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Ambiguous Goals, Concrete Actions

Published 4/12/2019

In today's episode we're talking about how you can survive the map of progress toward goals and stay motivated when those career goals don't turn out the way you're expecting.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
When you talk about your career goals, you're often talking about results. These are called lagging indicators. They're usually not directly influensable. And the hard work happens when you realize that the lagging indicators don't have perfectly packaged leading indicators. In other words, there's not a perfect roadmap on how to achieve those goals. The hard work happens for you as a developer and for you as a person in your career, regardless of your job title, when you have to decide what map you're going to take to try to reach those goals. So, in today's episode, I want to talk to you about how you can survive on that map, how you can make meaningful progress towards your goals and stay motivated. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. You're listening to Developer Tea and this show exists to help driven developers find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. One of the most important things you can do for your career, for your personal happiness, is to do some planning, determine some goals for your life and for your career. And so, for the first part of this episode, I want to take you through a little exercise in developing those goals, developing those long-term vision for your career. And then in the second part of the episode, I want to talk about why chasing that vision is a little bit harder than it sounds and how you might structure your roadmap to that vision. So, first, I want you to ask yourself, what do you want out of your career? Now, the answer may not be simple. For example, very few people don't want to get paid. So, that's not really a career goal. Some guiding questions here are, what do I want that others may not want? What are some unique things that I want out of my career that other people that I work with perhaps don't want? Other questions you may ask yourself are based on timelines. So, in a few years, what do you want your life to look like? If you can be as articulate as possible, this will help you shape the specifics of those goals. For example, you may want your life to look relatively similar to the way that it looks today. Or perhaps you want to retire early. There's plenty of potential outcomes for these goals. I want you to develop a list of maybe three or four big goals, ideas, pictures, visions of what you want out of what you're doing now or what you hope to be doing in the future. Before we move on, I want to refine these goals a little bit. I want you to ask yourself, why? What about those pictures is satisfying or engaging to you? Are those pictures built by something that came from inside of you or perhaps something that came from your culture? Now, there's no wrong answer here. But the hope is, instead of you kind of casting a vision that you don't really understand, you're used to frame things more in terms of raw emotion. Developing a vivid picture can help you tap into the emotions that you want to fulfill in your career. Once you can articulate things in emotional terms, then you may be able to find other goals that tap into the same emotions. Similarly, you may be able to find kind of parallel goals that accomplish the same thing, but with different specifics. So if you had the goal of, for example, retiring early, then why do you want to retire early? Is it because you want to travel? If you want to travel, then it's possible that you don't have to retire early to do that. These concepts are not novel and this is not kind of the specialty of this show. I encourage you to go and seek out other career planning and kind of personal development sources because those things are very important to understand for yourself, to kind of find that that ultimate set of goals that you care about, the values that you have, and the outcomes that you're looking to achieve. But here's the reality. For most people who are listening to this show right now, the goals that you chose in the first part of this episode, they're difficult to figure out how to achieve. For example, if you want to be a well-respected developer, senior developer, mentor, writing code for a successful technology company, how do you achieve that? It's not as simple as walking into work and saying that you are those things. There's steps along the way. You have to build your career and you have to build the pathway to those goals. We're going to talk a little bit about how to build a successful pathway right after we discussed today's sponsor, Linode. Linode is not a new sponsor to this show. Hopefully you know that by now. If you've been listening to developers for a while, then you know that Linode is a friend of the spec network. With Linode, you can instantly deploy and manage an SSD server in the Linode Cloud. You can get a server running in just a few seconds with your choice of Linux distribution, resources, and no location. Linode is offering $20 worth of credit to you as developer T-Listener and to all new customers. You can build pretty much anything on Linode. You can have distributed applications, hosted services, websites, even your own continuous integration and continuous delivery environments. It's all built on state-of-the-art equipment. SSD servers, a 40 gigabit internal network, and they have nine worldwide data centers and they plan to open two more this year, one in Canada and one in India. With Linode, you only pay for what you use, so you're not going to get huge overage costs. You're not going to end up setting something up for one month, forgetting it, and then paying for stuff that you don't use the following month. They even have a new Cloud Manager. You can go and look at that at cloud.linode.com, which by the way is an open source project built in the public. That's because Linode is a company for developers, but it's built by developers. These are people who understand the needs of today's software engineers because they are today's software engineers. They're also hiring, by the way. Head over to linode.com slash careers to check that out. Get that $20 worth of credit by using the code developer T-2019. That's Developer Tea and then the numbers 2019 checkout. Head over to linode.com slash Developer Teato get started today. Thanks again to linode for sponsoring today's episode. We've been talking about setting goals and understanding your long-term career outcomes, what you desire out of your career. Of course, this episode can't cover all of the nuances that go into that kind of planning. There's so much to think about. This kind of planning is incredibly personal. It's going to be unique from you to another person, or even from you to yourself in a month from now. You have to constantly revisit these concepts, and it's important to kind of develop these themes rather than only attaching yourself to one vision. If you've had a career goal in the past that you no longer attach yourself to, then accept that. Rebuild your vision for your career on a regular basis. It shouldn't stay static because you don't stay static. What we want as humans changes as we change. Don't be afraid to change these goals, but over time, try to refine kind of the themes, the things that you care about consistently over time. Some things may change drastically, but it's very likely that you'll have some things that don't change hardly at all. But the next part is kind of the hard part. As we said right before the break, these goals that we have are often impossible to attain directly. Unless your goal has a very specific roadmap, which for most developers is not the case, then it's not always clear and perfectly apparent how to achieve these goals. For example, if your goal is to retire early, then it's likely that that requires a certain amount of money. And how do you make that amount of money? Well, you don't just go find it on the street. You have to plan. You have to do some financial planning. And so there's a lot of nuances, even with seemingly straightforward goals like retiring early, but there's even more nuances with goals that are more emotional in quality. And our goals can ultimately scare us. This is kind of paradoxical because our goals are a hopeful thing, something that we look forward to, something that can motivate us. But we can also feel anxiety about our goals. And what is the reason for this? Well, ultimately, because they are difficult to measure at any given point in time, the actions that we're taking, we may not feel comfortable with. We may not feel confident. In fact, we may feel like we're wasting our time or are walking away from the goals that we set out to achieve. So here's my recommendation to deal with this kind of anxiety. To deal with the reality that it's difficult to know exactly what steps you need to take to achieve your goal. I want you to go back to those pictures, the pictures that you have of yourself, once you have kind of attained that goal. Once you to note what things are true in those scenarios, what things about you and your surroundings are true. Try to replay from that point backward. Where have you been? What have you done? Who have you worked with? And equally importantly, what things did you avoid? What things didn't you do? When you identify some of these realities, these kind of image-based realities, you can start to recognize the shape of the path that you took to ultimately achieve that goal. So let's take an example. Let's say that you want to end up being a respected mentor at a technology company, writing software. Something that you did do along that path might be you wrote a lot of software. Perhaps you involved yourself in open source. Maybe you wrote a book about software, but you were involved in writing software for the vast majority of your career. Something that you didn't do, you didn't make enemies at the companies that you were at. Over the course of that successful career, you build bridges with people. You make connections. And those connections helped you gain some level of authority in the space. Now even with these two very basic facts about this person, this future, this future you, we can build some directly measurable things that help us achieve that reality in the future. We can define, for example, that we want to continue to work on software. If you have a job opportunity that takes you out of that pathway, perhaps takes you into management, then evaluate that picture again. Evaluate does a path in management. Lead me to this goal that I care about. If it doesn't, then consider whether that opportunity is something that you want to take. Are you willing to change that future picture? Or is there a possible different path to that future picture that includes the management route? Another goal that we can gain from this is the idea that we didn't burn bridges means that as we're building bridges, we need to also be aware of simple things like our temperament. Once we set up a directly measurable goal, like having lunch with a coworker at least once a week, this is a directly measurable behavior. You can focus on doing this on a weekly basis, on achieving this. You know that this can contribute to that picture, that long-term goal of you building bridges with other developers. What this means is that you can practice these behaviors confidently. You no longer have to develop a sense of anxiety about your weekly habits and whether or not they're contributing to your goals because you've defined your goals in terms of your weekly habits. If you take nothing else away from this episode, take away this simple idea. Find habits that you can measure against. Find behaviors that you can confidently participate in and know that you wouldn't spend your time in another way. This is going to greatly improve the progress that you make in your career. And like in the last episode, it's going to provide you a sense of focus and determination. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. I hope that as you develop your goals in your career, that you'll share them with me and that you'll find actionable ways that you can avoid the sense that your goals are unachievable or they're distant and ambiguous. And instead, you can make meaningful action and meaningful progress towards those goals. Thank you again to today's sponsor, Lynneud, head over to Lynneud.com slash Developer Tea, to get $20 worth of credit today. Thank you to spec.fm, the show wouldn't be possible without the spec network. Spec has a bunch of other shows that will absolutely help you become a better developer, head over to spec.fm to find those today. Thank you to today's producer, Sarah Jackson. And until next time, enjoy your tea.