Don’t let “Career Goal” limit you

“What’s your career goal” is a very common interview question. Too common that even few interviewers have a clue why they ask. What do you say? Do you find yourself come up with a goal or two that make you sound a “perfect fit” for the job? If you are honest enough to yourself, I bet many will answer yes.

I admit I used to, but not any more. Because I realized that “career goals” are limiting beliefs. A better way is to keep re-creating yourself, rather than defining a goal and then working toward it. A good analogy is ice sculpture. An artist starts with a big chunk of ice and a shape in her mind (goal). Then she chisels it to make a sculpture.

But a person is not a chunk of ice. We were born with literally nothing except for the genetics our parents passed down. We start like a little piece of clay, and we add (and remove) nuts and bolts as we grow. We pick up a new skill. We travel to a new city. We move to a new job. We start a new journey. We meet a new friend. We read a new book. We watch a new show. We listen to a new story. We encounter a new challenge. We discover a new hobby. It goes on and on. Everything happening around us is shaping us.

Then why limit yourself to a specific “shape” to be chiseled? Why not be flexible, curious, and keep looking and re-creating yourself? Only keep re-creating yourself will you uncover more of your inner talents and broaden your horizon.

A career goal may be dangerously limiting because you confine yourself to a defined, narrow path. In doing so, you may miss opportunities to pursue other paths that may be much more exciting to you. The more you walk down the path, the narrower your horizon becomes. And a career goal may seem plausible at present, but as things change, you better off adapt than persevere because today’s truth may be tomorrow’s false.

Your goal is to become a good software developer? Great choice! But as you move forward, you may find you’re really good at — and more excited about — figuring out product strategy. You may shine more as a product guy than a coder.

Your goal is to become a good visual designer? Great choice too! But as you move forward, you may find you’re really good at — and more passionate about — writing code and building stuff. You may shine more as a developer.

When I was pursuing the PhD at Virginia Tech, I built a fine track record and I “decided” to be a scientist for the rest of my life. But some experiences shaped my point of view on research, and I uncovered I’m more excited about building real things that help others. So I became an entrepreneur and product designer. I’ve had a fulfilling career so far. And I am hungry to continue re-creating myself by exposing and experimenting more. In 2026, maybe I will find myself build self-driving cars, or maybe I will find myself make tissues from stem cells, or maybe I will find myself save endangered animals. I don’t know what to come but I know the only limit to a kaleidoscopic life is my own decision — be a chunk of ice, or a piece of clay.

Stay hungry. Stay young. Don’t settle. Keep recreating.


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