“Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you'd do if you had a million dollars and you didn't have to work. And invariably what you'd say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars, you're supposed to be an auto mechanic.” – Peter Gibbons, Office Space
If only it were that simple.
Around this time last year I reviewed a book about an approach to leadership that stresses placing people in positions that fit their natural strengths. However, I could use more insight into my own strengths to determine a best fit for me. I already have some idea of what my strengths are. I know I am good with numbers and analysis – basically left-brain functions. But I also know I have a knack for the creative; areas with less-firm boundaries, and I have strong interpersonal skills. To use another quote from Office Space, “I’m a people person, damnit!” But I would like more specificity than that.
Back in June I underwent an all-day aptitude test designed by the Johnson O’Conner Research Foundation. My friend, Michelle, works there and suggested it would be a good way to inventory my natural aptitudes and, equally important, areas of natural aversion. The experience comprised a series of activities and tests to evaluate various skills and abilities. For example, auditory tests included listening for changes in tone and identifying rhythms. I spent time analyzing data series to identify patterns, memorized words of a fictional language, tried to re-assemble a three dimensional puzzle, and used tweezers to move very thin iron pins from one place to another. I also looked at colors to identify slight differences in shades, and engaged in what felt like an intense brainstorming session. One of the things that surprised me most was how drained I felt when it was over. It reminded me of how I felt when I completed a day of final exams at Marquette.
It took about six weeks for analysts to pore over the data and summarize them, and today I met with Michelle to review it all. In short, I scored high in a lot of categories, which labels me a generalist, or one of those “mile wide and an inch deep” types. I have what they call an “objective personality,” which means I should be working with or through others, and I have a natural inclination for “ideaphoria,” or the flow of ideas. Remembering designs/patters and learning languages are also strong natural aptitudes of mine. According to the result, their “group influencing fields” are a natural fit. This includes marketing, public relations, sales, teaching, journalism, or any setting where I facilitate groups. Give me a topic and a crowd of people to influence, inform, or win over, and I will apparently be in some kind of sweet spot.
In addition to strong communication skills, I have high auditory aptitude, which I already suspected and assume is genetic. My paternal grandfather was a child prodigy on the piano, and many on that side of the family have some musical ability. My father was especially good at picking out tonal differences for naval sonar. If you have ever watched a movie with me, you are familiar with my accurately quoting large parts of it after hearing the lines only once or twice.
More specifically, this ability relates to learning languages, which may explain why Spanish was consistently my best class in high school. I am apparently an aural learner, which would have been nice to know in college. I might have recorded and re-listened to lectures instead of trying to drill the material into my head by reading. According to the final report, I should “consider studying foreign languages and working in an international setting.”
Working in teams is also a better fit for me than is working alone. Further, I thrive best when serving as the team’s leader/manager/coordinator. I love to develop, evaluate, and implement a long-range plan or goal. That makes sense considering how exciting and challenging the community center and Disability Arts Festival were for me.
Numbers are also a natural fit for me. This comes as no surprise. I live for charts, spreadsheets, and budgets. Couple that with what the test identified as high aptitude in visual design, and you begin to understand my propensity for color coding my data analysis for easier consumption. Still, I have to find a venue in which I can put all of this together.
With regard to areas in which I struggle, begin with spatial material. The three dimensional puzzle I mentioned earlier? I could not re-assemble that thing to save my life. And while I am strong at picking out and designing visual patterns, my aptitude for more creative visual design is rather low. In addition, while my fine motor skills are strong, some of my overall muscle dexterity leaves a lot to be desired. That, I assume, means I did not inherit my grandfather’s piano playing ability. I should probably take some entry lessons to confirm this or at least see if any of that gift was passed on to me. If my guitar playing is any indication, I would enjoy it and be able to pick it up, but I should keep my day job.
One aspect I found especially interesting were my average scores in areas closely linked to engineering. (My degree is in Electrical Engineering.) I was strongly encouraged to enter the field due to my early performance in math and science. However, much like the aptitude tests, my college performance was good but not great. Some parts of the degree came more easily than others. Circuit theory and linear systems analysis I could do, but grasping three dimensional analysis like the kind found in electromagnetic fields always eluded me.
And although a lack of passion prompted my walking away from a very tech-focused job, geeky things still excite me. However, I need to find a calling where my ability to understand geeky material converges with my ability to lead a team trying to communicate with and influence a wider audience, in an international setting while utilizing foreign languages.
Just curious: anyone out there got an opening for something like that?