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This month, I’m going to show you how to make a road map to reach your goals in fifteen minutes or less. Maps are important both for driving to physical destinations and for reaching your personal destinations. While I might, possibly, eventually be able to drive to Portland, Oregon, from the East Coast without a map, I can nearly guarantee that I can get there faster and easier with a map. The same goes for career and professional goals.
Early in my professional career, a mentor suggested making a map of my goals, to hold on to and pull out every year for reflection and revision. I’ve found it to be a wonderful way not only to motivate me to achieve my goals, but a great way to chart how I’ve developed and how my priorities have changed over time. I prefer to make two separate maps for both my personal and my professional experiences, and then bring the two maps together to see how, especially in the next year, I can make my goals work together best. Here’s what I do, and what you can do, in less than an hour:
The first step is to have a firm grasp on what personal and professional success means to you. For more information about this, see my earlier blog post, “Big Time Small Town Law: Step 1 – Crafting a Definition of Success.” In crafting your individual definition of success, I challenged you to ask yourself five questions: (1) Who do you want to build a reputation with? (2) Where do you want to be on a Friday night? (3) Where do you want to be on a Monday morning? (4) What are your five happiest memories? (5) What, objectively, is holding you back from your ideal life right now?
The second step of reaching success, after defining it, is crafting concrete long term, five-year, and one-year goals. My long-term goals (dreams?) include being recognized as a regional and state expert in certain unique areas of the law. Within the next five years, there are developing areas of state law and policy that I want to be active in shaping and developing. Craft at least three goals for where you want to be at each stage. Examples of goals can include: making partner, joining a group or activity, taking a class, passing the bar, opening your own firm, starting a professional organization.
Next, for each goal, I identify three people or organizations that can move me closer to where I want to be. For example, as an attorney who is interested in the small business and regulatory issues involved in the growing local food movement, I’ve identified Farm Bureau, the Agricultural Subcommittee of the ABA, and several individual attorneys who practice agricultural and business law in other states who blog and are open to communication. By connecting myself with these sources, I can keep up-to-date on the substantive legal and economic issues associated with the field, and over time build a base of knowledge and connections much more useful than any legal class.
There are also a variety of professional blogs that I set aside a few hours each week to catch up on for advice and encouragement (for starters, you may wish to check out MsJD’s Blogroll at the bottom right of this page for a list of blogs and bookmark the ones that apply to you). Finally, I identify some real-life mentors or people whose path I’d like to emulate. I encourage you to become aware of the major players and issues in your area of interest, and to make keeping up with developments in those areas part of your professional habits.
As a final step, I determine what specific steps I can take this year towards meeting those goals. My steps fall into three concrete categories. The first is joining: what groups, activities, or events can I join to move closer towards my professional goals? Think what a difference it could make to your career over the long-term if every year you joined just one professional organization in your practice area of interest. The second is writing: as attorneys, writing is a large part of our craft. Take a research paper and turn it into a short article for a trade newsletter, or for a local bar newsletter, or as a guest post on MsJD. The third is doing: make things happen in the area of your interest. Offer to speak at an undergraduate event, or at a business luncheon. Offer to put together a panel program for a club or organization you’re involved in. Volunteer for a project or a research assignment or ask one of those interesting people you identified out for lunch. You can keep this as an idea board, or you can make this list a checklist for the year and commit to completing it.
Finally, I keep a copy of my roadmap and update it yearly. Having a roadmap has helped me to have both a sense of accomplishment and also to reflect on how my goals and priorities have changed over the years as I have matured and changed for the better. Most of all, writing out my goals and hopes, both personally and professionally, has allowed me to understand that finding balance in my personal and professional life does not mean creating a perfect balance every single day, but of making conscious career and lifestyle choices, and of allowing an ebb and flow of priorities over weeks, months, and years, to realize the life I love. Creating and owning my definition of success and a roadmap for how to achieve it has provided me with a sense of satisfaction and freedom that I hope others can benefit from as well.
Maggie Gregory is a contributing writer for ms-jd.org.