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Achieving Personal and Professional Goals

It’s the New Year, and that means it’s time to set goals. These are often lofty aspirations to achieve amazing feats, like transforming into a sleek powerhouse of muscle reflecting the epitome of health. However, if history repeats itself, by February, convenient vending machine snacks will have infiltrated the low-sugar diet, and attendance at the gym will wane from five days a week to one. With heads hung low and a feeling of futility settling in, the redundancies of life will return and hopes for improvement will fade. But what if this year could be different? Achieving personal and professional goals is possible. Continue reading this article to learn how.

Three Barriers that Block Achievement

Awareness is power, because once there is insight on why achievement is so elusive, one can act to guard against these obstacles. The list below highlights three common barriers to achievement.

  1. Perfection is the only possibility – A feeling of excitement and anticipation when starting a new endeavor of self-improvement often influences us to set grueling expectations not only for the goal itself but also for how the goal should be achieved. Raising the bar beyond what is reasonable guarantees the goal will be dismissed as unattainable. For example, if 30 minutes can be reasonably allocated to professional development three days a week, but the resolution commits one hour, five days a week, to the schedule simply because that is what the ideal state is perceived to be, an unviable standard has been set. Treating unattainable goals as the only version of success essentially sabotages efforts to improve.
  2. Distractions become excuses – Many demands compete for professionals’ time and attention. When one cannot prioritize, distractions become excuses. As the goal-setter falls behind, it becomes easy to say he or she tried, but with so much to do, working toward the goal must wait another day. As distractions mount, so do excuses. Before long, progress toward the goal is replaced with activities that may be irrelevant to one’s quality of life or the advancement of one’s professional growth.
  3. Failure is not an option – In the movie Robots, Crank, a cynical robot, shares with an ambitious inventor robot his life’s motto, “Never try; never fail.” Crank encourages him to give up rather than risk not succeeding. Crank is not alone in his aversion to failure. Many of us do whatever we can to avoid failure, including quitting or never starting, because we fear failure more than we desire success.

Overcoming Barriers

With intentional effort and diligence to move forward, the barriers to achieving a goal can be overcome. Read the list below to learn how to tackle obstacles.

  1. Perfection is not reality – Be honest with yourself when setting a goal. Let the excitement of a fresh start and positive change be the engine driving the pursuit of a realistic goal. Rather than trying to be a superhero whose magic creates great feats, embrace the power of your own determination. Grit, combined with acknowledgement of the realities of daily life and realistic action, can effect change. Be your own superhero, rather than a self-sabotaging villain, by establishing a goal and the plan to achieve it. Take an honest look at the challenges and what you can do to address them; facing real circumstances head on, rather than imaginary perfection, enables the goal-setter to develop a realistic plan to succeed.
  2. Prioritize issues, not excuses – Remain acutely aware of the temptation to justify inaction. Commitment to making positive change is a difficult promise to keep, but it cannot be accomplished without pursuing steps toward the goal. While being bombarded with issues may be a daily reality, adjust how you manage competing demands. It’s not feasible to hide from issues, but it is possible to become intentional about prioritizing them. Inspired by Dr. J. Roscoe Miller, President Eisenhower repeated the quote “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent” (MindTools, n.d.). Urgent problems often have imminent consequences for inaction, but important activities help attain goals. This philosophy’s approach to prioritizing and decision-making is captured in the Eisenhower Matrix, which can be found in the AAPACN article Tips for the New Year to Get and Stay Organized. To help stay on track, seek support from someone who cares and is strong enough to serve as an accountability partner. This person lends strength when distractions present an opportunity to make excuses.
  3. Failure is a learning experience – Give yourself permission to fail and the grace to forgive mistakes. Failure is often unpleasant, but it is usually necessary to make progress. View failure through the lens of learning and development, rather than as a shameful burden. Failure teaches us valuable lessons and cultivates wisdom. Consider the quote from Thomas Edison, nine thousand unsuccessful experiments into his quest to develop a practical battery: “I have not failed. I now know several thousand things that won’t work.”

Stretching Yourself and Setting SMART Goals

The information above focuses on personal preparation to embark on a path towards a goal. After incorporating this preparation, actual goal setting can begin. Goal setting for personal, professional, and organizational growth is a proven tactic to help individuals and teams achieve higher performance. There are two kinds of goals: stretch and SMART goals. A stretch goal is ambitious and urges the individual or team to “stretch” beyond what they think they can achieve. A stretch goal inspires big dreams and motivates people to undertake significant challenges. An individual or team answers the question, “What is my/our big dream or ambitious challenge I/we want to achieve?”

In contrast, a SMART goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. It facilitates a strategic, methodical approach to achieving the goal. The table below summarizes the considerations for each component of a SMART goal.

Achieving Personal and Professional Goals

Stretch goals and SMART goals complement each other. When paired together, the individual or team is inspired to make progress toward the bigger vision with a roadmap of the journey to get there. Use the AAPACN Stretch and SMART Goal Setting Worksheet as a guide to set complementary stretch and SMART goals and strategically implement actions to progress toward those goals.


A desire for something better or something different can be a catalyst for change—but desire alone is not enough to achieve a goal. Overcome barriers with a solid foundation of personal preparation; then, pair stretch and SMART goals for an improved version of oneself or an organization.


Mind Tools. (n.d.) Eisenhower’s urgent/important principle. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_91.htm

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