Write down your goals, continued…

In this post, we explore the highest three levels of the horizons of focus model for organizing your goals. This is a continuation of my previous post on the same topic. The major purpose of this hierarchy is to support you in building strong motivation and grit as you work to complete your college degree. One powerful mechanism you can use to do so is to define, capture, and revise your goals on a routine basis.

Let’s recall the visual representation of the horizons of focus model.

Horizons of Focus Model: This model is an effective framework for organizing your goals.

In this post, we’ll analyze the top three levels of this hierarchy.

Horizon 3: Mid-level goals

A mid-level goal is a large desired outcome you want to achieve sometime in the next 5 – 15 years of your life. This type of big-category thinking effects your work and life on multiple horizons. These goals for your future often involve the type of lifestyle thinking captured in the following questions:

  • Who will you share your life with? (Family aspirations)
  • What type of lifestyle do you want to be living? (Quality-of-life planning)
  • Where do you want to live? (Home and community building)
  • What will you do maintain health and wellness? (Self-care considerations)
  • How will you care for your environment? (Sustainability considerations)
  • What is your desired financial situation? (Financial goals)
  • What type of work do you want to be doing? (Long-term career building)

Examples of these types of goals include: I want to get married before age 30, I want to have kids before age 35, I want to pay off all student loan debt within five years of finishing my degree, I want to start my own business, I want to purchase my first home within ten years of finishing my education, I want to find work close to where my family lives, I want to find a job that I love and that pays enough to support my family, I want to fight climate change as part of my career, I want to grow my own food in my home, I want to be able to travel to multiple countries each year, and so on.

Horizon 4: Top-level goals

A top-level goal is a singular focus that you have in your life. This is your ultimate concern, your vision for the world you want to create. You can use this goal as the guiding principle to organize low-level and mid-level goals.

Figuring out the difference between a low-level, mid-level, and top-level goal is not an easy task. To do so, I like to meditate on the following sentence: “I am lucky, if at the end of my life, I can look back at all the time I’ve spent on this earth and see that I have done one thing well.” Your top level goal is your vision for the single “thing” you want to accomplish in your professional life.

Of course, life is about more than just work. In my case, I hold one top-level goal for my professional life and a different top-level goal for my personal life. My top-level goal for my professional life is to use antiracist learning science to help people thrive. In my personal life, I focus on building and maintaining a nurturing, loving, healthy, and supportive family. These two top-level goals exist simultaneously and motivate almost everything I do on a daily basis. Since time is finite, I feel a daily tension between these two priorities. Over the years, I’ve learned to live with that tension and adapt skills to balance these two purposes.

The idea of a crafting a top-level goal is a mental exercise, an invitation to think deeply about what you want in your life. In the early stages of developing your goals, you will likely be able to write down a large collection of low- and mid-level goals. But, you may find difficult to articulate a simple, individual, unifying theme that connects all those goals together.

By holding special space in your mind to search for a top-level goal, you are giving yourself permission to think deeply about your larger purpose in life. This organizational structure not only helps focus your priorities, but also provide a powerful way to organize your efforts over the coming decades.

Horizon 5: Values, Purpose, and Principles

Your values, purpose, and principles are the reasons why your goals are worth the effort. This is your life philosophy. These give meaning to all of your goals on lower levels of this hierarchy.

When projecting into the future and thinking through each horizon in this model, you are effectively planning for years of arduous work, long days, disappointments, mistakes, sacrifice, and struggle. Your understanding of yourself on this highest level helps answer the following types of questions:

  • Why do I exist?
  • Why do I work?
  • Why do I want to accomplish any of my goals?
  • What do I believe in?

When you define and write your values and purpose, you provide yourself with a philosophical framework to make decisions and guide your thinking. You can use this as a type of compass to direct your attention, make hard decisions, and sustain your focus over long periods of time.

As part of my professional practice, I maintain a professional vision statement to capture my own answers to these questions. This document is very special to me. The actual words are less important than the habit of capturing and routinely clarifying my values and vision for my life. I carry a copy of this vision statement in all my planning documents and I read it at least once a week. Four times each year, I go through a small ritual of editing this vision statement to make any updates that I feel are appropriate. I usually do this around January 1, April 1, July 1, and Sept 1.

After learning about this habit, some of my previous students suggested that I post this vision on my website. Specifically, these students indicated that they wanted to use my work as a template to get started writing their own statements. In honor of that effort, you can find a recent version of my professional vision statement here.

I should disclose that the current version of this document has taken me over 18 years of revision. If I remember correctly, I wrote my first draft of this type of statement in September 2003 at the start of fall quarter in year one of my undergraduate degree. At that time, this document just looked like a long list of short-term goals.

To get from that point to my current draft, I’ve done years of therapy, read hundreds of books, and practiced daily meditation. Much of this internal work focused on building the types of self-awareness I needed to feel confident crafting my answers to these questions. Figuring this out has been one the most challenging and rewarding aspects of introspective thinking.

The US education system is not really designed to guide students to draft meaningful goals and aspirations on all six levels of this horizons of focus model. It is a sad fact in our society that some people in positions of great power have not done this type of thinking and healing in their own life but use their authority to benefit themselves at the expense of others. Part of what we want to do in The Learning Code is create a support network for you to feel supported and inspired to do this type of introspective work.

In future posts, we’ll explore different techniques you can use to begin crafting a system to capture and revise your goals on all six levels of this hierarchy.


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