Goal Setting: How to Turn Dreams Into Reality

A senior airman completes a set of dips.
Senior Airman Jared Trimarchi, 628th Air Base Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, completes a set of dips at the Joint Base Charleston – Air Base, S.C. (Senior Airman Melissa Goslin/U.S. Air Force photo)

We all have career goals -- from dreams of being a professional athlete, dancer or singer to becoming a doctor, lawyer or teacher. Many also dream of a life of serving their country or community in the military, police, firefighter, EMT and emergency medical professions. Regardless of your career or life goals, there is one common denominator to accomplishing them, and that is preparation.

Preparation, Desire, Discipline

Depending upon your goal, it is likely that your preparation began early in your childhood. Your education, study habits, athletic and fitness abilities, and work ethic formed early in life, long before you started dreaming of a specific profession. However, the power of inspiration, self-motivation, desire and your "want to" can help you accomplish tasks, even with a less-than-stellar start in life.

When the days get long and the nights get longer, what motivates you is important. However, your motivation on day one has to evolve to discipline and work ethic by year one. Depending upon the amount of work and time it takes to reach your goal, your discipline may have to last several  years (or even a decade or more) for some professions. 

So what motivates you?

Where does your mind lead you when it wanders? What resonates with you and your personality? Have you ever said, "If I was not a ______, I would have become a ______?" I have a friend who loves animals, but at a young age, he started his career in the bar and restaurant business. He is now a bar and restaurant owner and loves his job, but recently made the comment, "If I had not become a bar owner, I would be an animal trainer or a veterinarian." He makes up for this career difference by volunteering at the animal shelter and owning about a dozen pets. 

Finding a career that motivates you is obviously a worthy goal. However, finding a hobby that motivates you can be just as fulfilling in your life. Moving toward your professional or personal goal typically involves a similar process.

Turning Goals into Reality

To determine what your goal is, get specific. For instance, your goal to become a member of the military needs to have specifics. What branch of service? Special ops in the future? This is where you need to do your research. The fitness requirements, educational requirements, training time, location of training and where you will live or deploy should be part of your decision-making process. How do you maneuver through the recruiting process? How long do you enlist or become an officer?

Often, the first mistake people make in this process is that they fail to do adequate research of their future profession. Simply saying you want to be in the military isn't enough. Within 1-2 years of joining, you should thoroughly learn about your future life in the military, read related books and understand the recruiting process required of your potential service selection. 

Know your options. There is so much to consider before making the commitment to serving, and not knowing how to navigate the process can make your service time less than ideal. 

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There will be physical and academic standards for any goal in the military. Make sure you are well aware of what the "entrance exam" to get To the Training is. You should take as many practice tests as you can, so you can be the best when you take the exam in front of recruiters. Simply leaving it to chance is a recipe for failure. You do not want your first impression at your "job interview" to be a failure physically or in the ASVAB.

Be Honest with Your Self-Assessment

Do you need further time and training to achieve competitive standards for your dream job? This is where you should not be in a hurry to join. If you feel you need more time to train or get better grades in post-high school education to reach your goal, take the time to do it. 

This may add 6-12 months to the process, or you may find finishing college before joining the military is a good decision. College or full-time work for a few years can give you the time needed to fix any deficiencies in your credentials to enter your dream job market.

We all have weaknesses. Challenging schools with tough selections and high dropout rates will expose your weaknesses quickly, so be honest with yourself. This may require you to retake a college course to get a better grade or learn how to swim or run faster to prepare properly for special ops-level selection programs. Common Weaknesses (physical)

Writing down your goal and the path to achieve it is a great motivator for you to see every day. You can make a timeline with sub-goals to achieve along the journey: high school, sports, college, max PT tests goals, academics goals, recruiter process, boot camp and so on. 

Sometimes you will find when you write something down and visualize the path, you may find parallel paths to get to the same destination that may be quicker, easier or less expensive. Write it down and hold yourself to these goals and standards.

Regardless of your goal, your new saying in your head should be: "Exceeding the standard is the standard." Compete with yourself to make yourself better in whatever steppingstone to your goal you have to manage. In the end, it is your persistence that will win, and you will find that your motivation, persistence and good habits have become discipline.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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