Career & Money

Not Enjoying Your Career Journey? Try The Anti-Goals Method.

We've all heard, at one time or another, about the importance of goal-setting and the various methods you can use, especially when it comes to career goals. For me, some of the methods have just been ill-fitting. I'd been searching for the best goal-setting approach for someone like me who has struggled with negative self-talk—always feeling overwhelmed due to focusing on my failure to achieve certain goals within a certain time frame.

I’m also okay, at this point in my career, not knowing exactly what I want my professional life to look like in the future because, at this point, I've accomplished a lot before the age of 30. I have hit that so-called mid-level career wall that many ambitious women face when they reach a certain age and level of experience.

For sure, the last 10 years of my life have been all about speaking up and setting boundaries for what I no longer will do on the path to success. I kept thinking that there had to be a goal-setting method that works within that context—to use to my advantage, as I’m good at pinpointing what I don’t want to do, where I don’t want to be, and how I don’t want to feel in the work that I do.

Well, this is where anti-goals come in.

​What Are Anti-Goals?

Anti-goals are goals that center on happiness, avoiding certain actions, decisions, or habits that will certainly deter you from making career fulfillment a reality. Leadership consultant and speaker Selena Rezvani elaborated on the essence of this concept well in a recent Fast Companyarticle.

“An anti-goal is a way to customize your work life and decision making,” the author of Quick Confidence: Be Authentic, Boost Connections, and Make Bold Bets on Yourself, told the publication. “Do that by looking at what doesn’t serve you. You can figure out pretty quickly some of the frustrating patterns you might fall into and what you want to actively avoid.”

Anti-goals allow you the space and permission to work along with (not against) what really motivates you to achieve a goal. You think about what you don't want to happen versus what you do.

For some of us, it’s the less attractive outcome that drives our decisions one way or another. (Research has proven this to be a real psychological phenomenon. You can read more about that here, and here).

I’ve found that I’ve been this way my whole life. Oftentimes, for example, if my goal was to remain on the Honor Roll at high school, I wasn’t thinking about the joy or perks of being an excellent student. I was thinking about the other outcome: My mom not being proud of me, or not getting into college in order to have a better prospect at a decent job in my adult future. As a copy editor, I didn’t set a goal of writing more in order to become a features editor.

I’d outgrown the copy editing jobs and thought about the dead-end dread of spending one more year of dotting i’s and crossing t’s for a living, so I set out to write more and took on assignments in digital publishing.


Thomas Barwick/Getty

​How To Set Anti-Goals

First, you think about things backward. Where don’t you want to be? What feelings at work do you loathe? What companies do you want to avoid and why? What types of people do you want to be sure you’re not working with? What skills are you lacking that are needed to get you to where you actually want to be in your career? Write these things down. Get them out of your head on paper.

Work with a coach that’s familiar with anti-goals and won’t shame you because you’re not starting with S.M.A.R.T. or F.A.S.T goal-setting. (You might need to come back to those methods when you’ve actually set out a plan to go against what you don’t want.)

For example, after working full-time in media for more than eight years finally becoming a manager with the pay I thought I deserved, I found I didn’t really like being a manager. I wrote down my whys and a lot of it had to do with wanting to just manage the greatest asset to my career advancement: me. I didn’t want to have to deal with the attitudes, the politics, and always being the first to put out fires when someone was insubordinate, numbers didn’t add up, or key deliverables weren’t being met.

I knew I didn’t want to sit in an office all day and be the last one to leave. I wanted freedom, autonomy, and a flexible work schedule where I could manage content, projects, and one-on-one clients from anywhere in the world. I didn't want to be responsible for a massive team of full-on human beings.

I then began setting anti-goals and taking steps, motivated by those anti-goals, to create the career life I’d dreamed of. I created my exit plan and eventually resigned to go freelance full-time, but I had to set anti-goals like:

  • Decline your employment contract renewal as a manager. Instead, build up a client base.
  • Don’t apply for any more managerial positions or promotions. Start doing freelance work on the side.
  • Don’t spend frivolously on eating out or clubbing. Save x-amount by the quit date.
  • Don't overdo it with meetings and emails. Use that time to go to after-work networking events.
  • Don’t continue giving time to managerial training or other related coaching. Get mentors and coaches who are living the career lifestyle you want.

All of these anti-goals not only positively aligned with my regular way of thinking but they helped me avoid being so hard on myself, sitting in negativity during the processes of transition throughout my career, and they helped me enjoy the journey. For several, I still had to write down and follow through with specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T.) details only when applicable. I’ve found that we can think something will go a certain way, and life (well, God) has its way of taking you somewhere else exciting, and that’s okay.

Anti-goals are a great way to rethink how we maneuver through setting realistic career goals that align with purpose, allowing us to get clarity on what we don’t want in order to work toward what we do. Hey, a win is a win.

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