The SPIRE of Career Planning: How to Build Happiness and Optimism with Meaningful Career Goals

My first post on the SPIRE of career planning explained how to embrace a positive mindset around your career planning and then conduct a personal assessment of your purpose, values, passions, and strengths. In this post, we will explore how to incorporate those elements to set meaningful career goals and create an action plan.  The result will help you to experience greater positivity, resilience, and optimism in your career planning through the SPIRE model of happiness. 

To illustrate the process, I am delighted to share the experience of a student at Western University in London, Ontario, whom I had the pleasure of teaching in a recent Zoom class on the SPIRE of Career Planning.  The student, Amy Elizabeth Godin, shared her meaningful career goal: to land on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s list of “30 Under 30” top young classical musicians.  Let’s see how Amy’s goal achievement process helped her to inject positivity and optimism into her career planning.

The SPIRE of Goal Setting and Achievement

The process of goal setting and achievement breaks down as follows:

  • Set an inspiring goal and break it down using the SMART goal process;
  • Leverage your strengths and opportunities;
  • Identify your challenges and strategize how to overcome those challenges;
  • Take weekly action steps towards that goal;
  • Learn from what is not working, as well as build on what is succeeding;
  • Make corrections to the things that are not working; and
  • Celebrate!

The SPIRE model weaves its way through each of these elements.  Let’s see how this works!

  1. Set Meaningful Career Goals Goals

Meaningful goals are ones that you pursue out of deep personal conviction because you find them both significant and enjoyable. Meaningful goals are ones that you want to pursue as opposed to those that you feel you have to pursue. These goals are deeply meaningful to you and reflect your purpose. Meaningful goals also incorporate your values because they reflect your core principles and therefore feel important to you.  In addition, these goals reflect your passions and therefore, you enjoy working on them!

As for strengths, they are the fuel for your journey towards achieving your meaningful goals.  When setting your meaningful goals, be sure to take into account which of your strengths you can use to make those goals a reality. By incorporating purpose, values, passions, and strengths into your meaningful career goals, you infuse a sense of purpose into those goals. As such,  you experience the “S” of SPIRE or Spiritual Wellbeing.

Amy’s goal of landing on the CBC list of “30 Under 30”  classical musicians incorporated all of these elements. Her purpose is” to create engagement through music and community so that we spread  the love of music.” Her top three values are connection, passion, and relationships.  Moreover, she is passionate about music and community.  In addition, Amy’s strengths from the HIGH5 Strengths Test included two “relationship” strengths, two “influencing” strengths, and a “doing” strength.  We will see shortly how these strengths will help her to achieve her goals.  After sharing this goal with her classmates, Amy felt excited and motivated to make that goal come true!

So take a moment to frame a goal that bring together your purpose, values and passions and uses your top strengths.  How does that feel?

  1. Break them down with SMART Goals

It’s exciting to have an meaningful career goal!  It can also feel overwhelming. That’s why we need another process to help make that goal feel doable:  the SMART goal process.

SMART stands for:

  • Specific: What specifically do I want to accomplish?
  • Measurable: How will I know when I reach my goal?
  • Attainable: Is it possible for me to reach this goal? (Hint: The answer has to be yes.)
  • Realistic: How realistic is this goal in the context of my life?
  • Time-bound: In what period of time will I accomplish the goal?

The SMART goal process helps break down your meaningful career goal into manageable pieces that you accomplish in a sequence of shorter-term goals. Here’s how it works:

  • A SMART goal brings the big dream into a time period in which you can see success (T).
  • It requires you to be specific about your big goals (S and M).
  • It makes sure that you believe in your dream (A) since you must answer yes to the question, “Is it attainable?”
  • And it has a built-in reality check by asking how realistic the goal is (R).

Without SMART goals, you may be too overwhelmed to pursue your big goal.  With SMART goals, the way forward is much clearer. For more on SMART goals, check out Chapter Seven of my book, Creative Success Now.

Amy initially felt nervous about how to land up on the 30 Under 30 List since she would have to accomplish it in eight years. That’s why she volunteered to work with me on creating a SMART goal.   Here’s what we did to help her achieve her meaningful career goal in eight years.

In five years: Have an active career singing in Canadian opera companies and being visible in the Canadian opera scene. That meant being in a Young Artist Program, entering competitions, and having a robust network.

In three years: Finish a master’s in music degree and take advantage of professional performance opportunities. Invite industry leaders to performances and sending out high-quality videos to introduce myself to opera professionals.

In one year: Learn two new roles and expand my existing network to include opera professionals in other Canadian provinces.

In six months: Be accepted to graduate school and to a summer program where I can perform one new role. Invite local opera professionals to my final recital.

In three months:  Submit applications to 3 master’s degree programs and 3 summer programs. Take 3 trial lessons to meet singers in different Canadian cities.

After doing this exercise, Amy felt excited to get started on her inspirational career goal!  Excitement is a pleasurable emotion that allowed Amy to experience the “E” of SPIRE,  Emotional Wellbeing. Moreover, her SMART goals involved working with other people, the “R” of SPIRE or Relational Wellbeing.

What are you SMART goals?  Now, convert these into SMART actions that you can take towards achieving your goals!

  1. Leverage your strengths and opportunities

Now that you have broken down your inspirational goal into a SMART goal, let’s line up your assets that will help you achieve that goal.

  • Strengths

First, start with your strengths. Using your strengths feels great! That’s why they help motivate us to achieve our inspirational goals.  In fact, strengths incorporate all of the five SPIRE elements. As such, strengths provide the fuel for the journey toward meaningful goals, purpose, and happiness.

Amy’s top five strengths all come into play to help her on the way to appearing on the 30 Under 30 list.  Her influencing strength of Commander helps her to advocate for and believe in herself.  Her other influencing strength-Catalyst- means that she takes the initiative to make things happen.  And with her Focus Expert strength, she will make sure that she executes the plan from her SMART goal process.

So use your strengths to help you achieve those goals!

  • Create Opportunities

Successful creatives also know how to spot, create, and leverage opportunities. It is important to be proactive and take the initiative as you seek ways to achieve your career goals, rather than waiting for things to drop in your lap.

Think about the type of projects and/or experiences that will help build your career and your inspirational goal. Then, identify the people in your network who might support your journey towards your inspirational goal.  In addition, expand your network.

Be strategic as you identify other people with whom you can forge a mutually supportive professional relationship and proactively reach out them. By cultivating quality relationships, you can experience Relational Wellbeing! This is one area where Amy shines with her relationship strengths and her ability to get things done!

Moreover, be curious and on the lookout for the opportunities in your world! This is a great way to embed Intellectual Wellbeing into your goal-achievement process.

What opportunities can you create?

  1. Identify and overcome your challenges

 When you think more expansively about yourself and your possibilities and opportunities, how do you feel?

That positive injection is very useful when confronting the challenges to achieving one’s goals. Inevitably, there will be challenges in achieving goals. Successful people face their challenges and figure out what to do about them.

What challenges do you foresee?

It helps to slot challenges into five categories:

  1. Skills and Education
  2. Professional Experience
  3. Personal Development (e.g., time management, lack of confidence, and perfectionism)
  4. Career advancement (e.g., networking, career planning, and branding)
  5. Finances

Amy realized that she needed more professional experience if she wanted to make that 30 Under 30 list in 8 years. She also needs a graduate degree so that she can develop the practical side of her career and deepen her performance skills. As for finances, she has a summer job that pays very well and makes it possible to shoulder the expenses of an opera career: teachers, coaches, application fees and the like.

Another challenge was having the physical stamina to learn two new roles in the coming year.  For that challenge, she committed to eating and sleeping well, going for regular walks and doing mindful body exercises. The combination of physical exercise and stress relief through the mind-body connection allowed her to fold Physical Wellbeing into her goal-achievement process.

What Amy learned is a way to build optimism into your meaningful career goal-setting process.  In fact, by listing your challenges and generating strategies to overcome them, you are building resilience.  This is one of the happiness-building strategies elaborated by psychologist Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, an expert on achieving greater happiness in life.  In her book, The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want lays out additional strategies to help build happiness as you work towards inspirational career goals:

  • Express gratitude;
  • Ask yourself what is working in your life;
  • Engage in more flow activities;
  • Take actions towards achieving your big career goals; and
  • Develop strategies for coping with hardship.

These were all strategies that resonated for Amy! This was another area that made her feel confident and optimistic, again allowing for Emotional Wellbeing.

By incorporating these practices into your goal-achievement, you can overcome many of the challenges that arise and help you to feel more optimistic and successful!

  1. Strategize and Take Action

The next step to achieving your goals is to strategize both how to accomplish your SMART goal as well as how to overcome any challenges that may thwart that goal.

What might you do to achieve that goal and/or overcome the challenges?

Next,  turn those strategies into action steps with a deadline. An action step is anything you can put on a to-do list and cross off when you accomplish it. You can frame your action steps by asking yourself, “What is the first step?” or “What is stopping me?” That’s your action for the week. Make it a SMART action, with a due date and a specific, measurable result that you can accomplish.

As Amy discovered, her first SMART action was to apply to summer programs in the next three months so that she could learn one new role this summer.  Having an action step with a deadline was another way for Amy to cultivate optimism and experience Emotional Wellbeing.

What’s your action step?

  1. Learn and Grow

Successful career goal-setting is a learning process.  Here’s how to make the most of it:

  • Keep tabs on your progress: As you work on your goals, see what is working. Each time you reach a SMART goal, write down your process, concentrating on what worked, and use that process the next time you set and achieve a goal.
  • Make adjustments: When you reach one of your goals, set another. If the goal does not seem to be working, adjust and revise. Learn from your challenges.
  • Pay attention to what works and what does not: Notice what you like. What you love. What you are good at. What you are not enjoying. It’s all good information and can help you to home in on the areas that you want to explore.
  • Keep a success journal. Document your achievements. And remember that success does not have to be winning the Pulitzer Prize or getting the next promotion. When working on your goals, completing the first draft of your first chapter is a success. Showing your work to a trusted mentor and soliciting feedback is a success. Taking a break to refresh your creative process is a success!
  • Make adjustments: if you reach your goal, set another.  If the goal does not seem to be working, adjust and revise.  Learn from your challenges.

Amy loved the idea of embedding learning into her career goal process. In doing so, she can experience Intellectual Wellbeing, by being open and curious and engaging in deep learning.


To summarize, here’s how the SPIRE model of happiness can infuse resilience, optimism and happiness into your career planning process

  1. Spiritual Wellbeing:

Set meaningful career goals that incorporate your purpose, values, passions and strengths.

  1. Physical Wellbeing:

Manage and reframe stress through physical exercise and the mind-body connection.

  1. Intellectual Wellbeing:

Notice how much you are learning while working towards that meaningful career goal!
By remaining open to and curious about new opportunities, you will deepen the experience of intellectual wellbeing.

  1. Relational Wellbeing:

Taking actions towards meaningful career goals often involves working with other people.

  1. Emotional Wellbeing:

When you break down your meaningful career goals, generate strategies to overcome your challenges, and consistently take action steps that get you closer to your career goals, you feel optimistic and resilient.