What happens once you’ve met your goal?

For some reason I’ve been thinking about people who have an incredibly clear career goal and then reach it. What happens then?

There’s an old saying of ‘Be careful what you wish for’ which is normally taken to mean that life will not be as wonderful as you think when you have your wish, because your old problems will be replaced with new ones, that may be worse. But I think it’s also relevant because many people experience a sense of deflation and ennui once their sole driving factor is achieved. We hear about this all the time from sports champions and bands who make it big, but it can be the case for all of us, perhaps when we’ve finished the last exam or handed in the dissertation for a degree, or reached high political office.

So what is there time to do for people in this situation?

Allow time to feel

As humans we do feel things, and these feelings can be surprising and seemingly illogical. So acknowledge them, feel them and share them with someone you trust, perhaps your career coach.

Adjust to your new circumstances

Whatever your life is like after your achievement it will be different, so take time to adjust to it. Consider your actions and behaviours that have served you so well getting here to identify the ones that will continue to serve you well and the ones you need to adjust. For instance, running a team may require very different communication style to running for office.

Start to think ahead

Some of the things you can consider are:

  • What do you want to achieve now? This is unlikely to be obvious at first, so look around you and see what peaks your interest;
  • What will be the legacy of your achievement? It doesn’t need a legacy necessarily, but maybe giving back e.g. by mentoring, writing a memoir/blog, using your new platform for good, could help you segue into your new life;
  • How will you experience the things in the future that you appreciated in the journey so far? Sportspeople often cite the adulation of the crowd, or the comradery of the team, as big holes in their lives that they need to fill. Perhaps there are others who have experienced the same as you that you can learn from?

I wouldn’t have started from here

The best thing though is to never get in this position – which means avoiding being in the position of having one, all consuming goal, and instead having 2 or 3 goals concurrently, perhaps over different timescales – e.g. achieve this year, within 5 years, within 10 year. These can change as your worldview changes, but it means that there’s always something next that you can pick up once you’ve finished celebrating and appreciating each goal as you achieve them.

Graham Philpott, Career Consultant at Henley Business School