Perhaps The Target Isn’t As Important As The Journey Toward It

By Dan Nielsen
The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

Career goals are amazing things. They can keep people striving to better themselves, to reinvent themselves, to go through life primed for action.

But goals must be realistic. Set a goal too low and potential is lost. Set a goal too high and disappointment may result.

Occasionally I wonder if the millennial generation understands the delicate interplay of priorities, effort and reward as well as some previous generations.

I recently heard a teen tell an adult about the career path he envisioned for himself.

“I don’t want to be somebody who makes stuff,” he said. “I’m thinking more CEO.”

Another time I heard a 20-something expound on what she wanted to accomplish in her working life.

“I want to be a boss,” she said. “Or do social media.”

Humans approach life in many different ways. Some dream of their own future. Some dream of mankind’s future. Some seek reward without effort.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

The same can be said of a career. People who battle through their working lives focused strongly on the corporate ladder and a hefty retirement account miss out on the satisfaction of doing a good job. People who work smart, hard and happy find the career journey itself worthwhile.

One of my grandfathers worked in a furniture factory for most his adult life. He filled his spare time with watercolors and woodworking. He balanced work and home. My other grandfather started a business in a closet at home. The company that grew into an entity that employed dozens and did business in two cities. He worked well past the normal retirement age because he wanted to. He enjoyed his career as an entrepreneur.

Both men were productive throughout their adult lives. They pursued wildly different career paths. They made their decisions and lived with them. Both seemed happy with the end result of choices they made while relatively young.

Early career decisions can be difficult. Young folks of every generation suffer bouts of uncertainty. Age brings — to some of us — the gift of perspective.

People in their 40s tend to be either: 1) well entrenched in a career path; or 2) still job-hopping and looking for something that satisfies their wildest dreams.

Many workers in their 50s are just hanging on for dear life and hoping they’ll survive to retirement.

Some people in their 60s have turned the corner past worry. They’re enjoying the day-to-day satisfaction of simply performing their jobs.

Every generation has its dreamers. Some succeed. Some don’t.

I hope the teen who wants to begin life as a CEO possesses the business acumen and the personal drive to achieve his goal.

The 20-something now is posting to Facebook and getting paid for it. She still wants to be a boss. Time will tell if she achieves her second career goal.

Some people set very high goals. Yes, this is the United States and anything is possible. But we make decisions every day that alter our lives. Accidents happen. Fortuitous meetings lead either to dark career basements or to corner offices on the top floor. Goals change. Each of us has personal priorities. Choices must be made.

A career goal is a moving target. It’s something to aim for, practice for, work for — but it may never be achieved. Perhaps the target isn’t as important as the journey toward it.


Dan Nielsen, The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.)

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