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By: Jessica Dokachev

Y’all may remember the wildly talented winner of our last writing contest, Jessica Dokachev. Today Jessica stopped by The Paralegal Society to share some insight on the art of goal setting. Who couldn’t use a few extra tips on mastering the muster? I know I sure could! Heck, some days just mustering my way on up to that paper-covered desk, past the caffeinated beverage of happiness, into the land of esquired craziness and endless deadlines is a paralegal sanity challenge of the greatest magnitude! Jessica is here to tell you what you need to know about setting your next big goal.

You gotta have a goal. No matter what you are doing, trying to do, or even thinking about doing, you gotta have a goal. Throughout the course of a paralegal’s career, that goal changes. What you need to achieve that goal does not. You need vision, a plan, and motivation. No one gets anywhere without those three things.

Start with your vision. Yes, I know this sounds like the dreaded “Where do you see yourself in (two, five, ten) years?” interview question. I hate that one, but we must be able to answer it in our own heads, even if we haven’t yet mastered how to articulate it to someone else. You have to identify where you want to go before you can plan for how to get there. At first, my vision was to complete my Paralegal Studies certificate, with a 4.0, because I don’t aim low. Now that I have achieved that one, my new vision is getting hired. I am working very hard at being confident that I will also realize this vision, at which point, my goal will change again. When I know what that one is, I’ll let you all know, too.

So, wherever you are in your paralegal journey, what’s your vision? Are you in school, envisioning your graduation date? Are you job-seeking, and envisioning the “You’re Hired!” phone call? Maybe you are working in the field, and envisioning a change to a different practice area, a promotion, or a transition into firm administration. Wherever you are, and whatever you want for yourself next, define your vision of what the next step of success looks like for you.

Once you have crystallized your vision for your next big step, what’s your plan? How do you get from here to there? When I decided to pursue my paralegal certificate, I knew I needed a plan in order to fit school into a life that was already busy. I needed to know when I could go to class, when I could read, study, complete projects, and do all of those things around a husband, a couple of little boys, a house, a large (and mostly crazy) family, and a whole bunch of other life-type things that swirl all around me. I needed to plan for how to handle the costs, the competing priorities, and also my own insecurities over going back to school now that I’m so much older than I was last time I attended, and so much older than the other students in the room.

The plan is the key. A vision only takes you so far. It tells you what you want, but not how to get it. Knowing where you want to drive to for a beautiful weekend away doesn’t get you to sleeping late and a champagne brunch if you don’t have directions to get from point A to point fabulous B&B. So, like a general launching his assault, make your plan. Write it out, draw a map if you have to, put together a flow-chart if you’re that kind of OCD. Tell someone about it, because we can all use some support while pursuing our goals, and the accountability that comes with someone knowing what you are trying to achieve is a great help with the third component, motivation.

What motivates you? Knowing this is half the battle. It is the carrot on the end of the stick that keeps you moving forward. I am motivated by challenge. My husband finished his Software Engineering master’s degree with a 4.0. My Mother-in-law, with four children compared to my two, finished her Paralegal Studies program with a 4.0. There was no way I was going to come away with less. The idea of not measuring up is what motivated me to keep at the books an extra hour when I was tired, what made me double check my 20 page report one, or more, times before I turned it in, and what sent me to class the next morning after being up all night with a flu-ridden kid. I feel the same way as I now begin the process of looking for a job as a new paralegal. I am motivated to look for opportunities, to go the extra mile in researching before an interview, to read one more article on how to follow up after the interview or how to improve my resume because I would hate to fail at this new challenge. I am motivated by other things, as well; intellectual growth being a big one, but a new challenge is the one that moves me most effectively. Your motivation may be something entirely different, but mine works for me, and gets me where I want to go.

Finding your motivation is not always easy, and requires some self-awareness. Knowing what gets you out of bed in the morning and moving forward isn’t always easy. Many of us just assume it’s the paycheck, the routine, or because we don’t have a choice. Those are rarely true. It’s usually something more internal than that. It’s a need to feel useful, or to be validated and appreciated, or a level of competitiveness that drives us forward. Salaries and promotions and awards are symbols of those things. Figuring out what moves you is the element of this equation that will cement your vision of where you want to go, and keep you following your plan.

So, now you know what you want, you’ve planned out how to get it, and you have spent some time figuring out what will motivate you to keep you on track while you pursue it. What are you waiting for? Keep your eyes on the prize, your feet on your path, and make it happen!

Jessica Dokachev will receive her Certificate in Paralegal Studies in August, 2013 from Lehigh Carbon Community College. She is employed as a program coordinator in local government, performing contracts administration and regulatory compliance work.

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“A goal is a dream with a deadline.”

– Napoleon Hill

“The major reason for setting a goal is for what it makes of you to accomplish it. What it makes of you will always be the far greater value than what you get.”

– Jim Rohn 

“You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure a failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give.”

– E.O. Wilson

“The whole world steps aside for the man who knows where he is going.”

– Unknown

So where are you going? Select a goal, master the muster, and make it happen! Begin today.