Inner Goals vs. Outer Goals: Important Forces Guiding Your Professional Development

Hey there! We’re about to start a journey into the world of professional growth.

I’ll be discussing inner goals and outer goals – two sides of the same coin that can help you reach new heights in your career.

Inner goals focus on personal growth and emotions. They involve building confidence, improving communication, and finding satisfaction in your work. They’re about your internal experiences.

Outer goals, on the other hand, are tangible and visible. They can be shared with others or listed on a checklist. Examples include getting a promotion, completing a project, or acquiring new skills. They’re about what you can accomplish in the external world.

Definitions and Examples

inner goals vs outer goals

First things first, let’s make these terms easier to understand.

Inner goals are all about your personal growth and making yourself happy. They are personal and have a lot to do with what you believe in and what you love. Like getting better at talking to people or becoming a leader.

On the other hand, outer goals are all about reaching specific things that you can measure and show off to other people. They usually involve getting recognized by others, like getting a better job or making more money.

The Power of Inner Goals

Inner goals are like the compass guiding your ship. They provide direction and purpose, and they keep you motivated during challenging times. Inner goals also act as a reminder to continuously challenge ourselves and focus on developing our skills and knowledge, which is essential for career growth.

inner goals

By focusing on inner goals, you cultivate skills and qualities that make you not just a better professional, but a better person too.

Plus, achieving inner goals often brings deep, lasting satisfaction that external rewards cannot match.

Intrinsic Motivation: Inner goals usually come from what we deeply desire. They connect to the things we love and believe in. Let me share a personal story! Once, I took a break from all things work-related to write poems. I didn’t have a book deal or any recognition in mind—I just wanted to express myself and explore the power of words. What motivated me? Simply my own inner passion.

There is power in intrinsic motivation.

Long-Term Fulfillment: Achieving inner goals gives a kind of satisfaction that’s long-lasting. It’s like the warm, fuzzy feeling you get from a hug, lingering long after the embrace ends.

Resilience & Personal Growth: When we’re powered by inner goals, we become remarkably resilient. One of my clients, we’ll call her Mika, aimed to cultivate a daily meditation practice. Despite her hectic role as a business owner, this inner goal gave her strength, peace, and clarity—even on Mondays!

Other examples of inner goals include being more organized, developing better study skills, or taking on a new hobby.

Being organized and having good study skills can help you plan and prioritize activities while juggling multiple tasks. Achieving these goals will give you a sense of accomplishment and may improve your time management skills.

As for the new hobby, this could be anything from playing an instrument to gardening – it’s completely up to you.

Key Takeaway: Inner goals are a great way to motivate ourselves to achieve our professional objectives. They can help us stay focused on our goals and give us the drive we need to keep developing ourselves professionally. Having clear inner goals can provide us with an extra boost of motivation, pushing us further towards success.

The Attraction of Outer Goals

Outer goals, on the other hand, are like the wind in your sails. They give you momentum and offer tangible markers of your progress.

They’re exciting, they’re visible, and they often come with perks – who doesn’t love a good bonus or a well-deserved promotion?

Having outer goals helps us stay focused and motivated throughout our journey, despite any obstacles along the way. When we reach these goals, they can also provide us with a sense of accomplishment and pride in our achievements.

Plus, outer goals can boost your confidence and establish your reputation in your field.

Other examples of outer goals include obtaining certifications, being published in a journal, going to conferences, or giving speeches. Achieving these can make you feel proud of your accomplishments and help you stand out from the competition.

External Validation: We like to be social and get recognition. It’s exciting to meet our goals and feel good about ourselves. Remember that feeling when your work presentation gets a big round of applause!

Tangible Milestones: Outer goals are like signposts on our journey. Clear, visible, measurable. I recall a friend who, as a new author, aimed to sell 1,000 books. That tangible target? Definitely an outer goal.

Economic & Social Advantages: No lie, some outer goals, like snagging that dream job, can lead to real advantages. Better resources, opportunities, and networks—can all stem from outer goals. And hey, who wouldn’t mind the perks?

Key Takeaway: Outer goals are an essential part of professional development as they provide motivation and direction in our careers. They allow us to create a vision for our professional lives, identify what we want to achieve, and create a plan on how to get there. With that being said, it’s important to set realistic yet ambitious outer goals that will challenge you but not discourage you. Having something to strive towards can be incredibly rewarding and exciting!

Balancing Inner and Outer Goals for Holistic Success

Now, the magic happens when you balance your inner and outer goals.

Just like yin and yang, they work together and create a complete way to grow professionally. Inner goals keep you happy and satisfied, while outer goals help you improve and succeed.

It’s like having the best of both worlds!

The Role of Each: Both inner and outer goals have pivotal roles. It’s like having both the sun and the moon. One illuminates your day, and the other guides your night.

Striking the Right Balance: Too much emphasis on one can leave us feeling off-kilter. A client, Jake (another name change), was all about outer goals. Yet, he felt an emptiness inside. Together, we unearthed his inner goals, like mentoring young talent. It changed his life’s rhythm!

Tips for Harmonizing Both: Think of your goals as a duet. Let your inner and outer goals sing together. Align your tangible achievements with your values. And remember, it’s okay to want the corner office and inner peace.

Tips for Setting Aligned Goals

  1. Identify your core values: Knowing what is most important to you is a crucial step in matching your personal and professional goals. Once you figure out these values, you can set goals that show them.
  2. Visualize your ideal future: Imagine where you want to be in the next 3-5 years. This visualization exercise can help you see the bigger picture and understand the goals that will get you there.
  3. Set SMART goals: Make sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. SMART goals are more effective and provide a clear path toward achievement.
  4. Prioritize your goals: Every goal is special and should be given its own priority. By figuring out what’s important and urgent, you can focus your energy on what matters most.
  5. Stay flexible: Accept that your goals may need to change as circumstances in your life change. Remain open to adjustments and always stay attuned to your core values.

By using these tips, you can create goals that not only help your career but also match your values and dreams, leading to a more satisfying life.

You may also like: 15 Strategies for Professional Growth: The Ultimate Guide to Future-Proofing Your Career

Case Studies

Consider the story of Deena, a marketing executive. Her outer goal was to lead a successful campaign that would increase company sales by 15%. Her inner goal, however, was to become a more confident public speaker.

By balancing both goals, she not only led her team to meet their sales target but also grew personally by facing her fear of public speaking.

Then there’s Mike, a software developer whose outer goal was to develop an app with over one million downloads. His inner goal was to become more patient and detail-oriented.

In the process of achieving his outer goal, he also cultivated the qualities he desired, thereby achieving his inner goal.

Maybe you relate more to Jameelah—a top executive who balanced her outer goal of leading a Fortune 500 company with her inner goal of work-life harmony. Or Rob, a tech enthusiast who, besides his outer goal of building a startup, had the inner goal of remaining authentic and grounded. Both achieved a beautiful synergy, showcasing the magic of balance.

Personal Reflection

Reflecting on my journey, I can attest to the transformative impact of blending personal aspirations with professional pursuits in a coaching and consulting career.

While initially, I aimed to establish myself as a sought-after expert, I soon realized the significance of nurturing my voice amidst a sea of industry leaders.

By immersing myself in extensive research, experimenting with diverse methodologies, and actively seeking constructive input, I not only achieved external recognition but also cultivated a distinctive approach that resonated with clients.

This personal odyssey has ingrained in me the value of harmonizing personal growth with professional success, a principle that continues to shape my unique path in coaching and consulting.


What is the difference between inner and outer goals?

Inner goals pertain to personal growth, values, and intrinsic motivations, such as finding purpose or achieving self-awareness. Outer goals, on the other hand, are externally defined objectives often associated with measurable outcomes, societal recognition, or tangible rewards, like getting a promotion or earning a specific salary.

Why are inner goals important for professional development?

Inner goals fuel sustained motivation, provide a sense of purpose, and ensure that one’s professional journey aligns with personal values and aspirations. By focusing on inner goals, individuals are more likely to find genuine satisfaction and meaning in their work, leading to long-term commitment and resilience.

Can outer goals negatively impact professional development?

While outer goals provide clear benchmarks for success and can be motivating, an overemphasis on them at the expense of inner goals can lead to burnout, job dissatisfaction, or a sense of emptiness. It’s essential to strike a balance and ensure that outer goals align with one’s inner values and aspirations.

How can I balance inner and outer goals in my professional journey?

Begin by reflecting on what truly matters to you, understanding your core values, and identifying your intrinsic motivations. Then, set outer goals that align with these inner objectives. Regular self-reflection, seeking feedback, and maintaining a growth mindset can help in continually recalibrating this balance.

Can I achieve success by focusing solely on inner goals?

Success is subjective and varies from person to person. For some, genuine success might be entirely rooted in inner fulfillment and personal growth. While outer goals often provide societal benchmarks for success, focusing on inner goals can lead to a more profound and sustainable sense of achievement and contentment in one’s career.

Further Reading & Resources

For those itching to dive deeper, I recommend reading:


Both inner and outer goals serve as vital guides toward your professional development. They each offer unique benefits and, when balanced, can lead to comprehensive growth and success.

Looking to boost your skills and creativity? Come join us at GK Ligganswhere it is all about building skills and creative mindsets in life, work, and leadership.

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