I had a teacher once ask the class to write down their career goals and where they saw themselves in 10 or 20 years.
It’s not really a simple question, of course, because a lot can happen in such a long period of time, especially when you’re only 19 or 20. Figuring it was just another short assignment in just one of the many classes to come, I scribbled, “Accountant”.
When I turned in my answer with a short explanation, my teacher looked at me and said, “you and I both know you’re capable of a lot more than that. You’re setting your bar way too low, Rick. Think bigger”
I never forgot those words but I can’t say they actually sunk in until years later. When I look back at everything I’ve accomplished up until now, I’ve noticed a very distinct pattern.
In my career, I actually started out as an Accounts Payable clerk; more or less at the bottom of the pecking order in the accounting world. But I learned a lot during that time. I did eventually become an Accountant and a Senior Accountant as I predicted years earlier but that wasn’t where I ended up.
At some point I accepted an opportunity in Finance and started moving up there as well. I never actually focused on the position I currently hold; I simply focused on the next level or opportunity, just as I’m doing right now.
This pattern was noticeable in other areas of my life as well. When I started running in my 20s I said I would run 5Ks but couldn’t see myself ever running more than that.
Eventually as I increased my mileage, 5Ks became 10Ks, which became half marathons, which ultimately became marathons. Marathons were never on my mind when I was training for shorter distances.
So when it came to my education, career, and other goals in life, I found myself doing the same thing: Breaking it down into smaller goals where I would concentrate all of my focus. I never gave the ultimate goal too much thought or I would risk becoming discouraged or impatient.
I’d like to say all of this was intentional and some grand plan of mine but it wasn’t. It’s just what I found myself doing naturally and I really only noticed it after looking back in retrospect.
Still, the point is the same: Sometimes it’s much more productive and rewarding to focus on what’s right in front of you instead of some ultimate goal.
Eventually all of those small steps add up to an incredibly long distance. Think about what you want to accomplish with a hobby, your career, or your finances and instead of focusing so much on the end result, ask yourself, “what’s next?”