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Career Coaching: Dreams Without Plans Are Just Dreams

by Ramon Greenwood

You don't have to be a wiseman to realize that dreams are just dreams unless there is a action plan to translate them into reality.

Do you know of anyone who disagrees with the common sense wisdom of setting a final destination and having a plan for the journey before beginning a trip?

Then why do many of us act as if we can drift along day to day, thinking somehow we can achieve our dreams of career success without making the effort to have defined personal goals and plans to reach them? Dreams won't make the car payments.

Five Excuses For Not Setting Goals

If you are stymied in setting personal goals, a look at five of the excuses people use when they fail to make plans for their futures should help.

1. Goals are not necessary. Research conducted by Yale University of one of its graduating classes found that only 3 percent of graduates had taken all the steps necessary to set career goals and plans; 10 percent had done some of the necessary things; 87 percent very little or nothing. A study 20 years later, revealed the 3 percent had accomplished more than the other 97 percent combined in terms of career positions and financial rewards.

2. Fear. We are afraid that if we set goals and don't reach them, we will be seen as failures. We are afraid to commit ourselves for fear we will go down the wrong path to a dead end of frustration and unhappiness from which there is no escape. Or we dread the accountability inherent in a stated goal.

3. We think that is possible to set plans for the future. We tell ourselves, "There are just too many variables and imponderables in life. Furthermore, people who are successful are just lucky and they "pull'."

4. We have so many options and can't decide among them. We act like a blind dog in the meat refigerator. But common sense tells us we can't have it all. We have to select a few specific goals and go for them relentlessly.

5. We may be paralyzed by the feeling that our hopes are so enormous that they are beyond our reach. We sit there twiddling our thumbs, mesmerized by the feeling that the first steps is insignificant in view of the size of our dreams and the enormity of it all. It is at this point that we start to believe we have goals when what we really have are wishes.

Five Ways To Deal With Excuses

There are five steps we can take to exorcise the excuses.

1. Get rid of groundless fear that goals and plans are forever. Neither imposes an irrevocable life sentence. It may seem paradoxical, but good goals and plans take into account that new circumstances may dictate course changes along the way. It's okay to switch goals, if our notions of success change. But running away from obstacles and the hard work required to reach goals is not healthy.

2. Define where we are now. What are our qualifications? What are our interests? What drives us? What price are we willing to pay to reach our goals.

3. Define in writing the mega-goal we aim to achieve by a specific time in the future, say three to five years. It should be a stretch goal, but not an unrealistic one. The mega-goal can be somewhat broad in nature, but not vague. It has to be more than "I want to be rich." Rather, the goal should be along the lines of "I will own my wholesale electronics business with annual sales of at least $3 million by my 30th birthday. I will live in Metro City, headquarters of my business."

4. Spell out action steps to reach the mega-goal. Include due dates.

5. State the anticipated rewards.

Setting goals and reaching them is tough going, but the payoff can make it all worthwhile if you are truly hungry for success.

To paraphrase the legendary merchant, J. C. Penney, "Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I will give you a successful manager. Give me a stock clerk without a plan and I will give you a stock clerk."

Ramon Greenwood may be contacted at

To get more common sense advice to protect and advance your career during tough times, sign up at for a free subscription to Ramon Greenwood's widely read e-newsletter and participate in his blog. He coaches from a successful career as Senior VP at American Express, author of career-related books, and a senior executive/consultant in Fortune 500 companies.


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