by Andrea Traietti ’21
The start of 2018 has come and gone, and maybe some of those New Year’s resolutions have seemed to slip away with it. But a lapse in achieving those “new year, new me” goals should not be a deterrent from other attempts at goal setting. Especially for college students, goal setting in both a short-term and long-term context has proven to be a critical skill in classroom and career settings.
One of the scariest questions for a college student to hear also seems to be one of the most common: “What are your plans for after college?” Conveniently, winter break seems to offer ample opportunities for family members, neighbors, and co-workers to remind lots of students that for the most part, they really have no plan.
This time off also affords students plenty of time to think (or, more accurately, stress) about meetings to set up once back on campus, internship opportunities for a rapidly approaching summer break, and establishing some sort of path for after graduation.
Finding a summer job is a daunting task, let alone trying to figure out what comes after graduation. The pressure to have a solid outline for a path post-graduation is so overwhelming that it seems like there is not even a good place to start. With stress like this, it should not come as a surprise that serious goal setting is unappealing and scary to college students.
However, it is time to amend the goal-setting process and change the perception of what makes a good goal. In her book Lean In, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg frames career paths as a jungle gym rather than a more traditional ladder, where people move only up or down.
Sandberg, a Harvard University graduate and widely considered one of the world’s most powerful women, admits that she herself never outlined a real goal for her future when she was in college, and she still cannot exactly trace how she ended up in her position at Facebook. Now, she advocates for a new approach to setting goals. Sandberg says in Lean In, “I recommend adopting two concurrent goals, a long-term dream and an 18-month plan.”
The reason that Sandberg’s goal-setting process could be so useful to college students is because of the way it fosters flexibility. “A long term dream does not have to be realistic or even specific,” says Sandberg. She adds, “even a vague goal can provide direction, a far-off guidepost to move toward.”
In turn, these long term dreams should inform the way we go about setting shorter, 18-month goals that focus on more immediate personal, academic, and professional improvements. These goals should serve as stepping stones toward one day achieving that bigger dream, whether it is to travel, to work in a certain field, or just to have a happy professional life.
Long-term dreams can be as specific or unspecific as desired, and 18-month goals offer a chance for more short-term and organized planning, and serve as check-ins or opportunities to reflect on progress. Broadening the scope of goal setting makes it a much more accessible process, especially for college students following a winding and constantly evolving path.
And this goal setting has proven to be critical to success even before actually achieving the goals themselves. A Harvard publication on the importance of goal setting has cited the process as a way to improve motivation, creativity, sense of agency, responsibility, and overall confidence.
For students, feeling empowered in their own choices leads not only to higher success levels in the classroom, but also the ability to carry this confidence and consequent success into their careers and their lives in general.