As we kick off the new year, I thought it might be useful to share an insight I’ve gained over the years about goal-setting — and specifically how it relates to those folks who are actively job hunting.

While not to go too far off on a tangent, I’d start by sharing a few relevant insights regarding the name of my company, Career Horizons.  While I’m not a boater or mariner in any serious way, myself, I was immediately drawn to using nautical metaphors in my work, since my sense was that many professionals in transition were essentially “adrift in the ocean” and trying diligently to chart their course to a new organizational “harbor” somewhere.  This not only led to my company moniker, but I’ve also received many positive comments from clients over the years on the anonymous quote I use as my tagline: “A ship is safe in any harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.”

(of course, the occasional smart-aleck will comment “Oh yeah?  What about PEARL Harbor?” every once in a while, but oh well.  Always glad to meet people with a sense of humor!)

At any rate, back to the point.  The interesting thing about a “horizon” when it comes to goal-setting is that when you think about it, you can never actually reach one!  It’s always there in the distance, beckoning you on.  So in a positive sense, I like the metaphorical suggestion that all of us are striving for constant improvement in our careers and perpetually driven to try to “be all that we can be” in the context of the working world.  And from a more sobering perspective, but one that also has meaning, one could observe that during a job hunt you can often FEEL like you’re chasing an unattainable horizon — and that despite your best efforts, you aren’t making meaningful progress, even if that next exciting position is right around the corner.

To this end, when I contemplate the job hunting experiences of my clients, I often visualize the seafaring adventures that the early explorers made back in the olden days.  When Christopher Columbus (or whomever the historically accurate person might be) set sail for the New World, for example, it’s important to realize how much uncertainty he needed to persevere through.  When you think about his little boat, out on the open ocean, it’s amazing to contemplate that he couldn’t tell whether he was 100 miles — or 10,000 miles — from his destination until he practically hit land!  He had to have the courage to set a steady course, toward some point on the horizon, trusting that eventually he’d come across a worthwhile destination.  Frankly, this is exactly the course of action that most job hunters need to follow.  Instead of panicking and letting themselves drift aimlessly in the middle of the ocean, serious job seekers need to fix their gaze on some type of goal — targeting some point (i.e. career path) on the employment horizon, however temporary — and then go after it with gusto.  While they may not find the exact “port” they’re looking for right at first, they’ll at least hit SOMETHING eventually, and can then make intelligent course corrections from that point forward.

So just a little bit of advice heading into 2009, for those tasked with navigating the economic squall out there…

P.S.  While we’re beating the sailing metaphor to death, too, I’ll share one final aspect of my company name that I’ve never mentioned before to anybody.  When I was agonizing between the choice of several names, back in 2004, I stumbled across an old photograph on-line that immediately “spoke to me” in an emotional (spiritual?) way that I had never experienced before — and haven’t since.  It was an old painting of a ship at sea, by a fellow named Nicholas Pocock, and while it was a bit too stodgy for direct use in my marketing materials, something about this painting still makes me immediately think of “transition” and about the career journeys that so many of my clients go through on a daily basis.  This painting is what sold me on going with the name “Career Horizons” and the nautical theme!

sailingshiporiginal