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Job goals by age

  • Story Highlights
  • In your 20s, focus on exploring options and building a good work record
  • Leadership and management skills become important in your 30s
  • In your 40s, examine work-life balance; focus on the future in the next decade
  • Next Article in Living »
By Meg Donohue
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( -- Each decade of life brings a set new of challenges as working professionals move into different phases of both their careers and personal lives.

Entering a new decade of life can be a perfect time to take stock of one's situation, reevaluate priorities and set career goals for the years ahead.

Setting goals makes people "feel more in control of their destiny, which in turn makes for positive feelings and a sense of purpose," says Laura Berman Fortgang, a pioneer in the life coaching field and the author of several bestselling books, including "Take Yourself to the Top."

Nevertheless, Fortgang cautions that people should remain flexible in their goals: "Being too tethered to one specific outcome can jeopardize one's ability to recognize other opportunities when they become available."

In your 20s: Establish a positive work record

Relax -- you don't need to know exactly what you're going to do with your life just yet. It makes sense to explore your options at this early stage of your working life, as long as you build skills and make contacts along the way.

"Deciding what to do long-term is more organic than most people think," Fortgang says, adding that what is essential during this decade is to establish a good work record.

"The people you work with ... in your early years could become life-long supporters, mentors and references for years to come. So building a good reputation is important even if you don't see yourself sticking in your current job for long."

In your 30s: Focus on becoming a leader

People often enter their first management positions in their 30s, and the "switch from being a worker-bee to a leader-in-training ... [requires] a change in mindset," Fortgang asserts.

"The goal here," Fortang says, "is to get recognized for all you have done, and parlay that into a more focused path." Document your accomplishments so that when it comes time for annual reviews, you have proof of your hard work and leadership experience (or potential).

In your 40s: Re-examine your definition of success

In this decade, people get very serious about their earning power and [set their sights on] top roles that could potentially be theirs now or in the next decade, Fortang reveals.

"This is also the time of mid-life crises," Fortgang warns, which often result in people questioning their careers.

This decade is a good time to take stock of the direction your career path is headed and to evaluate your work-life balance.

What will make you feel successful? Occupying a high-level position within your company or field? Reaching your full earning potential? Having the flexibility to spend more time with your family? Retiring early?

Re-examine your definition of success and adjust your career path accordingly.

In your 50s: Envision your future

"People are usually well established now and peeking over the horizon to retirement," Fortgang says. "Even if [retirement] is not immediately eminent, they are setting themselves up now for what they want in the future."

Set a tentative timetable for the working years ahead. No matter what you see in your future -- whether it's retirement, a second career or more years on your current career path -- it's important to be aware of your financial savings and investments.

Understand your vision of the future and be sure you've planned for as many unforeseeable twists as possible.

In your 60s (and beyond): Reap what you've sown

You've worked hard, and perhaps you have no plans to slow down now. Whatever the future of your career path looks like at this point, your goal should be to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

"This is a time when many people seek some final educational goals that they might have missed out on," Fortgang reveals. "Or they plan to take advantage of all that their employer can offer them in terms of opportunity -- education, travel, maximum financial benefits, a final promotion -- whatever the case may be. It's the 'reap what you've sewn' time."


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