Goal setting for young dentists

setting goals You should set yourself goals to help achieve the life you want, Andrew Wilson says.

As a young adult, your path through life is unlikely to be clear.

Where are you heading?

What do you want to achieve?

Who do you want to be?

It’s impossible to predictably plan where your life will go. So, why set goals?

Even though your aims and ambitions will change, it is vital that you have some idea about the life that you want. Goal setting is a powerful tool that can help to give you this direction. Having goals gives you a way of measuring your progress. They can also act as motivation. When used correctly, having goals can be the key to your success.

How to set goals

Where to start? Confusingly, when it comes to goals you need to start at the end. These are the big, punchy, exciting goals where you consider what you want your life to be.

I think that you should be thinking at least 10 to 15 years down the line. Where do you want to be then? What do you want to be doing? Don’t hold back here. You need to be ambitious.

You will never know how much you can achieve if you don’t go for it. Certain things may feel unattainable but everyone underestimates what is possible over a decade. Once you have your big goals, work backwards. Work backwards to where you are now and map your course.

Break it down into small chunks and work out what you need to achieve in the next year, the next three years and the next five years to reach your target. The first big goals that you set might be a bit vague. Don’t worry too much about this. Your short-term goals, however, need to be much more specific.

You need to be able to tell if you are on track for your one-year and three-year targets. Once you’ve set your goals, record them. Write them down and don’t just lose them. Have them visible and keep them in mind when making big decisions. It can also be useful to share them with someone. Tell someone you love and trust about your goals. The big benefit of this is that it makes you accountable. You are accountable to that person and you must take action.

Follow your own path

Every single one of us is going to have a different experience of life; a different journey. This is scary but also incredibly exciting. What you’re doing now is different than what anyone has done before and it will never be done again. Embrace this.

The point is that you mustn’t try to follow someone else’s example. You are unique, along with your ambitions and ultimate goals. Copying someone else’s path will lead you to someone else’s goals. Instead, learn from what others have done and see where it took them. Decide how their results might fit with your goals and then follow your own path.

Who is serving who?

Our education system conditions us to sacrifice everything in the service of our career. We are taught from a young age to work hard, make sacrifices, get the grades so that you can get a good job. Once dentists finish university, we still have this mantra stuck in our heads. We continue to surrender our lives to the service of our careers.

Sometimes we need to take a moment to consider what is truly important. Your career is not everything; it simply exists to serve you. Your career exists to give you the life that you want. So when setting your goals, your most important goal above anything else should be the lifestyle that you want.

Peer through the haze into the future. Where do you want to be in 15 years? Write it down. Then work backwards and figure out how your career in dentistry is going to get you there. Good luck.

Further aspects of goal setting not included:

  • Goals pyramid: how to prioritise your goals and which aspects of your life act to support others
  • Don’t be afraid to fail: this could be a whole article in itself (must differentiate between failing to achieve your ambitious goals and clinical failures. You must be much more cautious to avoid clinical failures as it is not you who has to deal with the consequences, it is the patient)
  • SMART method of setting goals: this has its uses but it is far too restrictive and restricts ambition. You can make yourself so busy with minor, unimportant goals and tasks that you never look up and see the bigger picture. Never working towards a big, life-changing goal. SMART goals reflect growing belief in society that data is supreme. We are too focused on data (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound)
  • Being flexible: adapting to how your priorities change and being flexible with your personal goals
  • Examples of long term, medium term and short-term goals
  • Money is not a goal: money is a tool that can help you to achieve goals. Money is a quantifiable measure of power and is a powerful way of moving towards a goal. It is never the end goal.

This article first appeared in Young Dentist magazine.

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