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How to Use Short-Term Goals for Long-Term Success

by Taylor Slattery | May 8, 2023

How to Use Short-Term Goals for Long-Term Success

When you think about your career goals, what comes to mind? For most people, it’s usually something lofty, far-off in the distant future. While there’s certainly value in being ambitious and thinking about your long-term career trajectory, finding ways to bridge our present circumstances with where we’d ultimately like to end up becomes increasingly complex the larger our goals are. Short-term goals are actually much better tools for guiding our actions in the present to bring us closer to our desired outcome. They also grant us more flexibility, leaving us room to adjust for any unforeseen life changes or to respond to opportunities we might not have accounted for in our life’s plan.

Long-term goals can be misleading. In the present, we know what we want and we make plans under the assumption that the future version of ourselves will want the same thing, but as we grow into our careers and grow older as people, priorities can shift and our values may no longer align with the vision we had at the outset. Long-term goals feel concrete because we can attach labels to them. “I’d like to be the Creative Director of Nike by age 30” feels precise because we’ve established a destination and a timeframe, but the exact means of getting there aren’t so straightforward.

Man overlooking a road with a view of a skyline

You might imagine the general path would be to first get a degree, find a job as a designer, and then consistently work hard for long enough until your efforts are noticed and you’re eventually promoted up the ladder to the position of creative director. In reality, the qualities that make someone a good designer aren’t necessarily the same as those that will make a good creative director, and any interview with current working creative directors will tell you as much.

There are many different hats a creative director needs to wear that graphic designers may not get a chance to try on in their day-to-day. Undoubtedly, talent is part of the equation, and there’s overlap between being an effective designer and creative director for sure, but many of the skills required of creative directors aren’t taught in most design schools. Things like soft skills, management, sales, and other business-related skills become increasingly important the further up the ladder you move in any creative department or agency. Building these skills requires deliberate practice and consistent exposure to situations that will allow you to develop in these areas.

Breaking long-term goals into smaller steps makes it easier to track your progress and gives you the opportunity to celebrate smaller wins along the way and keep motivation high. Instead of focusing single-mindedly on an outcome that’s ultimately out of your control, focus instead on the processes that will bring you closer to your goal, and gradually develop the skills necessary to increase the likelihood of it happening should the opportunity present itself.

Woman reading a map in front of a lake

To start developing the skills needed to become a creative director, you could volunteer to take on more responsibilities at work. A goal might look like leading some smaller projects, mentoring some of the more junior members of the team, or finding ways to collaborate with different departments where you can learn things like sales or management. Focus on learning as much as you can from the process, be willing to make mistakes, take advice, and absorb information from any and every source. By doing so, you’re bound to pick up a few new tricks and meet some new faces that might lead to future work opportunities. Approaching your long-term goals in bite-size pieces leaves you room to adjust to circumstances and respond to any new opportunities that may present themselves along the way. Who knows, you may even discover something you’ll enjoy even more than being a creative director.


Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.


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