Today is part 4 of my 5-part SMART Goals series, those that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Basic information exists on what they are and how they are used, yet there are fewer resources for how to write and apply them to professional development goals. This application is the focus of this series.

Goals should be Relevant

We know that goals benefit from being specific, helping them be measurable, and connecting them with being achievable. But, who cares?

That is what the need for a goal to be relevant is all about.If a goal seems worthwhile, matching our interests and needs, then it is relevant. That is, relevant to us right now. In our lives. Combined with larger, related goals.

Relevant goals align with other aspects of our lives. While that is a good thing, what is key to a goal being relevant is that it really matters. Matters to those of us who set them, that is! Why bother with goals that do not really matter to us? Nobody else can set one for me!

What this really means is that if a goal matters to somebody else but not to the person who is establishing the goal, then the misalignment will lead to a lack of focus because the importance of it will simply not be present. Buying into a goal that matters to another person and not to the one setting it will lead to work and at times resentment for having another person force you into their external goal for your life. We call this manipulation and control, and that does not serve anybody when we are hoping for progress and fulfillment.

Relevant Goals = Yes for Now

We have spoken about how relevant goals are not only aligned with our lives, but they also really matter to us. This means that these types of goals are not ones we can put off, as their timeliness is part of what makes them so appealing. Relevant means they are a Yes for Now due to their simply fitting into our lives.

Putting Relevant into Practice

Let’s visit our ongoing colleagues, and see how they can make use of this next step.

Thomas, the Research Assistant

Thomas, the research assistant who wants to manage staff, is afraid of confrontation from managing staff and enrolls in a management knowledge and skills-based training program to help him prepare for this next step in his career.

What makes this relevant for him? It really matters for his as he needs this knowledge and skill-base, is ready for it, and has determined it will support his growth. Moreover, this coursework is aligned with his larger goal, and in fact directly enables its possibility.

This may just be a test of a goal being relevant — does it fit together with our lives and simply make sense? This means that not doing it seems to somehow leave us incomplete and unsatisfied. That is how we know if we have really understood its relevance.

Marcy the Middle Manager

Marcy, the middle manager, wants her boss’s position when he retires. This will require her to effectively manage remote staff, something she can learn about and practice with her mentor.

The realistic role-play that simulates some of the challenges that Marcy will likely face is helpful because it focuses on where she is now and what practices she needs to develop and become comfortable navigating. This is all another way for stating that her goal is relevant, as it is right for her right now. It makes sense for her as it connects with everything she wants for her professional development.

To be relevant means it fits Marcy’s life right now, and really has very little to do with how others perceive or embrace it.

Andy the Senior Director

Andy, the senior director, wants to work on his workaholic boundary issues so he can spend more time with his family. He does this through a 7-day medication program he agrees to try, one that involves 5 minutes a day.

Many people meditate, and some of them may claim that 5 minutes a day is too little, or or that this should be done in a quiet manner without a guided component. Ultimately, it does not matter, as what matters for Andy is something that only he can realize. Needs, wants, experiences, and perceptions matter little when somebody else tries to align something for another.

For adults in a workplace or professional development situation, only the person establishing the goal can really speak to how much it aligns with the hopes and dreams and inspirations that are within. Only Andy can say that is really aligned and relevant to himself.

Goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Relevant

Nobody can speak on behalf of another person in claiming what is or is not relevant. This can only come from within, and it is from that space that we connect these first four elements of goal formation.


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About Me

Jeffrey M. Keefer, Ph.D., is an educational consultant, institutional researcher and accreditation officer in higher education, professor of research methodology, nonprofit capacity building and strategic planning consultant, talent development coach, spiritual life advisor (chaplain) at New York University, spiritual director, and Wikipedian.