Engineers like data because it provides facts that they can use to do analyses. Well, I have some data in this post that I believe can be extremely useful to you in your engineering career and life overall.
I have provided career coaching and speaking services to hundreds of engineers in recent years, and my work has proven something that I find mind-boggling. Most engineers, probably around 90% of the ones I have worked with, DO NOT HAVE career or personal goals. How is that possible? What do they strive for? When important career and/or life decisions arise, what is their basis for making a decision? There are no clear answers for these questions, but based on my experience, one thing is clear: engineers without goals usually lack engagement in their day-to-day activities, exhibit signs of stress, and/or experience constant feelings of being overwhelmed.
If you are like most engineers, you don’t have the time to sit down and spend hours setting engineering career goals, so in this post, I will give you a simple process for setting the most important goals of your life. Let me preface this by saying that I do not believe in a clear separation of work life and personal/family life. It is my belief that in order to be as happy as you can be in your engineering career and life, you must be yourself all day, every day. There is no switch that you flip when you leave the office to turn off your work personality. In fact, if you find yourself bored or disengaged at work, that may be a big reason why. Many people might argue with me on this point (feel free to do so by leaving a comment below), but I have seen too many real-life examples of this to believe otherwise.
Here are your three steps for setting big picture goals that will ensure you stay engaged and fulfilled, both at your engineering job and at home.
Step 1 – Describe Your Ultimate Engineering Career Goal
Take some time to think about the most important thing you want to accomplish in your engineering career. Some questions you can ask yourself to help determine your ultimate career goal might include:
In 30 years from now, if I were to say “I am really glad I accomplished XYZ in my career,” what would XYZ be?
Why do I want to be an engineer?
How does my engineering job help me contribute to the improvement of the world/environment, and does that matter to me?
If I could only do one task or have one key role in my engineering career, what would it be?
If someone came up to me and said they would give me $100,000 a year to do any job, but the person would select the job for me from a list of three jobs I gave them, would my current job be one of the three? If not, why not? If so, why?
Answering one or all of these questions should help you create a sentence or two describing your ultimate engineering career goal.
To help you with this, here’s mine (at the time I wrote this post):
To inspire as many engineers as possible to create extraordinary engineering careers and lives.
Step 2 – Describe Your Ultimate Personal Goal (Not Related to Your Engineering Career)
Take the time to think about and describe the ultimate goal that you want to achieve in life outside of your career. Here are some guidelines for doing this:
Ask questions similar to those outlined in Step 1 above, but more geared towards your personal/family life.
Your ultimate personal goal shouldn’t be to climb Mount Everest, or visit the Great Wall of China; instead, think of WHY you want to do those things, or what doing those things would bring you in your life.
Don’t think that there is only one thing or action that can bring you your ultimate goal. For example, if you think your ultimate goal is to climb Mount Everest, instead maybe your goal is to simply do things that you never thought you could do. This mentality makes achieving your goals much more feasible on a daily basis. Maybe you can’t climb Mount Everest every day, but you can certainly push your limits every day in other ways.
To help you with this step, here’s my ultimate personal goal (at the time I wrote this post):
To be able to spend as much time with my family as possible, including traveling with them on a regular basis.
Step 3 – Describe Your Ultimate Goal
This step is where you combine your career and personal goals into one overall goal. This is a statement describing what your underlying goal or vision is for what you do every day—for every action you take. You could almost think of this as your vision or definition of success. If someone were to ask you how you define success, you could give them the statement you describe here in Step 3.
Now if I merge my two statements, my ultimate goal would be something like:
To inspire as many engineers as I can on a regular basis while being able to spend as much time as possible with my family, doing things we like to do.
Crafting a statement like this can help you ensure that you live a life that is extremely fulfilling. However, I dug a little deeper and created an ultimate goal that is a little broader and gives me a little more flexibility with some of my career decisions:
My ultimate career goal (or my vision of success) is to always have the ability and freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it, with whomever I want to do it.
Your ultimate goal may be something quite different, or it may be strikingly similar. Whatever your definition of success, you dramatically increase your chances of reaching it if you clearly understand what it is.”
We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share on setting your big picture engineering career goals.
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success