Why do some people end up with boring jobs living paycheck-to-paycheck while others are sitting on top of the world? Did some simply make ‘bad‘ decisions while others got 'lucky'? No, not really – the difference here is probably between dreamers and goal setters.

You want to make all the ‘right‘ decisions in your life so you end up where you want…at the proper end of the Success path. But if you haven't decided exactly where you want to go, how can you possibly expect to end up there?

In a nutshell, the secret is this: setting short- and long-term goals for your career, your money, and your personal life, writing them down, and using them when faced with decisions – determine if the decision will help you fulfill or make progress toward one of your goals. If it will, do it; if it won’t, don’t. A well-thought-out set of career and life goals can make decision making easy for you.

To begin defining your goals, set aside several hours of quiet time (even spread out over several days, if necessary) and write these headings on separate sheets of paper: Career, Money, Life (or Lifestyle). Many people’s main focus is their career, so we'll start with that.

Think of where you want your career to take you. Write it down. You may have more than one idea; write them down as well. Allow your thoughts to be ambitious, but remain realistic (for instance, if you know you can’t endure a decade or more of additional education, don’t plan on being a surgeon). These are your long-term goals.

The next exercise is to determine what intermediate steps must be accomplished to reach your long-term goals. If you want to be, say, president of a corporation, determine what skills a president needs – experience in finance, marketing, and operations, perhaps. There are some goals for you.

Continue working backward chronologically (from president to senior management to junior management to supervisor to team leader, for instance), listing the skills, education, and professional contacts needed to hold the positions you have listed until you find yourself listing skills, education, and contacts you currently have. Don’t get bogged down in details – you should be outlining the major milestones which must be accomplished. These are your mid-term goals.

After outlining the major milestones, the final step is determining the specific actions needed to accomplish them. Write down those things which can be done in the next six months – these are your immediate goals. They might include joining a professional association or researching graduate programs. These goals develop into your daily or weekly To Do list.
Next, list those things which you intend to accomplish within the year – your short-term goals. Again, talk to counselors, network contacts, and librarians if you don’t know exactly what might be involved in accomplishing a goal.

Although the example here was career goals, the same exercise should be done for your financial and lifestyle goals as well. Immediate financial goals may be to open a money market savings account and conduct research on mutual funds or other investment vehicles. Short-term goals may be to commit to putting $25 per month into your savings account and to join the 401(k) retirement plan with your employer.

Lifestyle goals can be trickier to define. Do you want to have a wide circle of friends who are involved in cultural activities, learn to cook like a gourmet, vacation in the Caribbean each year or marry an intelligent, active, funny person and have three children? Some of your lifestyle goals will be tough to develop true milestones for, but they shouldn't be ignored. Some will be tied into financial goals, such as the annual vacation. Others will have mid-term and short-term goals which may include such tasks as participating in community activities, joining social clubs, or committing to an exercise plan.

You may find that you need several sessions to complete this exercise. Make the time and do it now. It is vital to your success and worth the time and effort expended – guaranteed.

To stay active in the pursuit of your goals, mark off immediate goals as you accomplish them, and develop new ones which relate to your short-term goals. As you accomplish your short-term goals, develop new ones based on your mid-term goals, and so on. Continue this process of gradually moving goals up on your lists so you are always working on a piece of a task which will propel you toward your ultimate goals.

It has been said that people who have their goals written down and who refer to those goals often are exponentially more likely to succeed in accomplishing those goals. Be in that group…start today!

Kathryn Marion is President of Education for Reality™ in Erie, Colorado. She is the author of Success in the ‘Real World:’ The Graduate’s Complete Guide to Making the Most of Your Career (and Your Life!), which is now being released in its tenth year free of charge in e-book format. Visit www.EducationForReality.com to request a copy.