Saturday, October 25, 2008

What I Should Want To Be When I Grow Up ...

In the first half of September, I was chatting with my friend George about my future.

We met through work, and he suspected that what I was doing wasn't what I really wanted to be doing.

George is a very astute man.

As we chatted, I told him that I've asked other people how they see me, what they see me doing, and he asked me a very pointed question: Why do you value others' opinions of you more than you value your own?"

I don't, I told him. It's not that I value the opinions of others more than I value my own, it's more that I suspect that they might be able to see something about me as observers that I'm not able to see for myself, given that I'm the insider of my life. I went on to explain that I've just felt like someone might have some piece of data, the discovery of which would make me say, "That's what I've been missing!"

As the conversation wore on, he told me about The Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation, an organization that conducts aptitude testing. He and his wife had taken both of their sons to be tested (and will, I suspect, take their daughter someday, too) and as he told me about the testing, I thought, excitedly, "I want to do this!"

I've taken plenty of tests over the years: IQ tests, personality tests, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. But what he was describing was different. JOCRF offers tests that involve music and tests that involve puzzles and tests that involve memorization and tests that involve color.

I called up the web site to learn more. The testing isn't cheap (though "expensive" is a relative term), but I thought $600 wasn't too much to pay to help me figure out my future. And though I had vowed to stop taking on freelance stories, an editor contacted me with an assignment which will – when I get paid – nearly cover the expense of the testing.

So I said yes to the story and contacted the JOCRF Chicago office to set up an appointment for October 23 (testing) and 24 (results).

On October 1, I learned that I would no longer have a full-time job after the 15th of this month. I am, as I write this, not employed. I have a couple contracts in place with my "former" employer, but the reliability of a monthly paycheck is a memory, for the time being.

I had already told my then-colleagues that I'd be taking off October 23 and 24, but once I learned that I would no longer be full time, I realized that I didn't have to worry about taking time off. All my time can be time off if I so choose (except for that pesky need to earn money to pay my bills). My point being, I now have much more flexibility in my schedule.

Here's a bit of employment history for you: In the wake of my newspaper existence, I took a job with an IT consulting company. That job lasted 11 months. A healthy handful of us were laid off on a dark and stormy Monday. After freelancing for a spell (and realizing that freelancing is too unreliable for a single person who doesn't have someone else to rely on to help out through the dry spells), I got another job with another IT consulting company, an offshoot of the first IT consulting company. That job (the one that just ended), lasted about 3 years. Meanwhile, a friend I had worked with in my newspaper existence contacted me to mention that he'd be looking for an editor (another IT-related slot) in the new year. He was putting together his budget and the implication was that the job was mine for the taking. But the need soon arose for him to slash a large part of his budget, and the editor position was a casualty. I chuckle over the fact that I lost that IT gig before I even got it.

Clearly, the IT scene is not for me.

On Wednesday, as we chatted on IM about the testing, Angela asked, "What if they tell you that you should do something you never thought of before?"

"Oh, I don't expect that to happen," I said. "I think I know myself pretty well. I'm more concerned that they'll tell me I should do something I already know I should do but have been too afraid to pursue it."

On Thursday, I spent the day taking tests. A lot of tests. Rapid-fire tests, one after another. Kevin was my proctor for the morning, which flew by. I spent my "lunch hour" poking around Crate & Barrel and then noshing on the chicken pesto sandwich at Corner Bakery. The sandwich, sadly, not nearly as good as it used to be.

Thursday afternoon, with Mandy, I took another series of tests. Now, I'm smarter than the average bear. I'm not saying that to boast; it's just true. I have a high IQ, I passed the Mensa exam, I'm smart. But one test in particular seemed to put me in my place. "This is humbling," I said to Mandy, struggling. "Do you call 'time' at some point?"

"You have more time," she said. "And I can even start giving you hints if it comes to that."

I finished the test. She chuckled.

"What?" I asked.

"You completed that in three and a half minutes," she said. I nodded. She continued, "I would have started giving you hints at minute 18."

Gee, Beth, have high expectations for yourself much?

On the way home, I kept thinking about that test and thought I might have figured out a way that I could have completed it even faster.

Friday morning, I went back to the office to get the results of all my tests. Abbi, the woman with whom I had my conference, sat down and told me that she was at a bit of a loss when it came to my results, that they didn't jibe with my employment history or what I'd written down as my interests.

Keep in mind that I love to sing. I love to write. I love to bake. I love to wrap gifts. I love to decorate. I love to listen to music and (to a small degree) play music. I love to read books. I love to watch films. I am about as big a fan of the humanities as you can be.

But interests are not the same as aptitudes. Interests may change. Aptitudes are fixed.

She showed me the bar chart that provided the scores for all of my tests and drew little stars next to the three predominant categories that would inform the rest of our discussion. Those three areas – my pattern, as it's called – indicate the kinds of jobs for which I'm best suited.

Ready? My pattern indicates strong aptitudes for careers such as:

- Engineering (e.g., civil, electrical, chemical, mechanical, industrial)

- Architecture

- Urban/regional planning

- 3-D design (e.g., industrial design, interior design, set design, furniture design – apparently, I should be my brother Brian, who has a degree in industrial design and is a partner in a toy-design firm)

- Surveying

- Management in a 3-D area (e.g., construction, contractor/manager, industrial production manager)

- 3-D crafts (e.g., carpentry, plumbing, masonry, electrical work)

How do you like them apples?

Angela 1, Beth 0.

Turns out, I scored stupidly high in the test that had me so frustrated, the one I completed in 3 1/2 minutes. As Abbi said during the results conference, "The only kinds of people who score higher in that test are, like, astrophysicists."

So that one score skewed everything else, which was why she was having a bit of a hard time trying to make sense of my scores based on what I was telling her. My pattern put her in a position of trying to connect A to B to ZZ.

I asked her my question about the test, told her what I had been thinking about in the car on the way home. "Nobody's ever asked me that question before," she said. We looked at the materials for that test and I thought, "Yep, I probably could have done it faster."

I find it really amusing that there's this part of my brain that I haven't acknowledged all these years. As though Thursday, it finally said, "Where have you been?! I've been waiting forever!"

Abbi gave me a slew of information to review and consider. Happily, included in the testing fee is a follow-up conference, which I'll absolutely use.

When I got to my car, I texted George: "I blew up their test! Based on literal results, I should be a civil engineer or the like." To which he replied, "Holy shit!!! I wasn't expecting that!"

He had said, back in September, that sometimes advice is worth exactly what you pay for it. But when we chatted yesterday afternoon, as he walked through Sam's Club and I wandered around my kitchen, I told him that I'm really glad I did it, that I do feel as though I've received the piece of data I've long suspected I was missing, as though yesterday someone walked up behind me, put their hands on my shoulders, turned me, and said, "Look over there."

Which isn't to say I'm going back to school to become a civil engineer. God no. But I've been so focused on one area of my life for so long, trying to make the pieces fit together, that it makes total sense that I may have completely missed a component that would slot into place and complete the puzzle.

Much of what Abbi and I talked about yesterday was psychology. Sure, I have certain aptitudes in certain areas, but emotions create a hazy overlay that turns the black and white into many shades of grey.

I have a lot to sift through and ponder, but I did reap an immediate benefit out of the past two days: Abbi said, "Never apologize for your strengths." For most of my life, I've held back, afraid to fully assert myself, afraid of how others would respond. And I know, intellectually, that I shouldn't let fear define me. And yet, I have.

One of my favorite film quotes is, "Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Valuable, but small. And sometimes I wonder: do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave?"

I haven't been brave.

But I've also been confused.

So here's to clarity.

Of course, I'll let you know how things go. I've been doing that all along.

But it's about to get more interesting.

6 Comments:

Blogger Dave said...

Wow.

Just wow.

Or maybe, WOW!

That's all I've got. :)

Except that you have a really, REALLY big brain.

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Exciting stuff. I'll keep that link handy!

12:33 PM  
Blogger Mercurie said...

That is interesting! Even if you never become a civil engineer, at least you now know you could!

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't get it. Do you get "extra credit" the faster you finish any of these tests? Why does speed matter if the tests are measuring aptitude?

4:05 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Yep, some of the tests are timed in order to measure your degree of aptitude. The faster you can complete a certain task, the higher your aptitude for it.

Like some people who are good in math can complete math problems faster than people who struggle with math and take longer to get to the correct answer.

4:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The aptitude test I took 30 years ago in high school told me I should become a plumber or electrician (those so-called "3-D crafts"). Instead, I became a writer, NOT a plumber -- and I'm happy. Go figure.

11:40 AM  

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