How Defining Your Career Goals Can Improve Your Finances

careerWould you consider money to be a means or an end in your life? So often many of us focus on financial goals as ends in themselves – they are the be all and end all of what we need to achieve. But what if they’re really a means to an end? How would that change the way you view your finances?

Recently I worked with Ms. Career Girl on something called The Money Makeover Series. For three months I worked with four young women who wanted to improve their financial situations and their relationships with money. We talked about budgets, future goals, and ways to eek out more savings and quicker debt payoff. Halfway through the series each participant started reaching success – and then something funny happened: they still seemed dissatisfied.

I would have thought that spending a month working on (and sticking to!) a budget would leave them feeling accomplished. But each participant seemed to feel a void in their plan that they couldn’t describe. The first time I noticed this I got the feeling that one participant was unhappy in her career, hence her feeling of general dissatisfaction. I asked her about this and she confirmed it to be true. So little by little I tested the theory out with the other participants. By the end of the second month, career talks overran the finance talks – but the finances still improved!

That’s when I realized that defining your career goals can actually help you improve your finances.

Once we turned the focus to career talks, each participant became energized to meet their financial goals and even found it easier to follow the guidelines we set (which were, for some, quite strict). It was astonishing to see how this method worked for four dramatically different people in drastically different situations. By the end of the series, each participant had a brand new set of goals for their careers and a steady financial plan for the road ahead. Now I’d like to share some of what we learned with you.

Defining Your Career Goals Refocuses Your Energy

Redirecting your attention from finances to career is a game changer. Let’s say you’ve been totally focused on your financial desires. How do you feel when things stall or you slip up? Probably not great. In fact, if it’s taking too long to achieve financial goals, it’s very common to give up altogether – not unlike what happens with fad dieting. Even if things are going well, it can feel hollow, as I found in my conversations with the Money Makeover participants. At the end of the day, it can be hard to sustain a focus on finances for finances’ sake alone, even if you have a real need to do so.

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But when you change your focus to your career you can’t help but look at the bigger picture. Money no longer becomes the end, but the means to an end. For example, maybe you know you’ll want to be your own boss someday. That will be much easier to do if you’re already contributing to your retirement, getting rid of debt, and building a solid savings. The desire to become your own boss and the fact that financial stability is the key to unlock that goal will end up in a new energy to reach that stability.

But, that’s just one example. Even if you have no desire to leave stable employment, your focus on your career could still improve your financial situation. Knowing what you want later gives you something to strive for – something that could include taking risks you wouldn’t have otherwise if you were too worried about your finances. But if you allow yourself to plot out the steps to achieve that goal you will find that you’ll do anything to achieve each milestone. And that could include making the sacrifices necessary to make sure your finances stay intact in the process.

Defining Your Career Goals Helps You Keep Your Eye on the Real Prize: Personal Fulfillment

Focusing on your career goals isn’t just about using future desires to put your financial needs into perspective. It also gives you a chance to focus on personal fulfillment. When we’re bored at work or lacking direction in our lives it’s so easy to use money to fill that void.

For example, one of the Money Makeover participants had a budget that she knew she could stick to, but found challenging because one of her hobbies just happened to be shopping. After attempting to quit cold turkey she realized that all along she’d been shopping out of boredom. Not Saturday afternoon, nothing else to do boredom, but not sure where my life is going and looking for retail therapy for a thrill boredom. Once we started talking about how we could turn her other passions into career ideas she’d never thought of before, she got so excited that she spent her entire next weekend plotting out different paths she could take. Suffice it to say, she didn’t go shopping that weekend and therefore stayed right on budget.

The point is, by focusing on personal fulfillment instead of ticking the checkbox for financial goals, you will find the steps you need to take to achieve those goals to be more attainable and sustainable. Back to the fad dieting analogy – if you want to quickly lose weight because you think you should, then your end is simply to lose weight – hard to maintain. But if your focus is on eating healthy, then you will find that you lose weight as a byproduct of striving for the healthy goal. Losing weight becomes a means, not an end. So too does focus on your career turn your financial goals into a means and not an end.

Money is a tool to help you live the life you want. You should not strive to have the tool, but rather to use the tool in a way that takes you in the right direction. Then you turn the tables from letting your money control you to you controlling your money and, ultimately, your life.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney 

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