Denver Bar Association
January 2008
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Let Your 2008 Shine: Set goals AND achieve them!

by Anne Payrs

"Don’t Just Set Goals for 2006: Achieve Them" by Anne Payrs, published in Law Practice Today, January 2006. Copyright © 2006 by the American Bar Association. Reprinted with permission.

rowing up, each year my brothers and I were required by my father to write down our weak points and strong points and to devise a list of goals, along with an action plan, for the year. This annual ritual was always met with much groaning and eye-rolling, so my dad was delighted to learn that for all my complaining, it’s a practice I have maintained in my adulthood.

I sometimes question why I continue the exercise year after year. My strengths and weaknesses don’t change much with time, except perhaps to become more pronounced with age. And a few of those goals (exercising more regularly, saving more for retirement) seem to appear again and again. Recently, I found a few of my old lists and had the realization that for every goal that stubbornly remains, there is a goal that I have accomplished: Finishing my Masters Degree. Changing my career. Starting a retirement fund. Losing 10 pounds (okay — I did gain that back).

Most people tout the benefit of writing things out as a way to clarify your plans and ambitions. But I believe the greatest benefit is being able to look back and see the progress you can make when you set your mind to it.

The strengths and weaknesses exercise is pretty straightforward. On a sheet of paper, make two columns: one entitled "Strengths" and one called "Weaknesses." Strengths are pretty easy. We know instinctively our best assets, whether it is our organizational skills, our outgoingness, our attention to detail. The tricky part is to be brutally honest with your self about your faults. I stink at delegation, most likely because I like things done my way. The problem is, there are plenty of people I could delegate things to who are far more talented than me and more than willing to pitch in. So, I make a conscious effort to let go of some of the control. When we had guests over a few weeks ago, I let my husband serve up the chili and open the wine. Granted, I would have used a different serving bowl and chosen beer over wine, but I kept my mouth shut and enjoyed letting him play host for a night.

Goals present a different challenge. The actual writing of the goals is really not that hard. We all know what we want, whether it is a promotion at work, a fabulous vacation, or to have enough money set aside for our kids to go to college. Developing the action plan of how to achieve those goals is more challenging.

I remember handing my dad a goal during college — I wanted to study abroad. That’s great, he said, but how are you going to do it? What country? What school? How are you going to pay for it? Oh, boy. I sat down again. I needed $2,000 to live on and for travel. I wanted to go to England, but my school only offered a program to France. I began to devise a plan. I would waitress all summer to save the money I needed. I would investigate programs in England. I would apply for my passport and student visas during Christmas break, when I would be able to go directly to the consulate in New York City, not far from my parents’ home. Suddenly, what started as a hopeful statement looked like a very achievable reality. In the end, I not only did a semester in London, but one in France as well.

Be specific about how you will achieve your goals. If you want to save for your children’s college education, you might include steps such as: 1) Get three recommendations for financial advisors and set up meetings with each of them. 2) Calculate how much you need to save. 3) Research what financial vehicles are available. (My Dad would then have you make a matrix comparing them, but that’s another column.)

The bottom line is to be specific, not only as to what your goal is, but how you will achieve it. Use your strengths to help you reach those goals and analyze your weaknesses to understand what might keep you from realizing them. My final bit of advice — tuck away your lists someplace. You’ll get a kick out of reading them in a few years.

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