Achieving Your Goal: The 7 Steps I’ve Learned While Working at The Times

Achieving Your Goal: The 7 Steps I've Learned While Working at The Times

The other night my wife shared a great quote with me by President Calvin Coolidge about being persistent. If you’re struggling with a goal, or feeling like it’s taking too long to get to where you want to be, this is for you.

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

– President Calvin Coolidge [1]

The Valley Behind the Mountain

Not everyone has the foresight to set goals for themselves, but if you do, keeping the momentum to achieve them is hard. It’s the idea of a New Year’s resolution; some people don’t even try, while others at least get their goals down on paper. Only a small few actually achieve what they set it out to do, and it’s for a simple reason: they persist.

I’ve dealt first hand with the frustration of wanting to be somewhere in my career early on and feeling like I’d never get there. Whether it’s wanting to simply be the best at what you do, gaining an important promotion, or moving quickly up the corporate ladder, the struggle can wear on you. That’s where Coolidge’s quote comes in, because it isn’t just about your raw talent, it’s about how consistent you are with your growth.

The Not So Secret Steps for Achievement

There’s a ton of content online detailing the steps to successfully achieve your goals. Instead of linking out to those, I want to distill what I’ve personally learned as an engineer and manager at The New York Times and the other companies I’ve worked for. This is my simple playbook. Use it as a blueprint and adjust as necessary to your specific situation. This has worked for me, and I’m sure it’ll do the same for you.

7 Essentials to Achieving Your Career Goal

  1. Write down your end goal
  2. Find a mentor to help you through it
  3. Break down your goal into short-term milestones
  4. Talk about your goal frequently
  5. Celebrate your milestone wins
  6. Adjust your expectations as you progress
  7. Be persistent until you’re there

1. Write down your end goal

It’s happened to me a hundred times, where I’m excited one evening with my wife and we brainstorm all types of great ideas. Of course, we forget to write them down, and in the morning I’m back at work, having forgotten almost everything. Writing down your goals is so important, because you can almost guarantee the details will be lost over time. Don’t do anything fancy here though, just open up your email, a doc, Evernote, or any app and write it down. Paper works too, but nowadays you might lose it quickly, so be careful.

2. Find a mentor to help you through it

I’m a big believer in mentorship. I’ve seen first hand how it helps people, and it’s something I do on a regular basis. A mentor doesn’t have to be some guru, though. Find someone who you respect, someone who has achieved, or is achieving, a goal similar to what you’re looking to. A mentor comes in handy because sometimes you just need someone to talk to when things get stuck. A mentor can help you refine your goals, brainstorm new approaches, and even give you tough love (or support) when you need it most.

3. Breakdown your goal into short-term milestones

There’s nothing more fatiguing than a singular goal that feels so far away. I’ve seen this problem over and over again, where you actually are making progress but don’t even realize it. On this note, there was an amazing piece by The New York Times about scaling Mount Everest. I learned that along the way there were checkpoints set up to allow climbers to rest and camp. The climbers would use them to resupply, check their gear, and map out their next moves. Without milestones, the chance of you abandoning your goal grows exponentially.

4. Talk about your goal frequently

Okay, I know it can be annoying when all you hear from a friend is about their goal, but it’s important. Truth be told, there’s debate on whether talking about your goals publicly actually helps you. What I’m focusing on here, however, is making your goal a part of who you are. Just like if you’ve picked up a fun hobby that you enjoy talking to others about, your goal should be the same. Channeling motivation through talking about your progress, or venting when you’re frustrated, is a great way to help keep you on track. A goal that’s always kept secret is a failure waiting to happen, and at best, an achievement that lacks the satisfaction it deserves.

5. Celebrate your milestone wins

Your goal may take you years to achieve, but if you’ve milestoned right, you’ll hit many of them every year. Celebrating milestones locks in your progress and sets a new standard for yourself. If your goal is to be promotion and a milestone you set is to launch a high impact project, celebrate that win. You have an achievement under your belt that no one can take from you, not to mention the growth and experience you’ve gained. Celebrating doesn’t have to be fancy, a simple acknowledgement of what you’ve completed can be enough (but if you want to go crazy, go for it!).

6. Adjust your expectations as you progress

Never compromise on your goal, instead, simply adjust it. Goals always need a bit of fine tuning. Maybe you want something slightly different now that you’ve grown in experience; or maybe there are steps you never took into account. All of that is fine, because it’s important to consistently re-evaluate what you want to achieve. Work with your mentor here, because you need to be careful that your adjustment isn’t simply a reaction to things getting difficult. Remember, difficulty is combated by persistence, not abandonment of your goal.

7. Be persistent until you’re there

Sometimes we make a goal and have no idea how we’ll get there. As long as you’ve really vetted what you want to achieve, once you’ve set out to do it, then see it through. Persistence is the number one reason for achieving your goal. Think about anyone you truly respect, or even people you don’t, and think about the journey they took. Think about your own achievements, the things you’re most proud of. Chances are, what these examples have in common is being steadfast with a goal until it’s reached.

How I’ve Implemented These Steps

I set out four years ago to pursue a MBA. At the time, my wife was pregnant with our first child and I was really busy commuting to NYC for work. I spent a good six months planning my goal, vetting it with family and close friends. Finally, we decided to go through with it, and I began the program knowing it’d be many years before I was done.

Each semester I celebrate the milestone of passing my classes and gaining new skills. When it gets difficult, and I’m reluctant to register for the next course, I open up a Google Doc I created that outlines my goal, what I’ve achieved so far, and what I have left to do. Without fail, that little boost gets me over the hurdle and helps me continue on the path. I’ve had to adjust my goal as aspects of the curriculum have changed, but I’ve always made sure to keep up my momentum.

We have two kids now, life has gotten busier, and I even started this blog. My time is even more constrained than before, but my persistence has made this goal a part of who I am. I talk about what I’ve learned, my progress, and why I’m doing what I set out to do. I can see the finish line now, and even when times are rough, I know that with continued hard work and determination, I’ll get there soon.

I’m not smarter than my peers, friends, or you. I’d even say, my direct reports at work are more talented than me in many ways. What’s allowed me to succeed is simply a persistence towards the goals I’ve set out to achieve. Follow this model, and with time you’ll look back and be proud of where you were and what you’ve achieved today.

The slogan “Press On!” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. – President Coolidge


[1] Knowles, Elizabeth. Oxford dictionary of quotations. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Credit: Feature image by Freepik

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