Setting Healthy Career Goals And Working Toward Them

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

It can be normal to want to be happy and prosperous in your career. Setting specific and realistic career goals can be a necessary part of seeing change and progress in life, and there are steps you can take to develop and follow through on goals like these. To get started, it can be helpful to know what healthy goals might look like, how to discover your goals, and how to seek additional resources and support if needed.  

Deciding what your career goals are isn’t always easy

What are healthy career goals?

Healthy career goals can be those that aim to help you accomplish goals and find fulfillment in your career, whether now or in the future. How achievable and realistic they are separates healthy goals from unhealthy ones. Specific, detailed goals that include an action plan may have the best chance of success without causing unnecessary stress.

In addition, it can be essential to set professional goals that allow you to continue reaching your personal goals. For example, try to outline career goals that don't hinder maintaining a work-life balance. When you prioritize work over relationships, mental health, and other parts of personhood, you might be setting yourself up for chronic stress or burnout

How to set healthy career goals

When you were finishing school or got the job you're in now, what was your future plan? What did you want to accomplish? Considering questions like these may be a positive starting point when developing your career goals. Think about where you are now and where you would like to be in five, ten, or 20 years. Are you on a path that will help you get there? If not, outline what you want or need to change to get there. 

What types of goals are healthy to set? 

Start with the basics when you're planning and setting your goals. Look at where you are now and where you would like to be. As you consider which steps to take, it may be helpful to separate your ideas into different categories, such as:

  • Short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals
  • Professional and personal goals
  • Big-picture goals and small-picture goals

With some ideas of what you'd like to see now and in the future, you can think about other goals to connect your ideas. For example, if your most significant career goal is to become a department manager, you might realize that you first need to return to school to get a degree. 

Try your best to think of any obstacles or challenges you might face preemptively and factor them into your plan. It might be easy to be highly optimistic when you make goals, but keeping them realistic and meeting yourself where you're at can be more productive. 

How to work toward your career goals 

Once you've listed your goals, list out the steps it might take to succeed in each. Keep your ideas minor, specific, and manageable for the best results. Try not to overwhelm yourself with too many details. 

For example, if you're an aspiring manager who first needs to return to school, it might help to list the following steps: 

  • Researching different schools
  • Applying for scholarships
  • Completing applications by their due date 
  • Reaching out to the business management advisor at the school you choose 

In addition, consider that your goals and plans may change over time. Maybe your goal was to be president of the company that you currently work for. However, you may decide to work for a different company after a few years. 

Changing your goals is allowed and may be highly motivating. Every six months to a year, ensuring your written goals align with your life path can be beneficial. That way, you can make the necessary changes and keep pushing forward.

Career counseling options 

The process of brainstorming, creating, and following through on career goals can be challenging. In some cases, people may not be prepared to find answers to these questions independently. In these cases, the support and guidance of a mental health professional can make navigating complicated steps easier. 

If you face barriers to in-person career counseling, you can connect with a career counselor online through a platform like BetterHelp. When you connect with a professional through the web, you can connect with someone from home and choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions. In addition, your therapist can send you online resources to look through at home. 

Research supports online therapy's ability to help individuals through periods of high stress, including young adulthood. One study showed that online therapy could effectively reduce "psychological distress" among university students, suggesting that internet-based modalities may benefit those beginning to discover career and personal goals. 

Deciding what your career goals are isn’t always easy


Healthy career goals can reflect what you want and need but may be healthiest when realistic enough to be attained. Working with a mental health professional can simplify the goal-setting process and help you understand your career path in further detail. Consider contacting a licensed therapist online or in your area to get started.
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