Be your own personal best

Setting goals is good. Setting achievable goals is better. An important part of goal setting and striving to achieve those goals is knowing “what good looks like”. But when you’re brand new to a job, or especially when your business is brand new to the market, how do you know what you should be aiming for?

As a fresh graduate you will usually be the most junior member of the team. If you’re lucky you will work in a team of awesome individuals who possess ninja skills honed and refined over a number of years of hard work. That’s what good looks like! The problem is setting an achievable goal to get there, and very importantly, not being too hard on yourself in the process.

It’s tough when you don’t measure up favourably to the ideal. Some days it might feel that the destination isn’t achieveable. In a new business that is still defining it’s proposition no one in the team even knows what the end really looks like at all. What do you do then?

If you’re a sporting person you’ll have come across the concept of a handicap – golf and running in particular are good examples of where the the handicap can be applied very favourably. I’m a runner so I’ll tell you about that.

On the last Tuesday of every month in Hammersmith there is a 5ish kilometre handicap race. “Scratch” time is 30 minutes and runners target a time that they will finish in. Runners are then started according to this goal time both before and after scratch time with the aim that everyone should be crossing the line together. So if I thought I was going to take 28 minutes to run the race, I would line up and start 2 minutes after the scratch start. My aim would be to catch up with those in front of me, whilst not being overtaken by anyone starting behind me.

The final race results are age and gender graded and reported in that order. So the 33 year old male who crossed the line before the 67 year old woman can still be beaten after the adjustment. Everyone has a fair chance of coming first and is encouraged to improve on their own personal best time. It’s a great concept and sees folk aged between 20 and 80 taking part. Importantly everyone has a realistic target. Mine would go something like “I just have to run faster than 28 minutes” which is a much better goal than a 5k race without handicap where I’d have to run a sub 18 minute race to have a chance of coming first. Trust me when I say that I doubt if that were ever achievable at any time in my life, but especially now I am the age I am, with the circumstances I have.

So can you apply this to your work world and use it to help you set acheivable goals that take into account your own circumstances, but still benchmarking against what good looks like? I believe you can.

One of the ways you can do this is to find a really good example of a colleague you would like to emulate. It might be the graduate from two years ago who now has an awesome role that you’d like to work towards, it might be the highest performing person in your team, or it might be the CEO of the company. Ask them what they were doing at your stage in the team or in their career and what the major milestones were in building towards where they are now.

This conversation will be good for two reasons. Firstly, it’s flattering for your colleague. Getting help with your career questions whilst talking about them is a really easy win. Secondly, they will probably readily remember what it was like when they first started their role, or their career. You’ll get lots of context that will hopefully resonate with you.

From this rich input you can better set realistic goals that allow you to benchmark against some of the very best without setting your targets unachievably high and being hard on yourself when you don’t hit them.

Remember to adjust your goals according to your circumstances. If being stellar requires 100% commitment to a 70hour a week office job and you have other commitments, such as training with a sports team or caring for a relative, dial back on your expectations and lower the goal you set for yourself. It might mean that it takes two years longer to make the level that the 70 hour person made it in but that’s fine. If you’re good enough to make the grade, set a pace that worksfor you and don’t give up. I genuinely believe that diverse workplaces need all types of people which includes those with rounded commitments. Work hard to find the role and the career path where you can be your own personal best.