Navigate Your Career Using Four-Letter Words

While using most four-letter words is not the best move on your career path, there are two terms that will require your professional attention.

Goal in DictionaryTwo of the scariest four-letter words in career development lingo must be G-O-A-L and P-L-A-N.

Unlike those other four-letter words that can invoke a sense of giddiness and empowerment, these two little words seem synonymous with killjoy terms like drag and bore.

Coincidentally, setting career goals and making action plans have been major themes emerging within several conversations and showing up in my reading materials over the past few weeks.  So, I decided to embark on a journey to create a more inspiring relationship with these modest yet demanding concepts.

Many of us recognize that career goals and planning can help us experience a sense of achievement and bring us closer to realizing our dreams. Unfortunately, statistics indicate that 97% of the people in our society do not have clearly defined career or life goals written down (i.e., a plan). I personally believe that statistic is a bit overblown. At the same time, I have to admit that I have avoided creating career goals and professional plans at different times during my work life.

During my career goal setting and planning exploration, I stumbled upon an audio CD from Zig Ziglar, motivational speaker, author, and salesperson.  In Goals: Setting and Achieving Them on Schedule, Ziglar gives 4 reasons why people do not set goals:

1)    Fear: People have been conditioned with negative beliefs that goal setting does not work.

2)    Poor self-image: People do not believe that they can be financially successful or secure, graduate from college, or find an ideal mate.

3)    Lack of conviction: People have never been “sold” or convinced about the necessity of having goals.

4)    Confusion about setting goals: People do not know how to set goals.

Like many, I have set goals and made plans and experienced great success. There have also been times when I have made goals and plans, achieved exactly what I wanted, and hated the outcome. Still there are other times when goal setting and action plans seemed like a complete waste of my time because my desired result was never realized.  Of course, we are counseled that the journey [of goal settings] and the growth that we experience is more important than the actual destination. All the same, the process of setting goals and making plans has seemed a bit fickle at times.

Did setting goals and making plans seem easier and uncomplicated in childhood? For me, the answer to that question is a resounding Yes! I set a goal to attend college when I was 12 years old. My lack of experience in the world made my dream seem possible even though no one else in my family had an undergraduate degree. I also felt a great deal of community support for achieving that goal.

The goal of my 12 year old self, to go to college, feels like a less daunting intention than trying to find and create professional work where I experience an ongoing sense of engagement, meaning, and purpose. The stakes seem much higher as an adult.

Importantly, Ziglar states that many people do not realize that most goals require 10-20 hours of planning, while more complex goals typically require anywhere between 30 to 40 hours of planning! Who knew?

Ziglar also highlights a 1953 research study about goal setting conducted at Yale University for graduating students. In the follow-up to this study, the most successful graduates followed each of the 7 steps in this goal setting process that Ziglar endorses:

1.    State your goals/targets: Become clear about your goals and write them down.

2.    Identify the obstacles: Determine what barriers you need to overcome. What stands between you and your vision/goals?

3.    Identify the people, groups, or organizations that you need to work with to reach your goals.

4.    List the benefits to achieving your goals: Why do you want to reach the goals that you have selected?

5.    List the skills you need to attain your goals: What do you need to know to reach your goals?

6.    Devised a specific plan of action to achieve your goals.

7.    Set a deadline: What dates are feasible for realizing your goals?

Watch Zig Ziglar speak about goal setting in a short three-part series on YouTube:

Some people find that the S.M.A.R.T technique to goal setting is also very useful.  Specific emphasis is given to ensure that your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

No process can completely eliminate all of the questions, complexity, and challenges related to goal setting for career and professional success. However, using these techniques can make the process feel less daunting. I have discovered that creating a compelling vision is the key to navigating the risks and dips of career goal setting and planning.

As you dedicate time and effort to achieve complex goals, you will encounter instances when you feel defeated. In those moments, giving up may seem like the best option.  So, it is essential to develop a compelling vision that inspires your goals and planning and that will continue to sustain you throughout the process of working toward your dreams.

Ziglar did successfully “sell” me on the importance of setting goals and making plans with the following quote and simple question:

“Most people will go to their graves with their music still in them.”
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

“How can you hit a target that you don’t even have?”

Goals: Setting and Achieving Them on Schedule is an excellent resource for any professional! I checked-out a copy from my local library. Find out if a copy is available in your area through

I also created some daily and weekly goal tracking templates, available for download on the Resources page.

May we all discover and create worthwhile dreams that inspire us to set goals and make plans as we live our greatest potential.

One thought on “Navigate Your Career Using Four-Letter Words

  1. Latoya J. Williams says:

    Consider this: “If you blend HARD WORK with SOME PLAY, those four-letter words ROCK! ~Jim Vogel (

    W-O-R-K and P-L-A-Y are two very important four-letter words to include with G-O-A-L and P-L-A-N on your career path.

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