I had a meeting with a group of young leaders this morning. These students took part in a summer long entrepreneurial program where they had to start their own business and present it to a group of judges. After weeks of preparation and project management, the students successfully completed the program. This final week was for discussion. Mentors could pick one topic as a final send-off to our group. I realized my group had spent so much time talking about programs and effective start-up strategies, we failed to talk about the real changemakers: the entrepreneurs themselves! I knew personal goals needed to be discussed. 

I used to hate being asked the question, “What do you want to do in the future?” It’s so broad and overwhelming. I knew I could not approach this conversation the way so many people approached me about it. I believe goal setting and personal planning is not only overlooked in schools, but more often than not it is miscommunicated. Some people know what they want to do in the future and are excited to talk about it. Others are unsure and want to experience classes, new communities, and just life first. 

I asked each student to write down their general ideas for the next few years. I didn’t expect them to know everything but just share their general thoughts on the subject. The students discussed their goals – going to college, running a business, being “their own boss,” and I was excited for their future. When I asked them about their strategy for achieving those goals or future plans, they didn’t have one. I was surprised and knew time should be spent on strategic planning for the future rather than defining every single aspect of the future. What’s a goal without its plan? No matter what stage of the process you are in, it’s important to remember that personal goal planning can and should be done, even if you have no clue what you want to do in the future. It’s all about your thought-process and specific planning strategies. If you have no plan at all, does your goal really truly exist? 

I use SMART analysis, developed by management consultant and author Peter Drucker, to help support my goal planning. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time based. Companies use this for their own strategic planning, and many individuals use it for their own project management. I shared my own theory on the SMART with my students as outlined below, but for more information on the specific framework developed by Drucker, visit MindTools for more information. 

For me, having specific goals in mind means taking a big, overarching goal like “going to college” and putting it into subgoals. Subgoals could look like: getting good grades, having three internships, and networking with at least five colleges or universities. Those sub-goals aren’t the end goal but rather make up the end goal. Measurable means having goals that can have various outcomes, not just marking something as done. For example, getting good grades might mean having As and Bs or achieving higher scores than the last semester. These goals are measurable and can be evaluated thoroughly rather than just a checkmark on a list. Measurable means how well something is being done, not easily if you achieve it

I’m not too excited about the term “attainable.” I believe sometimes we think too in the box and assume some dreams and aspirations are too far off to reach. When we limit our goals, we limit ourselves. We only have one life to live – reach for those high dreams. The term “attainable” is relative, but relevant is important. If your goal isn’t important to you or isn’t your passion, it isn’t worth achieving. In fact, it will be harder to achieve because your time frame won’t be as strong. You will push deadlines and not be as dedicated because that goal just isn’t your passion. 

You don’t have to use all of the SMART elements – I focus more on specific than anything else. Take out what you want and leave the others behind. What is important is that you have some sort of plan for your goals in mind. I told my students I was less worried about their goals and more so with how they are going to achieve them. Goals are nothing if you don’t work towards them. When I asked my students if they would consider using SMART, some eagerly jumped at the idea while others weren’t so excited. One student said, “having a plan means that the future is coming quickly, and that’s a lot to think about.” Strategic planning and goal setting is scary, but the future is coming if we like it or not. Be ready. Be prepared. 


  • ashleylynnpriore

    Thrive Global Campus Editor-at-Large

    University of Pittsburgh

    Ashley Lynn Priore— an American chess player & coach, social & civic entrepreneur, nonprofit founder & consultant, political strategist & commentator, youth rights activist, innovative speaker, author & writer & poet, media personality, & mentor —is the founder, president and CEO of Queen's Gambit, a national, multi-departmental hybrid nonprofit and social enterprise using chess as a catalyst for change and a model to empower, educate, and impact a better society. Ashley is the author of four books, including Let's Learn Chess!, and is currently completing a Bachelor of Arts in English and Politics at the University of Pittsburgh. She also leads Y-22, a youth on boards movement, Youth Political Strategies, a campaign organization supporting candidates who support young people, and Priore Consulting, an innovative strategy consulting firm. Ashley ran for public office in 2019 and remains committed to equitable politics (currently, she co-founded and co-leads Our Right to Justice which achieves for a more equitable Supreme Court). Her writing, focusing on politics, social justice, and entertainment, has been featured in national platforms including MS. Magazine, Thrive Global, and Buzzfeed.