An Experts’ Guide to Setting—and Achieving—Professional Goals

For many people, a significant portion of their daily lives are spent working, so finding a career that’s fulfilling can be a major factor in their overall happiness. To help achieve the desired work/life balance and objectives along one’s professional journey, it can help to check in with yourself—and to seek the guidance of professionals if you’re feeling muddled or stuck from time to time. For those who might be in need of some advice on how to set and attain career ambitions, we recently chatted with four experts to learn tips on where to start, how to create achievable goals, and most importantly, how to accomplish them.


Discern your values. Prior to getting down to the business of setting goals, Itir Keskiner, executive, life, and leadership coach in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, shares it’s important to be clear on what your values are. “For a goal to be motivating it needs to be clear why that goal is important to you. Values help us identify our ‘why,’ while goals help us determine our ‘how,’” Keskiner shares.  Brittany Cole, author of Thrive Through It and CEO of Career Thrivers in Nashville, Tennessee, explains that the core of your values are your beliefs. A little exploration there will help you reach that northstar vision. Keskiner further adds that when we set goals that help us live out our values, we feel satisfied and fulfilled while we reach for our goal, rather than waiting to achieve the goal to be satisfied.

Get clear on your vision. The next step is to ask yourself is, what is the vision of the life I want to live? Alecia Wellen, founder and CEO of Alecia Wellen Coaching in Denver, Colorado, explains that after looking at your values, you can more clearly define what your personal idea of fulfillment is. From there, envision not just where you’re going, but who you want to be on your journey. “Once you have the positive foundation set, it’s time to stare your limiting beliefs in the face and get acquainted with what’s been holding you back and keeping you safe,” she says. “Once you are clear about where you’re going and who you want to be, you can be intentional about the strategy supporting your shift.” 


Audit your calendar before you set your goal. “You only have so much time in a day, so before you add on a new activity, be sure to clear away activities that are a lower priority,” Keskiner advises. After you have a clear picture of how much time you really have to work on your goal, break your goal down into a smaller part that can realistically be achieved in the time you have set aside for it. 

Utilize the SMART goals framework. Cole explains that the SMART acronym— specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timebound—is one of the best ways to set goals. “In order to stay on track, it’s important to set time-bound goals to hold you accountable to the ways you may need to optimize to achieve your goals,” she shares. An example of this is, instead of “I want to grow my business,” A SMART goal would be, “I will acquire four new clients for my consulting business each quarter by asking for referrals through three strategic partnerships, launching a social media marketing campaign, and networking with local businesses. This will allow me to grow my business and increase my revenue by 40%.”

Structure goals that are personally motivating. Attainment is possible as long as you are motivated to achieve them. Katie Baird, founder and leadership coach of Baird Coaching in Houston, Texas, explains that any goal should move you closer to, or be in service of, an inspiring vision of your future state. “If you can’t get excited about why that goal’s on your plate, or where it will get you, it will be challenging to take action,” she says. 

Create a visible tracking system. Seeing your accomplishments on a daily or weekly basis can be very affirming. Keskiner explains this can take the form of a calendar, a whiteboard, or a journal entry—whatever works for you. The key is to acknowledge yourself for the progress you are making so that you can celebrate your wins along your goal-achieving journey. 

Celebrate accomplishments. We don’t suddenly “arrive” at an achievement. When you set a goal, there are many small accomplishments along the way. Baird stresses that it’s important to reward the small successes and progress you’ve made on your way to your ultimate goal. Wellen concurs that achievement without celebration is called grinding and does not deliver the fulfillment we are in pursuit of. “Even a small win deserves a little sparkle,” she says. 

TSG Tip 389 from Brittany Cole, author of Thrive Through It and CEO of Career Thrivers in Nashville, Tennessee; Katie Baird, founder and leadership coach of Baird Coaching in Houston, Texas; Itir Keskiner, executive, life, and leadership coach in Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina; and Alecia Wellen, founder and CEO of Alecia Wellen Coaching in Denver, Colorado. Career Thrivers is featured in The Scout Guide Nashville. Baird Coaching is featured in The Scout Guide Houston. Itir Keskiner is featured in The Scout Guide Raleigh, Durham & Chapel Hill. Alecia Wellen Coaching is featured in The Scout Guide Denver