Turning aspirational career plans into reality takes strategic planning. If you don’t set and measure goals, you risk those aspirations becoming nothing more than daydreams. But when you create and follow a flexible map, aspiration can become achievement.
What does it mean to be aspirational?
To be aspirational is to be ambitious. Everyone has aspirations: We all want success, whether material or social. One way to quickly achieve those ambitions at a personal level is to buy exclusive products seen as status symbols. People who engage in conspicuous consumption, buying snob goods to manifest social prestige, may not actually be wealthy and simply incurring untenable debt, but they’re maintaining the perception of a lifestyle they aspire to.
However, being aspirational does not have to be destructive or deceptive. If you dream of any form of success and take concrete steps to make that happen, you can actually achieve your ambitions and not have to rely on the outward appearance of success.
What does being aspirational look like in the workplace?
Being financially successful is typically tied to career success. If your aspirations are to be a leader in your industry, you will achieve remuneration that reflects that status. But a career goal is not the same as career aspirations. Think of goals as short-term and measurable objectives that lead you to your ultimate end target.
Executive career strategist Maureen McCann says the clearer you are with your aspirations, the better. That’s because when you’re general or vague about what you want to achieve, it’s hard to tell whether you’re progressing or not.
A general goal is something like: “I’m looking for a job, promotion, or to advance my career;” whereas a specific goal might be: “I’m looking to be the senior finance director with Company ABC by June 2022.”
And when setting goals, McCann recommends using the SMART goal method (specific, measurable, actionable, results-focused, timeline). You can go big as you want with aspirations. While there will be many steps before you achieve your ultimate dream, you’ll be moving with purpose.
Remember, too, there are many ways to get there: some you can’t know yet and will happen upon. So it’s important to work flexibility into your plans, so that if you veer off course or find something even better, you’ll be able to pivot.
Read more: 25+ Short-Term Goals to Strive for Right Now
How do you turn dreams into reality?
We asked Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, executive career strategist and business brand promoter, how to move from aspirational to achievement. She says there are three concrete steps you can take to convert career dream haze into pragmatic reality:
Write down your short-term career goals. Be specific. It should be something like: I wish to prepare myself for the job search; or I’m ready to take the leap to a new, more invigorating role with an encouraging (less toxic) boss.
Pick one and go for it.
Create a timeline with action steps and dates.
Of course those steps each comprise multiple segments. But first, give yourself an overall timeline to achieve that short-term goal. Say you give yourself six months to change your job or role to your current company.
Your SMART plan might look something like this:
Month one: Hone your focus
Make a list of your specific soft skills (building relationships, negotiating, problem solving) and hard skills (software coding, technical writing, accounting). Do not include those that you don’t want to do in your next role.
If your goal is a new job at a different organization, list the types of companies in which you wish to work. Consider industry and size as well as culture and the leadership attributes with which you desire to align.
Do research to uncover companies, leaders, and position descriptions with those attributes. Look at company websites and all available social channels.
Month two: Build your story
Flesh out your specific stories (challenge-action-results) that speak to the target companies’ needs and which leverage the soft and hard skills you are interested in using.
Continue to synthesize your thoughts and stories, through a series of writing, trimming, and rewriting until you have a clear, compelling overview of how you fit the target goal.
Months three and four: Put it all together
Now it’s time to craft a compelling resume, updated LinkedIn profile, plus the collateral components such as cover letter and biography that will be useful in communicating a focused and complete job search.
You may find some shortcomings in your abilities to achieve your goal, so consider roles that will bring you one step closer to your bigger, better career dreams.
Sign up for training or contract roles that will help you grow your skills and abilities in gap areas. You can often do this concurrently with working a full-time role. Continue to update your resume organically as you achieve more classroom (virtual or brick-and-mortar) training or contract experience that relates to your target goal.
Months five and six: Conduct the job search.
Use your tailored portfolio of cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn page as you reach out to target opportunities. Make sure to leverage your network at the same time.
Track responses, interviews, and outcomes to interviews. Be diligent and responsive to any and all communications.
Be deliberate and patient.
Don’t give up, but don’t go it alone, Barrett-Poindexter says. Goals require planning and monitoring, and often recalibrating mid-stream. If you get stuck with lack of traction in your search, consider what or who can support you further in your goals, whether it be taking a career course, working with a career coach or joining a job-search group. Seek out help at any phase of these action steps in order to adjust your sails and steer your career ship into the port of your dreams.
Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Change Careers?
It helps to identify someone who has either achieved this aspiration or is currently working toward it, McCann adds. “Find ways to follow them, read about them, network with them, connect with them. You might conduct an informational interview to learn more about their process or journey. This may inform future decisions for you. Learn from their experience.”
Aspiration becomes achievement well before you reach your ultimate destination. Each realized goal brings you closer, and provides related benefits—but you need to start. You can’t stay in the aspirational stage forever. That applies to any dream, career-related or otherwise.
McCann says she and her husband, for example, have long dreamed of sailing the Mediterranean in their retirement. At the time they talked about it, neither knew how to sail and were busy in their careers and personal lives. They didn’t take action on achieving their goal.
Once they took that first step of attending a “learn to sail” program, however, they both earned their Royal Yachting Association Tidal Skipper certifications. Now they have the skills they need to make their retirement dream come true, and in the meantime enjoy sailing the Mediterranean with friends.
About our sources
Maureen McCann is a nationally certified executive career strategist and founder of Promotion Career Solutions. She is also a facilitator and teacher within the Career Development Certificate program at Career Professionals of Canada.
Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, CEO at CareerTrend, writes career stories for senior executives and composes marketing/blogging content for tech businesses. She has crafted over 2,000 career + company stories, using her BA in writing/journalism to apply a journalist's eye to your brand.