It’s that time of year between the holidays and the start of a new season where many of us take some much-deserved time to rest, relax, and recover. But it’s also a popular time to digest and reflect upon all the things of importance that happened in life this past year and to start pondering the goals and ambitions you wish to strive for in 2021.

For many, being in an improved career situation ranks high on a list of goals for the new year. Beyond scouring the internet’s websites for the open job postings with the name of the role you desire to have and making a mental note to work on your resume, few know what other things need to go into a plan designed to achieve the goal of securing new employment or a new profession.

While a lot of people might wait until the new year to start setting goals around their career ambitions, I’m a believer that this period of down time is ideal for creating the roadmap to your professional and career goals in the new year.

Quite frankly, it’s one of the few times in the year where people are able to focus on themselves, prioritizing whatever they wish to do above other commitments and obligations. Sure, many of us might see a dinner out with friends or even a full morning of uninterrupted shuteye as more desirable ways to spend your vacation. But… at this leisure-filled time of year, you can get a meaningful head start on your goals without the stress of traditional goalsetting tools involving complicated spreadsheets or matrices. It’s easy to start planning your career goals now by adopting these four simple steps:

  • Take time to daydream. It all starts with your imagination. And this is something that you can do by yourself, with others, over a holiday beverage or friendly dinner with loved ones. Setting a goal starts with visualizing the end result. Start talking about the future. Where do you see yourself in 12 months, or even, within the next decade? What do you want to accomplish? How do you wish to be known by others in your professional circle? Or, if you could paint a picture of your ideal career or professional scenario a year out, what would it look like? Consider these kinds of questions and take note of what you see for your future self in a journal. Don’t be afraid to really dream about what you’d like to have accomplished or available to you from a professional standpoint, paying close attention to the details of what your amazing future self is doing.

  • Gut-check your grand picture. While you were dreaming what your fabulous professional situation looked like, a part of you might have questioned whether your imagination took you to a goal that was far out into the future, seemingly out of reach. Certainly, it’s fun and motivating to envision your future state in its unfiltered glory. However, goals seem exciting and worth pursuing when the path inspires the confidence to believe they’re within our grasp. If you found your dream to be very ambitious, perhaps, much grander than where you could reach, for example, within the next couple of years, consider a shorter timeline. What wonderful things do you see yourself accomplishing within the next 12 months, then ten years out? Revisit your future plans and what they would look like in a shorter amount of time to help bring your ambition within a realistic lens. In most cases, taking a second look will help refine the dream into a more manageable chunk. If you find it hard to pare down your grand idea into a dream that could be reachable, talk to a trusted friend, co-worker, or mentor who might help provide candid insight as you revise your plans.

  • Start developing your roadmap. You may have an idea of what the end goal looks like, but just how to get there might seem a mystery. It’s okay — it’s rare to find people who have a perfectly developed game plan figured out to get to their dreams. While some might not have every detail mapped out or every question identified, most people have a good understanding of what it takes to reach their goal, including:
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What kind of activities and things do I need to do to get there?
Who can I talk to help me get there?
-What kind of things need to happen or be in place for my goal to happen?

Start sketching out the types of things you need to do to move towards your goal, as well as identifying the people who can help facilitate opportunities and tips for your progress. Write down a basic list of activities, and people who might be pivotal in your journey. In addition, take time to understand the signs on the roadmap — milestones, or simply, the checkpoints along your journey — that will guide and measure your progress towards the goal. Having an awareness of what success looks like is important — knowing the people, the actions, and the benchmarks that help you assess your progress will make the course more clear.

  • Speak about it. Part of the goalsetting process involves sharing it with others. While I don’t recommend sharing your precious dreams with just anyone, I do believe that sharing your aspirations with those you trust will help promote successful behavior on your journey. Share your goals and roadmap with those who support your desire to keep developing professionally, such as a former supervisor, close friend, trusted colleague or mentor. Not only are they in a position to share perspectives that you might not have ever considered, your trusted people will also keep you accountable to your goal, provide a dose of healthy perspective and candor, as well as offer their unwavering support. While it’s true that people have seen successful progress through their individual efforts, it’s also helpful to consider the power of social connection. In addition to providing the camaraderie to keep you motivated towards your goals, your trusted people also are in a position to elevate your influence. By directly connecting you to other professionals or contacts that can ignite the speed of reaching your goals to giving you the necessary feedback in a compassionate, constructive manner serve as great examples of why you should be including others in the pursuit of your goals.