By Marnie L. Rosenberg, The Crossroads Coach

January is a thoughtful time for many of us. This has always been true for me personally, and I have observed it anecdotally as well, as a career and leadership coach, in the volume of client inquiries I receive at the beginning of each year. Whether or not we believe in the value of writing New Year’s resolutions, we are compelled to envision the year ahead and the hopes we have for how it will play out. We know that taking a thoughtful and intentional approach to setting our goals plays a role in manifesting the results we seek.

Jobs Board

As we find ourselves in an unprecedented time, with 2020 now behind us – a year unlike any we’ve ever known – and 2021 stretched out before us, current circumstances beg the question: Can we take the same approach to goal planning this year as in the past, when there is so much unknown?

I would answer: Yes.

Yes, because a strong framework for setting and pursuing goals would already assume that there are variables that are both out of our control and constantly changing. Such variables are always a given. And while the changes and challenges of the current moment have reached new extremes, to be sure, the framework should still hold up.

On that premise, here are some strategies I would offer for the year ahead and any other year, too:

Be clear about your values.

Your values underpin all of your choices in life, both professional and personal, whether you are conscious of them or not. When you identify and determine to stay true to what you value (and true to what gives you a sense of purpose), you develop a clearer and more discerning lens for evaluating your current situation and the opportunities that are presented to you. The best opportunities in the year ahead may look different than you would expect; when viewed through the lens of your values, you will be more confident and better equipped to see potential and seize a well-aligned opportunity to grow.

Remain open-minded, curious and flexible.

This was said in passing above but is worth stating explicitly:

“Great opportunities can come in unexpected shapes and sizes.

When we are too rigid or narrow in our expectations and plans, we may pass up something amazing simply because it appears unfamiliar. Challenge yourself to walk 360-degrees around an opportunity, examining it through your values lens and asking yourself how (rather than “if”) this could be a fit should you choose to see it that way. Take the phone call or return the email inquiry, in the spirit of curiosity, because “it couldn’t hurt.” Accept that flexibility is a sign of strength and a characteristic of great leaders, and remember that there is not a single road to fulfillment and success. There are many.

Focus on process over outcome.

Process goals are the tasks and activities that will help you make progress towards your short- and long-term goals. These actions—and the choice to enact them or not—are fully within your control, whereas specific outcomes might not be. When you build a set of powerful professional habits that map to the milestones and goals you’ve defined, your daily and weekly priorities should also become clearer. Establishing and integrating behaviors in this manner will keep you focused, moving, and on track in the direction of your goals.

Invest in relationships.

No matter what your function, level or industry, this will always be true: Relationships matter. They provide us with support, feedback, inspiration, advocacy, friendship… all of the above. At no point is it advisable to put them, or the activities that nourish them, on a back burner. In fact, in these times of increased isolation, relationships matter more than ever. Make it a priority to stay connected. Make a point of following through on your commitments, however small the promise. Ask for help when you need it but otherwise focus on what good you can infuse into your web of connections to the benefit of others. Aim to give much more than you get. The returns will not be quantifiable. They will be immeasurable. Take that as a sign that you’re doing it right.

When you’re stuck, find a small and manageable next step.

You’re going to get stuck at some point, perhaps often. It is par for the course of goal pursuit, even in typical times. (See above “variables that are out of our control.”) When it happens, keep your wits about you and determine one next step you can take, one small move which, although it may not feel undeniably like progress, will at least feel like it moves you off of the spot on which you currently stand. Then, look around and find a next step from there, perhaps a step you hadn’t noticed when you were one step back.

“Believe that the choices are always there, and that we may just have to look harder to see them.

A series of small steps will soon add up and feel like momentum again.

Practice kindness towards others and also yourself.

While this may not sound like a career strategy, it is undoubtedly a life strategy that should be applied to your career, especially in a year like this. In so many ways we are navigating vast unchartered territories right now—how we work, how we communicate, how we keep our bodies and minds healthy and safe. There are times when we have no bandwidth or energy to reach for goals, because we are tired, struggling, overwhelmed, grappling with loss—and simply focused on getting through. In these moments, pushing ourselves in spite of what we feel will serve no end, adding to the overwhelm and fatigue, and unlikely to yield results. In these moments, which we face ourselves and also see on the faces of others, kindness and permission to let things sit may be the best strategy of all.

“Trust your instincts, and get back on the path when you’re ready.

We are truly living in a time of uncertainty. Yet, one certainty is that we will continue dreaming and working towards future fulfillment, whatever that might mean to each of us. Plans will be made, challenges will arise, and resilience will carry us through. May these strategies provide some additional support and inspiration for your journey!