How to Get Ahead in Life

The desire to “get ahead in life” is common. The actual process of getting ahead, though, requires something different from everyone that wants to get there.

This is because everyone is starting from a different spot in life. Consequently, there’s an infinite amount of goals that can be considered forward progress for anyone wanting to get ahead. The only real requirement for something to be a personal milestone is that it’s something you’re aiming for that’s in some way better than what you already have.

When you’re young, getting ahead in life might mean gaining a sense of independence. You might want to own your own car, or your own place. When you’re in college, getting ahead in life might mean finishing your coursework and obtaining a degree. After college, getting ahead in life might mean getting a full time job. As your career unfolds, getting ahead in life might mean owning your own home and starting a family.

I was thinking about how personal goals actually change over time after I read this old journal entry of mine:

How can they know what’s best for me if they don’t know what makes me happy?
I don’t even know what makes me happy.

I want a decent car, I want my own place, and I want someone to fall in love with me.

Teenage angst aside, it’s interesting to look back on my past thoughts, because I clearly believed that I knew exactly what I needed in order to be happy. I thought that if I could cross the next milestone of my life, then that’s all that I needed.

The thing is, I eventually got a car, and my own place, and a girlfriend — but I wasn’t satisfied. I still craved more. I had gotten ahead compared to where I used to be, but now that I had what I used to want, I was interested in different things.

In hindsight, I think my younger self is quite naive, but I feel good about the fact that I disagree with my past thoughts. This indicates that my goals have changed, and that I’m changing as a person. I would be disappointed if I looked back on old journal entries and could totally relate to them — because that would mean that my personal development was stagnating.

My point is that as you grow older, your ideas about being successful and “getting ahead in life” will continue to change. As you reach your milestones, you will replace your previous goals with new ones. This is normal, and this is good. The important part is to maintain advancement in your life, no matter what. Here’s how:

1. Have Goals

The specifics don’t matter. Having something to aim for does. Remember that your goals in life are capable of changing, the same way that your favorite movie might change every few years. You’re not a constant being, you transform into a different person with different ideas and perspectives as life goes on. That’s normal.

One of the first “goals” I remember was wanting to score 200 lines in Tetris. Later I had a goal of owning a classic car. After that I wanted to learn computer networking. Then I wanted to be a poker star. Right now my goal is to go back to school for creative writing.

Goals change. Plan some, accomplish most, but most importantly…

2. Change Your Goals As You See Fit

Maybe you think that you want to own a house before the end of the year. You’re working towards that goal when — wait a minute, your job situation has changed and you’re no longer comfortable getting a house nearby. Who knows where your next job will take you?

Changing directions is expected. It’s not necessarily a step backwards unless you let it be. Accept that you will need to work out another goal on a different path in order to get what you want, and that’s how life works sometimes.

Having goals for what your future will hold is good thinking, but remember that it’s a rough draft that may need many edits. Finally, remember to…

3. Be Progressive, and Be Patient

We’d all love to be millionaires tomorrow, but getting ahead in life is slow-going. In order to get where you want to be, you’re going to have to realize the hard work ahead of you. Staying positive in the face of adversity is challenging. Maintaining focus often seems impossible since life offers so many different distractions.

Still, it is within your control to decide what you want to be doing, and who you want to be. The first step is acknowledgment: You’re in complete control of your life. The next step is action: What’s your move?

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3 Responses to “How to Get Ahead in Life”

#1 Shikha Rastogi on 10, Aug, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Hi Shaun,

Your article has a lot of depth which comes if you choose to learn from life experiences. I guess the most important part of life is accepting what it throws at you and still continuing to move on to achieve your goals which like you said change with life experiences.

Keep writing such articles..


#2 Cassie on 11, Aug, 2011 at 12:18 am

I fell in love with you 😉 Goal accomplished!

#3 Jill on 11, Aug, 2011 at 9:31 am

Thanks Shaun for the reminder of the simple basics of growing up. Sometimes I get mad at myself for changing my goals and my definition of “happy” but as you’ve pointed out, if those things didn’t change, it would mean I’ve stopped growing as a person, and I never want to do that.

@Cassie: aw! Lucky both of you for sharing that goal and achievement.

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