Long-term goals are any goals you create that you will not (or cannot) accomplish until some time in the future. While there’s no specific definition of what “long-term” really means in the case of long-term goals, the standard definition for this is sometime within the next 5 to 10 years.
Of course, you may be here researching the topic because someone asked you to create and plan long-term goals, either as part of a job requirement, school assignment or otherwise. Before you even begin to really dive into long-term goals, make sure you understand what the time frame is that you’re supposed to be working with. From there, explore the type of goals and subgoals you need to create, ways you can benchmark progress, and who might be necessary to help you achieve those goals.
Long-Term Goals Defined
All goals are the desired states people set to achieve, keep, or even avoid.
Long-term goals, however, are the bigger goals you want for the future that take notably longer to achieve because they’re significantly loftier and more complex. To effectively achieve them, long-term goals require:
- Hard work
- Careful planning
There’s a saying that’s well-suited to anyone who wants to achieve their long-term goals: “keep your eyes on the prize”. How you structure your long-term goals and your approach to achieving them will be determined in no small part by what that “prize” consists of, such as better health, more education, career pathing and advancement, improved finances, stronger relationships, etc.
Basically, long-term goals are your delayed-gratification outcome after months or years of sustained hard work and focus, either alone or with the help of a mentor. They may seem too high and unreachable at first. But learning how to turn dreams into goals is the start of a significant transformation that can change your life.
Importance of Setting Long-Term Goals
We’ll keep this simple: If you don’t set goals, you can’t effectively identify where you need to go and what steps you need to take to get there.
Think of long-term goal setting like planning a cross-country road trip. Let’s say you’re starting from Washington D.C. and headed to sunny San Diego, California. That’s a 39-hour road trip. You can’t do it in one day. So you set goals (waypoints) along the route for everything you need to do to make that kind of trip physically and economically possible, such as rest stops, gas stops, food stops, hotel stays, and even tolls.
That cross-country trip is a long-term goal because of the precise reason we just mentioned: it’s literally not possible to do it in one day, even without stopping. You’d probably put in six 8-hour days for a drive like that.
With that in mind, your long-term goal setting is similar. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by them until you realize they’re just like a cross-country road trip. Since they’re physically impossible to complete in a day, you don’t stress that you can’t make it there in 5 minutes. Instead, you examine the route, plan out stops and progress markers, and then make sure you have the help you need to get there safely.
Setting goals, especially long-term ones, lets you cut your plans into smaller pieces of tangible and achievable objectives or short-term goals that you can work with intention.
Moreover, aside from helping you achieve bigger things, setting long-term goals allows you to prioritize the things that you need to do and decide for yourself what success looks like for you.
Long-Term Goal Examples
Each person is unique, thus no two people have exactly the same goals, especially long term. While you may have some similarities with others, your dreams for yourself, your personal journey, your professional career, your family, thoughts, and aspirations are unique to you. However, there are common categories that can define or align with your long-term goals, including:
Long-term personal goals refer to the personal (non-work) achievements that you want to accomplish. Note the emphasis here on non-work. While some of your personal goals may be specific to career goals, it’s important to have goals that are not so intertwined with your career.
Nearly 80% of working adults have experienced workplace burnout. Finding a better work-life balance helps prevent burnout. A good starting point is to have personal goals that you can focus on that aren’t tied to your career.
Some examples of long-term personal goals include:
- Having a positive mindset and developing self-confidence
- Fitness goals like adopting a healthy diet and sticking to a fitness routine
- Control and manage emotions
- Having a work-life balance and managing stress
- Develop public speaking skills, and improve communication, presentation, and interpersonal skills
- Mastering a new skill or learning a foreign language
- Expanding your network (meeting new people)
- Finding a life partner, mentor
- Dream destination travel
- Connect with family members and improve family relationships
- Go on a personal retreat
- Travel to your dream country in less than a year
Also consider finding spaces where you can talk to others about these goals. Although disconnecting personal goals from work is important, affinity spaces like Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are perfect for connecting with like-minded colleagues to unwind, share, find a mentor, and locate accountability toward your personal goals.
Long-term career goals are the professional achievements you hope to attain or reach in the future. These are typically related to your professional standing, job positions, career transitions, or desired management and/or leadership roles. It could also mean starting your own business or becoming your own boss.
Make sure to align your long-term goals with your overall career plan. Keep this in mind when you identify your long-term goal.
Some examples of long-term career goals include:
- Find what you really love to do for your career
- Seek and listen intently for performance feedback
- Develop new skills for the job or your career path
- Find career mentors
- Discover a new market to exploit in your industry
- Obtain a professional certification
- Become a thought leader in your industry
- Have your own business/company and be your own boss
- Expand professional network
- Become a better leader, mentor
- Acquire more soft skills
- Master public speaking
- Attain additional degree for career advancement
- Win awards and recognition in your industry
- Build a successful career in your industry
- Join and complete a leadership course
Many career goals quite a bit of upskilling or reskilling to accomplish. As a result, part of the process for achieving these goals will likely mean tapping into educational resources, such as courses, coaches, or workplace mentoring programs.
With so many people living paycheck-to-paycheck these days, setting financial goals just makes sense. Financial improvements let you save and purchase things that you always needed and wanted, like housing, a car, entertainment, travel, or insurance. Quite often, the end goal isn’t just money but financial freedom and peace of mind.
Some examples of long-term financial goals include:
- Achieve financial independence, maximize earning potential
- Fix and improve credit score, credit card debt pay, eliminate debt, pay off a mortgage
- Save more money for your emergency fund and have enough money to buy the things you need and want
- Save for retirement
- Ensure children’s education
- Have multiple passive income streams
- Become a millionaire (or billionaire even)
You can use any of these long-term goals examples as a starting point when developing ideas for your own long-term goals.
How Do I Find or Set My Long-Term Goals?
Are your goals personal, professional, or financial? Do you already have a list? There are some good ways to begin building your long-term goals. These include the following items:
This article started with a question on how you see yourself in the coming years. As stated earlier, long-term goal setting starts with really visualizing the future and answering the question, “where do you want to go from here?”
To do this, you have to learn how to see yourself in the coming years in a way that’s relevant to your dreams, goals, and basically things and aspects in life that you want to achieve – this is the power of visualization.
Visualization means creating mental images of what you desire in the future. From there, you can work backward and determine the necessary steps and the direction you need to take to turn your visualized images into reality.
Your long-term goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Sensitive (SMART). These are also known as SMART goals. The long-term goals examples provided here are a good example of this strategy in goal setting.
However, there are other goal-setting formats, especially if you’re working on professional goals within a mentoring relationship. For something like that, we recommend REAL goals instead. These are goals that are:
- Relevant: indicate why it is important and worthwhile.
- Experimental: imply development activity that will lead to greater insight.
- Aspirational: identify an area of desired development.
- Learning-based: express outcomes that are focused on gaining capability.
The boon here is that you often get to choose your own goal-setting format. Still, picking the right format can impact how successful you are in achieving your goals in the time you’ve given yourself.
Be very specific in what exactly you want to achieve, and add as many details as possible. Each person has their own definition or idea of success, which stems from their own goals and dreams. Exactly what is it that you need to accomplish? Why is this goal important for you?
Decide how you are going to measure and keep track of your progress. All long term goals may seem daunting and difficult, but if you break them down into smaller and measurable steps, you can easily assess your progress and recognize how far you need to go to achieve the ultimate goal.
If you’re working on personal goals, measuring can be hard. You’ll need to devise a system that helps you determine what about that goals is even measurable at all. Then, you’ll need to create a system for measuring and tracking those goals.
Speaking of measurement: Did you know measuring success can be as simple as clicking a button? Check out this video on how to measure success in mentoring programs.
If you’re working on professional goals, your organization or mentor may have strategies that you can use to measure. And if you’re even luckier, your organization may have already invested in tools that help you measure your progress toward meeting your professional goals.
It is completely normal to aim for the biggest goals or hardest ones. However, what’s the point of setting these goals if you have not identified the means and necessary steps to achieve them in the first place? The more you understand what it takes to achieve your goals, the better your chances are to achieve them.
Is your goal necessary and relevant to your present situation? Will put your life in a better place?
Having realistic goals will keep you motivated, no matter how challenging they may be.
This is where being specific and very detailed comes in handy. The better you understand your goal, the more you can achieve it.
When setting long-term goals, make sure you consider all the things you need to do, learn, and achieve to get to that point. Moreover, you need to envision the journey and foresee the possible challenges and obstacles that will get your way. Understanding these things will help you come up with a better plan.
What’s the point of having goals if you are not committed to pursuing them? One way to hold yourself accountable in working towards your goals is to set a timetable for it or even a deadline.
Putting a timetable for your long-term goals, be it months or years, forces you to stay on the grind and keep on track of the things you need to do. If your goal is important enough for you, you will find ways to work on it day in and day out.
And of course, be conscious of those timelines. There are some goals that must be completed within a certain amount of time. Prioritize and triage tasks as needed.
How to Achieve Your Long-Term Goals
That last point gives us a nice launching point for the how. How exactly do you achieve your personal and professional goals? There’s no single best answer, but you’ll find each of the following items are both common sense and easy enough to start.
1. Prioritize your long-term goals
Now that you have set long term goals, it is time to work on it. You need to prioritize goals so it creates a sense of urgency in you to pursue those goals. If you use the SMART goals approach, you have achievable goals within realistic timelines. Therefore, you have no excuse not to act on those goals when you can.
Action step: To help you prioritize your goals, write them down. Put your action plan in writing and have a vision board of your long-term goal in your room or desk. Highlight the ones that are extremely important to you, and put a deadline on yourself to achieve those goals.
2. Break your long-term goals into multiple short-term goals
Short-term goals are like milestones to get you from one step to another. Achieving long-term goals is a marathon, not a quick 100-meter sprint. What you do from point A to point B, point C to point D, and so on, will all contribute to your success when you set long-term goals.
Looking at your long-term goals can be overwhelming. If you set the mark high, your goals can look intimidating. But if you break them down into smaller, achievable goals, it gives you more confidence to tackle them.
Action step: To set your long-term goals, write them all down into smaller goal steps or subgoals. Again, be very specific and detailed on the things that you need to do and accomplish. Hitting these small goals will ultimately take you to the big one.
Have a project plan and try to break them down into a timeline. Again, be specific in what you want to achieve in a week, a month, six months, a year, two years, three years, etc.
Have a project plan and try to break them down into a timeline. Again, be specific in what you want to achieve in a week, a month, six months, a year, two years, three years, etc.
From there, you can even break down your short-term goals even further into daily steps. Decide on which things to focus on each day and try to achieve your daily goals as often as possible. These steps may seem small, but they are the pieces of the whole puzzle. Meaning, they are all important and necessary to complete the whole thing.
Failure to plan and planning to fail. For your work to be effective, it should be connected to your day-to-day work. That means you need a plan.
Action step: When it comes to setting long-term goals, having a concrete plan will realize the things you need to do and accomplish, the skills and knowledge you need to have, and help you identify which ones to prioritize. Again, put a timetable of your short-term goals, and stick to them.
4. Share it with others
One good technique to hold yourself accountable is to share your long-term goals with others, it can be your parents, friends, colleagues, or the workplace mentor you communicate with regularly.
Action step: Sharing your goals with someone who cares about you and wants you to succeed is neither bragging nor oversharing. Sharing your goals out loud with someone you trust can inspire you to take action and actually do the things you need to do to achieve those goals. Your friends and family may also check in on you and give you their words of encouragement and support, which can help you push through any challenges and obstacles.
You can also ask the person you share your goals with to hold you accountable and put you on notice to help keep you on the right track.
5. Identify challenges along the way
Challenges will always be there, and problems are almost always inevitable. The key to getting through them is to foresee them, anticipate them, and have a concrete plan on how you are going to tackle them should they arise.
Action step: Identify each challenge associated with each long-term goal you have set. As you break out your long-term goals into short-term goals that can be more easily achieved, think through potential roadblocks and, importantly, write them down.
6. Be persistent, but learn to adapt to change
The plans you’ve set to accomplish your goals can change in an instant. Few plans work out exactly the way we want them to or exactly the way we’ve planned. That doesn’t mean go into panic mode. Instead, analyze the situation, identify the problems, and navigate around those changes.
Action step: Be amenable to changing your plans as the need arises. Some steps of the process may be necessary, but more often than not, there are multiple ways to accomplish any goal you’ve set for yourself. Once unexpected issues do arise, calmly plan out how to change course without deeply impacting progress, and speak to someone whose experience can make them a great mentor for your situation.
7. Don’t be afraid to fail
Many people go by the mantra, “fall seven times, stand up eight.” Essentially, it’s ok to fail, as long as you succeed more times than you do.
As said earlier, there will be challenges and obstacles along the way, and things will not always go your way. It is easy to feel motivated when you are winning, but it is in losing that you should be even more motivated. You will fail a few times, but what is important is you learn from your mistakes and use them to motivate you to even push harder forward.
Action step: Build a support network around yourself. Create strategies for resolving issues. Learn how to forgive yourself and cope with failure in a healthy way.
Sometimes, Short-Term Matters More
Setting long-term goals is an undeniable motivator. But it can be a demotivator if those goals seem too lofty, or feel unachievable. To that end, make sure you put up many short-term goals that will help motivate you to keep going.
These short-term goals don’t always have to be connected to your long-term goals. Consider them the “low-hanging fruit” or goalsetting. Just as you knock out easy projects in your work day first to clear your to-do list as a motivator, setting and achieving key short-term goals will keep you inspired to take on the challenges of those long-term ones.
That’s why we regularly recommend a mentor leader, as well. They tend to have the kind of knowledge and experience necessary to get past roadblocks, and can even help you decide on what goals (both short-term and long-term), make the most sense.
Your next step as a mentee? Asking the right questions.