"Every person has a trajectory. Your trajectory is the path you create for yourself."
The start of a new year represents a renewed emphasis on planning and identifying objectives. It therefore seemed appropriate pick up Trajectory by David L. Van Rooy in order to consider my career plans for the new year and beyond.
The book opens by identifying the fact that organizational culture must be managed as intentionally as an individual’s career trajectory. The first chapter defines what a trajectory is, how and why it is unique to each individual. The author emphasizes the importance of planning, and consistently reviewing and checking where you are, so that you can be prepared for any unexpected opportunities that arise. The key takeaways from the first chapter are that it is your trajectory (and no-one else’s), you own it, design it, are accountable for it, and can choose it! Each chapter ends with an activity to help reinforce the messages of the previous chapter and to assist you in thinking about your own trajectory.
The Big Idea
Your Trajectory Belongs to You
"Through all of these periods and milestones you should pause along the way for introspection to ensure that you are still doing that which is important to you…[your trajectory] can change as your circumstances and aspirations evolve."
Throughout the 7 strategies, Van Rooy consistently emphasizes the importance of being open to change and acknowledging that trajectories can change dramatically. This is sometimes in response to other changes outside of an individual’s control, but it is important that as an individual you choose how you approach your response to these outside influences. He also notes that what can appear as negative circumstances can become very positive experiences which are also self-affirming where individuals exercise their choice.
The book contains 7 strategies which David calls ‘lessons’:
- The power of feedback
- This identifies the importance of seeking meaningful feedback, having the internal capacity to accept what you hear and empowering people to feel comfortable providing you with feedback. Readers are encouraged to “think of feedback as a compass – something that when used frequently and correctly will keep you on your trajectory” (51).
- Persistence as a differentiator
- See Gem 1 for more detail on this lesson.
- Think big, act small, move quick
- This outlines the importance of thinking long term but reaching your goals through small actions and quick moves. This is important because each success provides you with greater resolve and determination to try even harder to pursue and achieve your goals.
- Breaking through plateaus
- According to the author, everyone is likely to experience a plateau, and this is not always a negative situation. However, readers are cautioned against viewing a plateau as no longer requiring their growth and development, it remains important to keep up to date with skills and knowledge – without it your future can lead to stagnation.
- Avoiding the stagnation trap
- This builds on what can happen if individuals become disheartened or stop growing and learning or doubt their abilities. This lesson brings together the previous lessons and identifies how they are all useful in lessening the chances of falling into this trap.
- Achieving growth from failure
- See gem 2 for more information.
- Sustaining outlier performance
- This involves bringing together and enacting all the previous lessons to reach point of ‘sustained performance’ and as such be someone who stands out from the crowd as a role model and to succeed at being your best.
Persistence is Critical for Success – Talent Won’t Get You all the Way
"It is persistence that truly differentiates those who are successful from those who are not. Leaders with this key attribute continually look into the future and set goals for themselves, regardless of any prior failures or setbacks."
I loved this idea that ability, whilst important, needs to be coupled with persistence if success is to be achieved. Van Rooy bases much of this lesson on research and identifies that linking your ability with persistence will give you an ongoing differentiator in life. Persistence increases when you are involved in doing what you love, and it is emphasized that this intrinsic motivation will amplify your performance. Today there is a lot of talk about the importance of authenticity in life generally and in leadership. Van Rooy quotes Tony Hawk who explains that “you cannot be fully authentic if you are not intrinsically connected to your goals” (60). It makes sense that this intrinsic drive is facilitated through applying persistence.
This lesson has a simple but significant message: “you cannot entirely change your ability, but you have much more control of your willpower and how strongly you persist toward your goals” (66).
Failure Breeds Success
"If you fear failure you will also begin to limit your creativity and risk-taking – your willingness to think big…And when you fear failure you also will begin to procrastinate."
This lesson is based on the concept that learning from failure and seeing it as constructive means that we can develop even steeper upward trajectories for ourselves. Van Rooy acknowledges that “humans are hardwired to have an intrinsic fear of failure” (159) but that we need to avoid learned helplessness. This is where we decide that factors and people outside our control determine our success whereas success is our choice and it is what we choose to do in responding to the ‘failure’ that matters. This requires that we learn from our mistakes and don’t allow our failure to be the reason we give up, and remember the importance of persistence. We need to use failure and learn from it to know how to avoid it in the future, or at least not repeat the same mistake, “if past is prologue, then you must learn to use your past – including failure – to write what happens next” (167).
This was a great book to read and the activities at the end of each chapter were extremely useful in assisting me in thinking about my own career trajectory and identifying my own goals and aspirations over the next 3 to 5 years.
How are you shaping your Trajectory?