It can happen at any point in your professional life, no matter what role or industry you're in. One day you're moving along in your career, quite content with the path you see before you, and then one day, years or decades later, you find yourself feeling stagnant, uninspired, unengaged, or lost. It’s rarely one thing that will bring you to this point. It will be both the big and seemingly insignificant decisions, compromises, and actions, that pile up and leave you looking around, wondering how in the world you got to this point.
This is quite a common occurrence as the pace of business sweeps us along and personal lives shift and challenge our priorities. Whether you are worried that this scenario might happen to you or you are living through it now, it’s never too late to take charge of the trajectory of your career. Given the fact that our professional lives are a huge part of who we are and take up a great deal of our time, it’s only natural to want to take some control over it, and planning your career trajectory is just the way to do it.
Definition of Career Trajectory
First, let’s define what career trajectory is; “A career trajectory is the path your jobs take as you move forward, backward or stay on an even keel during your working years.” While some people will have defined milestones or goals in mind from the very beginning, others may take a job early on and follow the opportunities as they arise, defining and redefining their career aspirations as they go. Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum, getting yourself on a career trajectory that aligns with your personal and professional goals, values, and aspirations, will take some intentionality.
Intentionally Defining Your Career Trajectory: A Brief How-To
1. Look Inwards
At any point in your career, you should periodically stop and reflect inwards. Practicing mindfulness will ensure you are considering your feelings and surroundings. During which time, ask yourself - am I fulfilled in this role? Is my company or team bringing out the best in me? Are the projects I am working on engaging? Asking questions like this are key to taking control of your career’s trajectory, as they can reaffirm your current job or indicate, hopefully, sooner than later, that a change of some type is needed to get you back on track.
2. Know What You Want
As your career progresses, the exposure you get to different companies, colleagues, tools, and processes will either consciously or unconsciously alter the trajectory of your career. For example, at the beginning of your career your goal was to make it to the c-suite and all the steps in your career trajectory were outlined to help get you there. But over time, you realize you actually enjoy managing people, and moving to the c-suite would mean less people management and more strategic leadership. This realization may change the career trajectory you once believe to be set in stone, but knowing what you want will make the trajectory of your career more authentic and inspiring.
3. Crowdsource Information
While your organization may provide you with a career path, if you want to ensure you are the one in control of the trajectory of your career, you are going to need to take a step further. Look to others in your role or with your aspirations and examine the path their career took. Better yet, talk to them. If you have a professional coach, one to one coaching is a prime opportunity to flesh out your goals and aspirations and turn them into an action plan.
4. Advocate For Yourself
We can often feel compelled to say yes to an opportunity because it is put before us. But before you do, take just a moment to think about how it fits into the trajectory of your career. If it is going to take you off track of a goal you have had your sights set on and have been working day and night to achieve, it is okay to advocate for yourself and decline. In the end, it’s your career and that decision could impact not only your professional life but your personal one too. On the other hand, sometimes opportunities have a way of getting us to our goals in a roundabout way. If you feel this might be the case, advocate your needs and requirements to take it on so you feel you have some control over the unknown.
5. Be Ready to Go the Extra Mile
No one is accountable to your career trajectory but you. While your HR team or professional coach plays a part in getting you there, in the end, it is up to you to make sure your actions and decisions reflect the path you have envisioned or defined for yourself. This may mean going the extra mile, such as taking leadership training programs or seeking out a mentor. Things that may not otherwise be mandated by anyone, but are essential to getting you to where you want to go.
Conclusion: Taking Control of the Trajectory of Your Career Is Possible
Though it’s been said before, I’ll say it one last time for good measure - it is never too late to take control of your career trajectory. While it demands a high level of accountability and intentionality, the benefit of doing so could be a fulfilling career and a balanced life. So, what are you waiting for?
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