How to Set Goals for Your Military Career

In today’s post, I want to teach you how to set goals for your military career. 

I’ve always been a big fan of goal setting. Something magical happens when you take out a piece of paper and write down your goals. Less than 3% of all Americans actually do this, and I truly believe that’s one of the major reasons most people aren’t as successful as they could be.

A goal is something specific. It’s something you want to do, it’s written down, and given a deadline. Here are several example goals, just to get you thinking.

  1. I will improve my promotion points from 435 points to 550 points within the next 12-months.
  2. I will finish my online Army ILE Course by June 2022.
  3. I will complete 45 points worth of Army Correspondence Courses within the next 90-days.

These goals are specific. You know what you need to do and when you will achieve it by. Make sense?

Once you know your goals, you can then develop an action plan to attain that goal. However, if you don’t clearly identify a goal and write it down, you won’t achieve it! From this day forward, I suggest you to write down your military, personal, financial, family, and professional goals.

how to set goals for your military career

How to Set Goals for Your Military Career

What I want to do in the remainder of this article is teach you how to set goals for your military career. I will provide step-by-step instructions so you can learn for yourself. Here’s what you need to get started:

  • A one inch three ring binder
  • 4 document protectors
  • 4 blank pieces of paper
  • A pen or pencil

Step # 1: Write Down Your Career Goal in One to Two Sentences

The first step to setting goals for your military career is to write out your career goals. If you’re like most folks you probably don’t know EXACTLY what you want to achieve in your military career. That’s fine. It’s actually quite normal. But you should still set some type of goal. You can change it later on. Here is an example of a career goal statement.

My goal is to retire as a Lieutenant Colonel with 24 years of service and have a pension of $2,000 per month. In my last duty assignment, I want to serve as a Battalion Commander of an Infantry Battalion. I would also like to graduate the Army War College.

Once again, this is just an example. There is no right or wrong answer. What you want out of your military career is totally up to you.

Step # 2: Determine What You Must Do to Reach Your Goals

In this step you would simply do your backwards planning. Once you know what you want to achieve in your military career, you must write down the big things you need to accomplish to reach these goals. Here is an example, assuming you are a brand new Captain.

  • Retire with 24-years of service.
  • Have 2,400 retirement points when I retire.
  • Spend two years as a Battalion Commander.
  • Graduate the Army War College.
  • Promotion to LTC.
  • Serve as a Battalion S3 and Battalion XO.
  • Graduate ILE.
  • Promotion to Major.
  • Spend two years as a Company Commander.
  • Complete one year as a Battalion Staff Officer.
  • Complete Captain’s Career Course.

Step # 3: Establish Your Five Year Goals

Once you know your career goals, and how you will get there, it’s important to set your five years goals. This is simply the process of breaking your career goals into bite-sized chunks. Here are some example five year goals, based upon the example above.

  • Get promoted to Major.
  • Get Selected to Company Command and spend two years in command.
  • Finish my Master’s Degree.
  • Finish the Captain’s Career Course.

Step # 4: Set Your One Year Goals

Once your five year goals are finished, it’s time to set your one year goals. Ideally, you want to identify five to ten big things you must accomplish during the year to move you closer to your five year goals and long-term goals. Here are some example one year goals.

  • Complete Captain’s Career Course.
  • Max the Annual APFT.
  • Get Selected for Battalion S4 position.
  • Earn 125 retirement points.
  • Complete four correspondence courses.

Step # 5: Set Your Monthly Goals

Now that you know your career, five year, and one year goals it is time to set some monthly goals. This is nothing more than taking your one year goals and breaking it down into what you must do each month to reach your one year goals. Here are some example monthly goals.

  • Read two leadership books.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Max the APFT.
  • Complete one correspondence course.
  • Enroll in Captain’s Career Course.
  • Build a Leader’s Book.
  • Join Military Officers Association (MOAA).

Step # 6: Review Your Goals Monthly

Congratulations, you’ve done the hardest part by writing down your goals. Now you’re ready for the next step. Each month, on the first of the month you want to do two things. First off, you want to review the previous month. Analyze how you did with each one of your monthly goals for the previous month. Do a quick AAR. From there, set goals for the following month. Repeat this process EVERY month and never stop.

Step # 7: Update Your One Year, Five Year, and Career Goals Yearly

Each year, on the first or second day of the year, you should review your one year, five year, and long term goals. This is when you review the previous year and analyze what went right and what went wrong. Next, you set goals for the new year. You should also review your five year and career goals and make any changes as necessary. I spend about one to two hours a year doing this and it works really well. Remember, sometimes goals will change, so it’s important to review your BIG, long-term goals each year.

Depending on the goals you set, make it a point to revisit your goals on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. How are you trending toward achieving them? Do you need to course correct? ~

Final Thoughts

In summary, these are the seven steps to setting goals for your military career. Here’s the bottom line:

  • Create your own goals book like I described above.
  • Write out your career goals, five year goals, one year goals and one monthly goals (each on a separate piece of paper).
  • Review and update your monthly goals each month.
  • Review your one year, five year, and career goals once a year.
  • Put everything in writing (handwritten is fine).
  • Keep your goal book with you at all times and refer to it daily.
  • Teach your subordinates how to do this.

I’ve been following this exact same process for more than 10-years now and it has completely changed my life for the better. I know it will have the same impact on you. I encourage you to try it out, even for just one year. If you don’t find value in doing it, stop! But to be honest with you, I’ve never known anyone who started setting written goals, who followed the process outlined above, who stopped doing this. It is completely life changing.

What are your thoughts about how to set goals for your military career? What do you do and recommend?  Leave a comment and let us know. I look forward to hearing from you.

Here are a few books I recommend about goal setting. You can get them on Amazon.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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5 thoughts on “How to Set Goals for Your Military Career”

  1. Great advice Sir; I tailored it to fit my career and it’s a good start. One thing I have done in the past and its another “way” is to white board with a mentor. That kind of goes into a quick deep dive and then take notes from there.

    I was enlisted in Air Force for 17 years and now the Army for 3.5 years and sometimes its like apples and oranges especially going from a SNCO to a 2LT/1LT. My leadership style has been altered a bit (to be expected) but I never lose site of taking care of my people.

    Thanks again and I’ll look for more stuff from your site in the coming year. Take care!


  2. Chuck, this is a a great example you posted on setting goals. You showed how to break it down into objectives that make the overall goals easy to reach.

    I would also suggest to break it down even further, such as, what do I need to do Monday, or Tuesday. This will help you use time management so you do not neglect other responsibilities like family obligations.

    Goals are the best way to succeed. I believe if you asked any successful person how they did it, setting goals would be very high on the list.

    Thanks for this post Chuck. It is a great one for military leaders and civilians alike.

    1. Yes, breaking your goals down into daily actionable items is a smart way to go. Your daily routine should reflect what you are trying to accomplishing in the next week, month, quarter, and year.

  3. These are great tips, Chuck! I think one of the biggest mistakes those who enlist make, it NOT having a plan in place. What do you want to get out of your military career, besides a paycheck and free education? The military has so much to offer and you have to know what you want to get from it to be truly successful. There are so many resources available, so research them. Find something that inspires, motivates you and use that as a starting point to putting a plan in place.

    1. Yes, I wish everyone who joined the military would take the time to develop a plan for their life and career. No one should leave the military in a worse situation than they were in when they joined the military. Setting goals and developing an action plan will help you avoid that.

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