I Stuck to My Career Goals and All I Got Was This Lousy Promotion and Pay Raise

Work out what you want, and how to get it.
Illustration by Ben Thomson

This article is supported by TAFE Queensland, who can help give you the skills for a range of jobs. In this series, we look at work life and careers.

It's not highschool anymore. Your weird careers advisor with the novelty mug collection—"to someone who is outstanding in the field" and it's a photo of a cow in a field—is still working at your high school. They're not here to hold your hand (creepy, inappropriate) and guide you through the confusing maze of your 20s. It's up to you to work out how to move up the food chain and go from cubicle to corner office, or, at least, to someone who is semi-respected in the workplace. You could even be one of those important guys with a bluetooth headset. Think big.


Pretty much, you're never going to get that Peabody Award if you can't even get the cat hair out of your laptop keyboard. Thankfully, there are some people out there who aren't liquid-humans who just slink around living in the moment, avoiding all responsibility and concern for the future. We asked them to share their wisdom with us so we can become the 30 under 30s we deserve to be.


There are three main steps in setting goals: identifying what's important; being realistic; and avoiding procrastination so that you can actually make it happen.

"You need to sit down and work out what qualities you want to have in your life: what gives your life meaning and purpose," says clinical psychologist Birgit O'Sheedy. "Very often when people are failing with their goals it's because they're not matched to their values." So, for example, you might value being active but you work in a job where you're completely inert and stuck to a swivel chair for 8 hours a day. Or perhaps you value creativity but you've found yourself plugging data into spreadsheets and staring at numbers.

Make sure you're being realistic about the legwork that will need to go into achieving your goals. "If you're worried about failing and you don't give yourself enough time to put enough effort in, you have a self-fulfilling prophecy—it's a vicious cycle."

Procrastination gets in the way of accomplishing… anything. We all know that when we start to associate work with discomfort, we put it off and then get anxious about it—particularly if we're nervous about failing.


But O'Sheedy has a way of reframing anxiety: replacing it with courage.

"If you're anxious about failing at something and that's how you procrastinate, that anxiety could be turned into bravery or courage—because anxiety and courage can feel very similar but the outcome is different."

Think of it like this: the more anxious you are about doing something, but you do it anyway, the more courage you have. "With anxiety you wait: You don't do it and you procrastinate, but if you're brave, you go ahead and you do it."


Alicia Coombs Marr is a people experience partner. That might sound like a totally made up job title, but we checked and it's a real thing and she is a real person. Basically, she works with clients to make their careers more fulfilling. She says it's important to consider work as well as life outside work when you're setting career goals.

List the things you value, then work out what exactly your job is ticking off. If there's a bunch left unanswered for, you could start looking at your options. Things like being able to travel for work, or even going back to study.

Make it official. "Don't just think about your career goals, write them down and share them with people who are important in your life."

"Once you start talking about them and saying them out loud, the people around you can assist in making you feel accountable in achieving those goals."

In other words, you'll be more likely to follow-through with your ideas if you're motivated by the fear of looking like a cop out.


Your goals can change, and that's OK. Be nice to yourself. You're not an efficiency robot—and you don't want to be. Just think of the new skills you've learnt along the way, whether that's public speaking or basketry (if LinkedIn says it's a skill, it is).


"The most productive people don't work on mindless autopilot mode. They work deliberately," productivity expert Chris Bailey tells VICE.

This doesn't mean crafting crazy to-do lists. This means working smarter, not harder—which is another way of saying stop and think about what you're doing before you turn into a flustered caricature of yourself.

Over-scheduling can be a form of procrastination. If you're always obsessing about time, you don't end up with any of it. "When we spend all day planning and organising what's on our plate, we have little time to work on what's important," Bailey says.

Instead, choose the three main things you want to achieve by the end of the day. "It's pretty easy to remember three things, and choosing only three forces you to prioritise what's actually important." Things like: get inbox down to 0; file a bunch of invoices; learn Latin.

When you've completed your three goals, finish the day by recalling three things that you're thankful for. It sounds cheesy, but it works.

"So often our work rewards us for noticing and fixing problems—and recalling what we're grateful for flips that around, and helps us think about all of the positive elements in our life."

"For each minute you meditate, or spend mindfully, you earn that time back and then some, in how much more focused you become."

Instead of setting long-term career goals the same way you might think about finances or relationships, consider an eighteen month plan instead. "If you know exactly where you'll be in five years, chances are you're playing it way too safe or you're not accounting for all of the risk ahead."

This article is supported by TAFE Queensland. You can find out more about their diplomas here.