What I Learned About Setting Goals and Actually Achieving Them

Setting Goals and Actually Achieving Them

The Washington Center's Leadership, Engagement, Achievement and Development (LEAD) class is a non-judgmental space full of encouraging people that are going through the same things as you.

When I first stepped into my Leadership, Engagement, Achievement and Development (LEAD) class, an important component of my summer internship experience designed to help students successfully navigate the professional world, I wasn’t sure what I’d learn or get out of it. However, I was pleasantly surprised. LEAD is like walking into a non-judgmental space full of encouraging people that are going through the same things as you. It’s hard to open up to a classroom full of strangers, but once you get over the initial ice-breaking phase, you realize that you’re surrounded by peers who care about what you have to say. 

Although the instructor leads the class and activities, most of the class time is spent as a group giving and receiving advice about how to accomplish certain goals. Below are the top two tips about setting and achieving goals that I learned from both my instructors and my colleagues. 

1. Make your goals SMART

A goal-oriented tip I learned in LEAD class is to make my goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound. The purpose of this “checklist” is to ensure that you have a deep understanding of:

  1. What you want to accomplish;
  2. How you plan to accomplish your goals; and 
  3. When you plan on completing your goals

So, when setting your goals instead of saying that your goal is to get a job—something that may be out of your control, you can instead say: “By the end of the summer I will have applied to at least 5 positions within Data Analysis in the Miami area.” By adding a deadline to my goal, I’ve made it a more pressing matter, which also reduces the chance that I’ll slack off and push the goal aside. I also added specific metrics such as the minimum number of applications to complete by the deadline and the specific position I want to apply for; these help focus my time and energy, so I don’t waste it on distractions that won’t push me closer to my goal. 

A goal-oriented tip I learned in LEAD class is to make my goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound.

Nicole Garcia

2. Say it out loud!

In the first LEAD class, our instructor, Chris Mesaros, asked us to write one or two personal and professional goals. Easy enough, right? Then he asked us to talk about them with the other members of our group. That second part wasn’t so easy since I felt uncomfortable talking about something so personal with complete strangers. I didn’t quite understand why he’d take us out of our comfort zone like that, and on the first day. 

However, after we all hesitantly shared our goals, our instructor explained his reasoning. Turns out that you are more likely to accomplish your goals if you speak them out loud. By sharing your goals with people, even if they are complete strangers, you feel more responsible to keep your word and actually accomplish the things you said you would. 

On the fourth week of LEAD our instructor gave us back the flashcards we had originally written our goals on. He had us once again discuss our goals and see what we had and hadn’t accomplished from our lists. To my surprise, everyone in my group seemed to be more confident speaking of their goals since they had already accomplished some—an empowerment booster of some sort. But, the big takeaway here is that we all admitted to working more diligently on our goals now that more people knew about them.

To prove that this helped me, I’ll share my goals with you. My personal goals were to understand my worth and to work on my weaknesses. My professional goals were to get involved in as much as I could at work (without overwhelming myself) and to make connections with people in my field.

C-SPAN congressional hearing about the southwest border immigration crisis.
C-SPAN congressional hearing about the southwest border immigration crisis.

In terms of accomplishing these goals, I think my personal goals take time and require emotional processing; actually achieving them will take longer than the span of this professional summer in D.C. However, I believe that just the act of working on your goals gets you one step closer to achieving them, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. With regards to my professional goals, I definitely feel that I’ve involved myself in a lot at work and can check that one off my list. I have attended a conference at FBI Headquarters, traveled with my department to Texas, and was even lucky enough to attend a C-SPAN congressional hearing about the southwest border immigration crisis. Making connections with people in my field has been a bit more challenging, not because I’m not meeting people, but more so because I don’t think I’ve fully decided what my chosen “field” is. So, I’ve set myself the new goal to figure out what that field might be — and now all of you can hold me accountable to accomplishing that goal!

At the end of the day, there is no point in setting yourself up for failure by creating unrealistic goals. Set goals that make sense and that with time and hard work you can actually accomplish. So, turn your goals into smart goals and then speak them out loud, and you’ll already be two steps closer to accomplishing them.

Nicole Garcia, Washington Center Student Blogger, Summer 2019

Nicole is a student at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida where she is currently studying Computer Science and completing two certifications in United States Intelligence Studies and Statistical Analysis Systems. Nicole is a Summer 2019 intern with the Homeland Security Advisory Council at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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