My definition of success and the expectation vs reality of achieving goals after college

Need help setting goals after graduating from college? Be sure to define what success looks like to YOU before setting them.

College-senior-me set pretty ambitious goals for life after college. All of these goals were attributed to the fact that I wanted to live and work in the city while I was in my twenties. My vision was a combination of the office life I saw my mom have and all of the tv shows and movies I saw about people who live and work in the city.

I wanted to share with you all of the goals I set, what I envisioned accomplishing these goals looked like, and what it actually looked like for me to accomplish those goals. The main reason I want to do this is that for a long time, I felt like I had failed because the reality of accomplishing these goals didn’t turn out like I thought they would.

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Goal 1: Get a full-time, salary job in marketing


A steady office job from 9-5, trying out a new lunch place every day, and free time outside of those working hours.


A steady office job from 6 am – 6 pm M-F and 2-4 hours every weekend day, bringing home lunch and eating at my desk while working, and at least two hours of commuting to and from work every day.

When all is said and done, I did accomplish the goal of getting a full-time, salary job in marketing. But because it didn’t turn out anything like I imagined, I felt like I failed. I think that if I had done a better job of defining what success looked like (a full-time, salary job where I only worked 9-5 M-F), I would have done a better job at looking for companies with employees who live this.

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Goal 2:  Pay off student loans


Never have to worry about money because I won’t be in debt anymore so all of the money I make is mine.


It’s just the beginning

I paid off my student loans in less than five months so you would think that I would have felt accomplished. But, I learned that once you pay off your student loans, you’ll find that you have so much more financial goals ahead of you — buying a house, buying a car, saving for a special trip, etc. So I am always going to have to be conscious of my money. If I had done a better job of understanding what success meant (not having to live in debt anymore), I would have felt what an accomplishment paying off my loans was.

Goal 3: Move into the city

(and go to all the events and not have to worry about parking).


Stop at a coffee shop and leisurely walk to work while listening to an audiobook/podcast/music. Go to happy hours with coworkers after work. Get brunch with friends on weekends. Explore the city every weekend


I moved to the city when I could afford to pay rent and city-priced groceries. But very quickly realized that I was “house-poor.” It wasn’t until I got a huge raise and my boyfriend moved in that I was able to do all the fun things.

Had I done a better job of defining what was needed to succeed, I would have known to stay outside of the city until I could afford to both live in the city and go to fun events.

Goal 4: Live a short walking-distance away from work


Have more time because I wasn’t commuting 1.5 hours each way


Spent more time working. Still felt like I had no time. Speed-walked to work, got to work sweaty, cooled off, and changed in the bathroom.

I moved into the city and walked to work every day, which means that I did accomplish my goal. Because I didn’t feel like I had extra time, I felt like I failed. But had I done a better job of defining success, I would have done a better job of prioritizing and setting boundaries for myself so that I could find the time.

What all of this means for you

All of this to say that when setting goals, it’s important to define what success looks like for you so that you can appropriately set realistic goals and expectations. If you need help with goal setting during your job hunt, don’t forget to grab your free copy of the job-hunting game plan.

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