Finding a fulfilling career can sometimes feel impossible. More than half of U.S. workers don’t feel engaged at their jobs according to a 2017 report by Gallup, and 16 percent of employees said they were even, “actively disengaged.”
But according to Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio, the first step is clearly setting your goals.
“Your choice of goals will determine your direction,” Dalio writes in his 2017 book “Principles: Life & Work.” “There is always a best possible path. Your job is to find it and have the courage to follow it,” he writes.
Of course, goal-setting, especially when the outcome is high stakes, isn’t always easy either and mistakes can have lasting impact. So to set the best, clearest goals, here are four pitfalls to avoid, according to the 69-year-old hedge fund magnate.
1. Becoming overwhelmed with possibilities
First, you have to make big decisions about what you want most, Dalio writes. That means focusing on some priorities while letting go of others.
“While you can have virtually anything you want, you can’t have everything you want,” he explains. “Life is like a giant smorgasbord with more delicious alternatives than you can ever hope to taste. Choosing a goal often means rejecting some things you want in order to get other things that you want or need even more.”
Not being selective is a big mistake, Dalio contends.
“Some people fail at this point, before they have even started. Afraid to reject a good alternative for a better one, they try to pursue too many goals at once, achieving few or none of them,” he writes. “Don’t let yourself be paralyzed by all the choices.”
Dalio himself found his path to finance as a young person: He bought his first stock at 12 years old, graduated from Harvard Business School in his 20s, and launched Bridgewater Associates from his two-bedroom apartment in New York as a 26-year-old. It’s now grown to become the world’s largest hedge fund, managing about $160 billion in assets, according to Bridgewater’s website.
2. Confusing a goal with a desire
When you’re considering what priorities or ambitions to focus on, be clear about the difference between a goal and a desire.
“A proper goal is something that you really need to achieve,” Dalio writes. “Desires are things that you want that can prevent you from reaching your goals.”
As an example, “your goal might be physical fitness, while your desire is to eat good-tasting but unhealthy food,” he writes. “Don’t get me wrong, if you want to be a couch potato, that’s fine with me. You can pursue whatever goals you want. But if you don’t want to be a couch potato, then you better not open that bag of chips.”
When it comes to a career however, desires and goals can be aligned (unlike chips and healthy habits.) For example, if your desire is to spend time working with people instead of being trapped behind a desk, while your goal is to make a difference in your local community, find a job that lets you do both.
“Decide what you really want in life by reconciling your goals and your desires,” Dalio writes. “What will ultimately fulfill you are things that feel right at both levels, as both desires and goals.”
3. Focusing on the wrong reward
The motivation behind your goals should be about more than money, Dalio writes.
“Don’t mistake the trappings of success for success itself,” he advises. “Achievement orientation is important, but people who obsess over a $1,200 pair of shoes or a fancy car are very rarely happy because they don’t know what it is they really want, and hence what will satisfy them.”
Indeed, many successful entrepreneurs agree they were motivated by fulfillment, not money. Apple CEO Tim Cook, Richard Branson and even Warren Buffett are among the business leaders who advocate for finding meaning outside of wealth.
“Don’t work for money — it will wear out fast, or you’ll never make enough and you will never be happy, one or the other,” Cook said in 2017.
4. Not dreaming big enough
When it comes to setting your goals, the sky is the limit. There are a few exceptions, like “playing center on a professional basketball team if you’re short, or running a four-minute mile at age 70,” Dalio writes, but aside from that there is no dream too big to tackle.
“What you think is attainable is just a function of what you know at the moment,” he writes. “Remember that great expectations create great capabilities. If you limit your goals to what you know you can achieve, you are setting the bar way too low.”