Happy UN Career Podcast / Episode 18

Strengthen Your UN Career with SMART Goals

Happy UN Career Podcast / Episode 18

Episode 18 / 20 April 2021


Hello, and welcome to this 2nd episode in a series I’ve called: “Plan & Succeed”.

In the previous episode, I argued that good planning and organizational skills will help you both in your daily work – and in your career. (That’s the episode called “Can Planning Help Boost Your UN Career?” ).

Planning, structure and prioritisation will of course help you be more effective with your day-to-day tasks and projects. Which will make you feel better about your work and your professional life.

And that will certainly add to your professional reputation – and in that way to your career development.

But it’s also essential for deliberately setting specific and actionable goals and milestones for your own career development.

And, maybe most importantly, helping you take action on these goals. Creating that happy UN Career for yourself!

Do you enjoy working with goals?

Or do you maybe have more of a love/hate relationship with goals?

Many of my clients are in that last category.

They often love the idea of goalsetting. When it’s still far in the distance and the goals make them feel industrious and ambitious.

But then, often when the goals are set, they suddenly feel burdensome, and you can start worrying that you might not have the strength and the resources to reach them.

Then it can feel like the goals are looming over you.

Almost like concrete blocks that will fall on your head if you don’t work hard enough and reach your goals on time. And that doesn’t feel motivating at all.

I’ve definitely experienced this love/hate relationship with goals myself until I learned how good goalsetting works for me.

So, I want to show you how to enjoy working with goals because you’ll see how clear your goals get. And you’ll appreciate the way well-framed goals will help pull you towards the dreams you want to achieve.

One of the images I use, when I teach my clients, is to see goals a bit like landing lights – showing the way forward.

Goal setting – a powerful tool in your professional development toolbox

What’s great about using goals in a very deliberate way is that they are the way to making your dreams and visions (and your ambitions) tangible. When you do it right, they will

  • Push you towards the dream of the vision you want to achieve, and they’ll
  • Pull you at the same time

They help push you because they remind you of your ambition. That you have made this promise to yourself and that you don’t want to let yourself down on. This becomes especially powerful if you also create accountability for yourself.

And they pull you because if you have created your goal in the right way then the image and the feeling that you have of your goal will be a strong attraction and motivation for you.

Just like putting a beautiful photo of your next holiday location on the wall will pull you every time you look at it. (And also help motivate you to set aside a little extra money for your holiday budget every month.)

So, well-developed goals are really the way to move on your dreams and visions. And ambitions!

The SMART way to powerful and motivating goals

There’s a great guide for setting up goals, and you might already have heard about it. It’s called SMART.

However, even if you already know about it, my experience is that most people don’t really use it very well. If they use it all. And that’s a big shame because SMART is both easy and effective.

If you’ve met SMART before you might know it in slightly different variations in terms of the meanings of the letters, but the different versions pretty much boil down to the same thing.

Here SMART means:






How to use SMART


You want to describe your goal in such specificity and detail that you can really see the picture. You should be able to clearly and easily explain your goal to others so they can see it too.

In fact, a very helpful tip is to imagine that you’re going to do a short video when you’ve reached your goal. And when showing that video to others, they’ll clearly be able to see that your goal has been achieved.

If you can visualize today what that video will look like in the future, it’ll stick better in your brain and the thing is that the clearer your goal is – for you – the better the chance that you’ll achieve it.

A very simple example of this could be that you want to get into better shape (as so many of us do…).

However, that’s a very vague and unclear goal that could be achieved in many different ways. What does it mean for you to be “in shape”? And what does “better” shape mean?

Does it mean that you can run 5 km in 30 minutes instead of 45 minutes? Or does it mean that you want to lose 6 kg? Or be able to do 10 push-ups?

If I meet you in three months, I should immediately be able to see if you’ve achieved your goal. Can you run 5 km in 30 minutes? Can you do 10 push-ups? Have you lost 6 kg? Or whatever your goal is.


So, the next thing is to make sure that your goal can be measured. Again, this is part of making the goal specific and tangible. Good questions to ask yourself here are:

  • How much?
  • How many?
  • How often?
  • Where
  • With whom, etc.?

If the goal is about exercise, we could ask for example: What is the distance you want to run? How many times a week? Or for how long time will you run? Do you want to walk a certain number of steps, etc?

The idea is that if I come in one month and check on your goal, I can see exactly what you’ve been doing and how far you’ve come.

Maybe your goal could be to increase your network. Again, that’s quite unspecific. But a measurable goal could be to have reached out to 50 people by the end of the year.

A subgoal could then be to contact one former colleague on LinkedIn every week – and to organize two Zoom coffee chats every month with a connection that you haven’t spoken to in a while. That’s something we can measure and see how you’re doing on your goal.


The A stands for attractive because you want to make sure that your goal is actually appealing to you. And here you might ask: “But why on earth would I create goals that are not attractive?”

Well, the thing is that we sometimes get into “should-thinking” or “ought to-thinking”. That’s when we’re acting based on what we think other people’s expectations of us are. And that’s an iffy direction to take.

We are easily influenced by societal or cultural norms. Norms created long ago in our families or in our organisation. So, you might feel that other people are expecting you to reach certain goals.

But it can turn out to be a hard road to walk when the goal is not really your own.

Therefore, it is very important to take a moment to find out if this goal is actually attractive to you? Do you really want to achieve this?

When working on this part of your goal, you might want to revisit the values and dreams you found in the exercises in some of the very first episodes.

So, if you haven’t already, you might want to pause here and go back and listen to episode 3 “What Drives You and What Drains You?” and episode 4 “How Was Your Career Journey?”.

Bottom line is that it’s very hard work to succeed with a goal that’s not attractive to you.

And why would you?


R stands for realistic. This means that even if you’re ambitious you want to also make sure that your goal is realistic. You want it to be possible to achieve. And this is where you need to consider your goals together with everything else that’s going on. Whether in your work life or your private life.

Quite often we fail to do this.

We get enthusiastic and decide to start running three times a week while also changing our diet. Ask yourself, is this realistic when considering everything else going on in your life?

Or, at work, we add goal number 17 to an already booming portfolio. Maybe there’s some pressure from management – but maybe you’re also not realistic about your resources?

So, when you determine whether your goal is realistic, ask yourself how it fits with:

  • The time you have available
  • The time you need to accomplish your goal
  • The energy required – both from yourself and from others,
  • The resources required, such as for example money

And remember:  everything takes longer than we expect. Always…


There’s a famous quote by the psychiatrist, Milton H. Erickson, saying that “A goal without a date is just a dream”.

This is really key – so, I’ll say it again.

A goal without a date is just a dream.

It sounds obvious when we hear it, yet we often overlook this small detail when setting goals. And then wonder why, one year later, we haven’t accomplished what we hoped to do.

So, the T stands for timebound.

Ask yourself: when will you have reached your goal? When do you want to have reached it? When is it realistic?

Good questions to ask here are for example:

  • When do I start?
  • When will I have finished?
  • Which days do I work on this?
  • At what time of the day will I work on it?
  • For how long time will I work on it? Etc.

And the more specific you are the better.

Say for example that you want to be able to run 5 km in 30 minutes on 1 June. And that in order to be able to do that you will run 3 km twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays, after work – but before dinner.

The more specific you plan that out, the easier it will be for your brain to see and understand the image of you running on Tuesday afternoon after work, but before dinner.

And when you can see yourself doing it, it’s almost like you’re already there. You’re the person who runs Tuesdays after work. This means that you will put this in your calendar. And you will plan other things around your Tuesday afternoon run. Making sure that you have time for your run.

If you want to find a new job, you can set a goal of having a new job one year from now. You can of course not ultimately control this, because you can’t control other people’s hiring processes, but you can control everything you do yourself in order to get that job.

You can decide for example that every Monday morning between 8 and 8.30 you look for new, relevant vacancies. That every Saturday morning between 8 and 10 you work on job applications or on revising your CV. You can decide how many hours you want to spend on this on a weekly or monthly basis and make sure that you plan around this.

I hope you can see how this works because it will help you tremendously in taking action.


I’ve added an E at the end of SMART and that E stands for ecological. What I mean by that is that your goal should do no harm.

That it’s sustainable.

So, this is where you make sure that the pursuit of your goal is aligned with your surroundings and the values of you, your family and your employer. This is where you evaluate how the goal and working on the goal will affect other people in your life.

Here you ask how your goal will affect:

  • Your partner?
  • Time with your family?
  • Your other work responsibilities? Or
  • How you prioritise time for yourself?
  • And how does it fit with your other goals in life and work?

An example could be that you want to do an Ironman. Maybe this is a goal that will vastly improve your physical fitness and your self-esteem. And, in addition, you might bond with a lot of great people that you’re training with.

But if you have small children probably training for an Ironman will also mean that you will miss a lot of time with them at home, because you will spend almost all of your free time away from your family.

Every goal comes with a consequence. Try to make sure that you understand that consequence and that it’s sustainable for you.

So – that was SMART for you. With SMART you can formulate goals that are concrete, realistic and actionable. Goals that you know how to start working on right away.

But I have a bonus for you!

5 extra tips for effective goals

  1. Write your goals down – it’s not enough to just keep them in your head.
  2. Have your goals visible. That means keeping them in a place where you see them and are reminded of them preferably on a daily or minimum a weekly basis. And if you’re the visual type, it’s extra helpful if you can add photos or images to your goals!
  3. Tell other people about your goals. It helps you create accountability, and it makes your goal feel more real to you when you tell others about it. And when other people know, they might be able to help you in ways you didn’t anticipate.
  4. Check in regularly with your goals and adjust your goal and milestones if necessary. Your goal should always feel relevant and up to date.
  5. Ask for help – enlist support from others

Yes, you probably knew I was going to say that: Get help

SMART is very simple, but it can sometimes be a little challenging to really get specific and concrete on your own goals because you’re emotionally involved in them. That means that all sorts of fears and reservations can come up and “blur your vision”, so to speak.

Therefore, it can be really helpful to have somebody else work through your goals with you. When that person is able to see the goal for themselves too, in all the details, with all the measures and timelines, etc., then you’re ready to go.

Also, it pays off to find out where your particular challenge might be? Is it difficult for you to be concrete and specific enough? Or do you more need help on the accountability side?

The clearer you are on that, the easier it will be to ask for and get the support you need to really ace your goals.

From my own experience, when I discover that I’m not moving on my goals, it’s most often because:

  • I haven’t worked enough on the Specific part. That is, I haven’t made the goal specific and concrete enough, and therefore it’s not clear enough what my next step is, and/or
  • I’ve not been detailed enough with the Timebound part and therefore haven’t created enough accountability for myself.

I wish I were one of those people who don’t need deadlines, but, if the task is challenging for me and I don’t have a deadline, I easily fall into doing “daily work” and start responding to emails instead of doing the difficult next step, etc.

As soon as I fix those two parts, I’m back on track again.

I wish you lots of luck with creating effective, concrete, inspiring and motivating goals for yourself!

And don’t forget, your goals might very well need adjustment on the way as you go. Because we live in the real world and things change around us. That’s totally ok!

And please, do set up all the helping measures you can. Tell other people about your goal. Get support. Create accountability.

Plan well, do your best – and you will do marvellously!

Next Step

In the next episode, I’ll talk about how a lack of overview is one of the most significant reasons you fail to follow your plan and reach your goals – career and otherwise. And how lack of overview is also one of the key sources of stress.

And I’ll share concrete and simple steps to create that overview – that you will love!

If you enjoyed this episode, then please think about sharing it with a colleague or a friend in the UN who might be interested in this topic as well.

Most people find podcasts through word of mouth, so you would not only be helping your friend, but you would also be supporting the show – for which I’d be very grateful!