Several months ago, I was at the dinner table with three friends. Someone raised the question, “How do you know when you’re ready for a new role?” Upon hearing this question, another friend shared that she felt it was time for a new job as she had been in her role for “a long time now”, which was, as she replied, “one and a half years”. Naturally, this led to a deeper conversation about what is considered ‘a long time’ and why.
Knowing that these weren’t easy questions to answer, I set out to find answers. I picked up David L. Van Rooy’s Trajectory – 7 Career Strategies to Take You from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be”.
Van Rooy’s book is divided into seven career lessons (or strategies) with self-reflection exercises after each lesson. Through his introduction alone, my interest was piqued and I was already taking notes:
- Reflect on each stage of your career and consider if the trajectory (i.e. career path) you desire should be changed.
- The opportunities we seek should align with how prepared we are for that opportunity, so make sure your preparedness matches the opportunity. There are many instances of opportunities but ill-prepared people, and vice versa.
- When we reflect and manage our own trajectory, we can better match our preparation to an opportunity. This area, he says, is one where people are not as intentional.
- Everyone will have a different trajectory based on individual goals, motivations and life milestones. This is why some people may stay in some career stages (or positions) longer or shorter than others.
- Career trajectories have periods of rapid movement and deep learning. The flatter, stable parts of our trajectory will be the times when we’re learning and growing the most. As our career progresses, we have more responsibilities in our roles and so we spend more time at each stage/position.
- As we progress higher in our careers, we must develop our skills and increase our knowledge even more than in our earlier stages.
Van Rooy does an excellent job of situating a trajectory with these pieces of wisdom. Each of his strategies link back to these ideas. For me, the gems were around matching preparation to opportunity; and that the times when we are learning and growing most (ie the flatter, stable parts of the trajectory), are longer than the stages prior. Reflecting on our dinner table conversation, I realize that the four of us are on our own trajectories and at different stages; so there really is no set answer to the question at hand.
Each chapter contains self-reflection exercises for the reader to complete. When I think about my own trajectory, I realized that I have had some of the rapid movement that he writes about, in the early parts of my career. I also realized that I’ve been in my current role longer than the roles before it. Having this opportunity to have a relatively flat part in my trajectory has provided me with rich learning experiences and continued growth. This made me consider preparation. Each of my positions has built on the one before it and added something valuable, even the detours . Van Rooy points out that as we progress, we spend more time at each stage. I think this is necessary. We will undeniably have richer experiences and gain more confidence the longer we are in a role, so long as we aren’t hitting a negative plateau or stagnating (concepts Van Rooy explains in later chapters of the book).
So, how do we learn and grow while in this part of our trajectory? His first strategy is the ‘power of feedback’. He emphasises the importance of seeking feedback – when and how to seek it, from whom we should seek it and how we should react or manage our reactions to feedback. Van Rooy then moves onto his second strategy, describing the power of persistence in our desire to reach our goals. His third strategy focuses on making the right moves for your trajectory by starting with smaller goals. Van Rooy describes acting quickly in our attainment of higher goals but making sure that it’s the right move to act quickly on – this ties back to his idea of preparing for the opportunities you want, and matching that preparation with the opportunity. This may sound confusing, but it’s best summed up when he offers this advice, “Don’t move for the sake of moving”. When I think about some of the people who have shared with me details about their career path, I realize that despite interviewing for multiple positions, lateral or higher roles, sometimes they have declined positions for the reason that the opportunity doesn’t match what they are looking for at that time in their career stage. It takes critical self-reflection of what you want in order to make (or not make) these moves. Luckily, Van Rooy’s book is all about self-reflection.
Reading this part of the book, I caught myself wondering about the line between playing it safe and taking a risk. Van Rooy, in later chapters, describes taking calculated risks – jumps that are aligned with your desired trajectory and that come with the preparation and self-confidence that you’ve built in the time leading up to it. So, if we have taken the time to learn deeply, gain skills and build more confidence, then taking a risk will be more calculated. I imagine this as that wonderful middle part of a Venn diagram between safety and risk-taking – where the magic happens.
Having read this book and completed the exercises, I realize that everyone’s path is different and length of time is merely relative to other experiences an individual has had, and their goals. I think that if I were back at that dinner table and asked the same question, I would ask my friends some clarifying questions:
- What is your career trajectory? Where do you see yourself in the next 5 or more years?
- How will you get there?
- In what ways are you developing and/or feeling challenged in your current role?
- If you’re not developing or feeling challenged, why do you think that is?
- What do you want to do next? Do you feel as though you’re ready to do this?
His later chapters detail different types of plateaus and how to break them, avoiding stagnation, achieving growth from failure and sustaining excellent performance. Van Rooy encourages the reader to complete the exercises so that you have active opportunities to evaluate your goals, skillset and path so far. I plan to purchase a copy so that I can read it from time to time and continue reflecting, learning, growing and modifying my goals and trajectory over time, as needed. In addition, reading this book served as a tool for goal-setting for me. I’m using what I learned about my desired trajectory to help build the year’s individualized learning plan. I want to continue having deeper learning experiences and that is my biggest takeaway from this book.
If you’re having a similar conversation around the dinner table, or if you are in need of some self-reflection, I recommend you pick up a copy of Van Rooy’s Trajectory – 7 Career Strategies to Take You from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be”.