Goal-Orientation is Key, Even When Your Goals are Unclear

Here’s a riddle for you.  Picture yourself out in the middle of an ocean (Atlantic or Pacific, Indian or Arctic, take your pick) drifting around in a rowboat.  You’re lost, you’re scared, and you know that if you don’t get back to shore pretty soon you’re going to be in a world of hurt, since your supplies are starting to run out!  In this situation, what would be the one guaranteed thing you could do to find dry land?

While my reasoning may not survive scrutiny by a panel of nautical experts, it strikes me that the one guaranteed way to find your way back to shore in the above situation would be to start rowing in a straight line — without deviating course.  Eventually, whether you hit Guatemala, Greenland, or the Greater Sandwich Islands, you’d run into SOME land mass from which you could replenish your supplies and get your bearings.  If instead, however, you started second-guessing yourself and making a series of course corrections along the way, because things “didn’t feel right” or you didn’t see yourself making much immediate progress, you could easily end up rowing around in circles — and ending up right back where you started from!

Yes, yes, I know, the metaphor is a bit simplistic.  But I share it nonetheless, because it strikes me that many job hunters are currently “drifting” a bit in their focus and changing course FAR too much during the course of their employment search to get quality results.  For example, I’ve come across many a person who seems all fired up to pursue an account management position in the new media industry one week, and then after sending a few resumes out and not getting called in for an interview (aka “not finding land), they suddenly panic and decide to start heading in the a new direction, instead, such as a sales job in the biotech field.  Before too long, they’re zig-zagging all over the place, sowing confusion among all of their networking allies and eliminating the one sure thing — which is that if they just stayed true to their initial goal, they’d eventually reach some form of ending point in the form of a viable job offer or conclusive feedback from the market as to their employability in the field in question.  Changing course too soon, however, will often prevent the person from making much forward progress or receiving any firm results or constructive feedback from the job hunting process, whatsoever.

For these reasons, if you’re a professional who isn’t 100% sure of your ideal next step in the job market, my suggestion is that you establish the most likely “working objective” and then doggedly start to pursue it, despite the sea of doubts, distractions, interruptions, and obstacles that get in the way.   In most cases, this determined pursuit of even a temporary goal will always get you farther, faster than most alternative courses of action — even if the temporary direction or career goal you’re pursuing eventually turns out to be the wrong one!  That’s where things get counterintuitive.  When I see people who are so utterly afraid to head in a potentially wrong direction that they don’t up heading in any direction at all, that’s when I start to worry.  These are the people who often end up swirling around in the “middle of the ocean” for months without making any meaningful career progress.

So rather than waiting for a massive employment-related epiphany to suddenly strike you, and tell you the exact course you need to follow, just start rowing!  If you allow your goal-oriented instincts to take over, and keep chasing at least one objective vigorously until you reach it, not only are you much more likely to get help along the way from people impressed by your determination — but once you “strike land” and start landing interviews, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by the opportunities that turn up or will know for a certainty, at the very least, that the path in question isn’t a fit — and where you need to head next, from there!

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