storage, this includes creating a detailed to-do list and figuring out a schedule and timeline.

Case in point: before one reaches their endpoint, one must complete a series of short-term and long-term goals. These will include any smaller action steps you must take every day, week, month, or year that are necessary to ensure continuous improvement. Organizing your thoughts and building momentum makes you less likely to procrastinate and your goal much easier to attain.

3. Create room for some flexibility

Success is a far cry from a straight line, and more often than not, there won’t be a single and direct route to reaching your goals. So, to set realistic and achievable career goals, you need to be as specific as possible while still making some room for flexibility. Be open to possibilities. Should life circumstances change, you need to have enough freedom to make some adjustments and adapt as required.

An aerial photo of people in a maze.

4. Find the balance between challenging and attainable

Your goals must challenge you. After all, achieving great things means stretching your boundaries, testing your limits, spur yourself to achieve what you previously thought was impossible. However, there’s a fine line between setting an ambitious and challenging goal and an unrealistic one. That line is called practicality.

It all starts with admitting to yourself that there’s still a lot you don’t know and need to learn to bring your goals to fruition. That may be a bit ego-crushing, but it’s necessary. It can seriously turn your professional life around. It causes you to reassess your thoughts and methods and develop new frameworks. Keep your strengths and restrictions at heart. Ask yourself: “what kind of knowledge and additional skills do I need to achieve this goal?” and “how will I develop those skills?”. This makes everything imminently more realistic.

5. Use your schedule

In order to set realistic goals for career success and achieve them, it’s essential to create the right conditions for success. Making your way towards your goals is already challenging as it is, even without having to stress about not having enough time to do it. So, if you don’t keep a calendar, start now to avoid any time traps, discouragement, and burnout. Create intermediate objectives, write when you’ll work toward them, and schedule enough time to complete them.

6. You must be committed

So many people are unhappy with their jobs and seek change, but they take zero action to make it happen. Moreover, they usually don’t have a problem providing countless reasons for not doing anything about it. The excuses are all out there. Still, you can boil them down to one: they are not committed to that goal. It’s as simple as that. But for one to succeed, one must first believe their goal is essential and attainable. It’s all about adopting a mindset that will set you up for success. 
Second, you might have to leave your comfort zone, and that takes a lot of courage. For instance, what if you decide you need a significant change in your job and your environment? You might have to manage job hunting and moving if you don’t have a job lined up for you. That’s quite a leap. But if you know what you need, you need to stay committed to your decision. Just be smart about it, do your research, create a plan of action – and keep stress at a minimum, of course.

A photo of a doctor dressed as superman.

Finally, remind yourself daily why you want to reach a particular goal. Re-committing to your goals every morning will help you stay the course.

7. There’s no room for negativity

One final thing you might need to do to set realistic goals for career success is arrest negative thoughts. We have all been plagued by negative thoughts. Still, not doing anything about it and just ruminating on them before sleep at night is a recipe for disaster. Of course, replacing negativity with positivity can’t hurt, but sometimes, shaking them off takes more than simply telling yourself, “I can do it.” We often need more tangible solutions. That’s when we resort to something people like to call fear-setting. 

In a nutshell, fear-setting means writing down your fears, perhaps even worst-case scenarios, and then writing down and explaining:

  • What would you do if they happened,
  • and how you could prevent those things from happening in the first place.

This helps people to pre-empt their fears, get their worries and insecurities out there, and figure out possible solutions. Otherwise, it’s just a potent – and unnecessary – block.

A word from Findmino

Goal setting is crucial for reaching the pinnacle of your career. Your goals must be challenging but achievable, specific and measurable, tied to a deadline, and motivating. However, remember that it all comes down to that initial step – defining that long-term goal, your main ambition. If you wish to set realistic goals for career success, then you need that clarity – you need to see where you will get there.
Want to know more? Feel free to get in touch, browse our site, or take the offers on our online courses. Our team at is always more than happy to help you discover your passion and get on top of your career planning.

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