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Setting Realistic Goals & Learning to Adjust

There is a lot of advice out there about how to get more done and how to accomplish one's dreams. I know research has shown that when folks write down their goals, they are more likely to get them done, as I explained when I introduced my goals blog. However, as I was doing my cool down after a workout last night I was thinking about goals, and not the ones you put in the back of the net. What brought up my thinking was the fact that I had finished a soccer workout and my mind rolled back to the 1994 FIFA World Cup, which was held here in the United States. The United States made it to the Round of 16, but we had drawn Brazil, the eventual winners. I remember that shortly after, AndrĂ©s Escobar was shot and killed back in Columbia. He had scored an own goal in group play, allowing the United States to beat Columbia 2-1 and advance (Columbia did not). Some believe that he was murdered for that own goal. Of course, we don't know the reason, but what I do know is that back then I was watching Tony Meola as the United States goalkeeper and envisioned making the US Men's National Team. I thought about the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which would be 12 years later, when I would be 32 years-old, a great age for a goalkeeper.

Needless to say, there wasn't much of a chance to accomplish that goal. I wasn't playing on my college soccer team and hadn't played anything other than intramurals since the end of the 1990-1991 season. And even that season, I wasn't the starting goalkeeper. I was the most polished with respect to skillset, certainly, but we had a great starting goalkeeper who was tough as nails and could get to balls I couldn't because he was significantly taller than me and had long arms to boot. You can't teach wingspan and size. I started at stopper instead. And I didn't see trying out as a walk-on my senior year as a real possibility because of my military assignment at The Citadel (Regimental Band and Pipes). So I wasn't playing, I hadn't played competitively in years, and there were others who were, either in top collegiate programs or professionally in Europe (such as Brad Friedel). It was a completely unrealistic goal.

So when we talk about setting goals, they have to be reachable. Goals should stretch us, but they need to be ones we can develop a plan for and realistically accomplish. For instance, if I were a junior DBA just getting started, it would be unrealistic for me to set as a goal to be a senior DBA in just a year. Part of being a senior DBA, at least in my humble opinion, is to have a few years of experience. You can learn a lot from books and articles and forum posts, but having been in the trenches, dealing with the pressure of getting production database restores done, handling a server crash, deploying a database solution on short (or no) notice, and learning to work with other technical teams can only come through doing. But what would be a realistic goal is to accomplish one of the MCITP certifications for SQL Server. That is certainly something a junior DBA can build a plan to accomplish, setting up time for training (if necessary), self-study, and taking the exams.

The other side of the coin is learning to adjust the plan for each goal as real life intrudes (because it will). For instance, I had set as this as a professional goal:

"I have written an average of 6 technical articles a month."

As I look at it now, I've done at least two each month. If you count a video at SQLShare (formerly Jumpstart TV), I've had two months where I've done 3 articles. That means to accomplish averaging 6 technical articles a month, I would have to write 72 - ((2 * 3) + (6 * 2)) = 54 articles in 4 months. That's 13.5 articles a month and if I haven't been able to break 4 yet, it's likely unrealistic to even hope to make that number. It's possible, if I write about 3 articles a week, but I don't think that's a realistic plan. I'm looking to up my article writing, and maybe I'll be able to average six each month for the remaining four months of 2009, but we'll see.

So to conclude, it's not just important to have goals and write them down. It's also important to develop realistic goals that are reachable. Goals that stretch us, yes, but goals we can build a reasonable plan to achieve. And we also must be ready and willing to change the plan as real life intrudes.


K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.


Posted by Steve Jones on 31 August 2009

Good post, and I agree that 6 a month is a lot. I'd struggle to get that done myself, and while I've done it in the past, I'm not sure I sustained it for more than a couple months.

I'd also add this is good advice for job hunting. Stretch yourself a little in the jobs you apply for. You might get that Senior DBA role a little sooner than you expected.

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