I’m curious how many people in the corporate world these days are satisfied in their work. More importantly, I wonder if they feel that what they do for a living is a good fit for them. My hypothesis is that this number is much lower than it could be. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We choose careers for many reasons: Parental expectations, earning potential, cultural expectations, and the letters after the name, to name a few. Unfortunately, we don’t often choose based on innate talents and aptitudes.
As it turns out, aptitudes, the things we learn easily and do well, are genetic. If we get them tested at 14 years of age or 80, the results will be the same. This means that if your work requires aptitudes that you don’t naturally have, then you most likely become easily frustrated in your job.
Of course you can adapt skills, and even be successful in forcing what is actually an unnatural talent, but something will feel off. Conversely, if you have high aptitudes that are not at play in your life or profession, you will have a sense of restlessness. High musical aptitudes are an excellent example of this. People with musical talent who aren’t working musicians are likely active with music outside of their occupation.
The first step in finding the best career fit is to get your aptitudes tested.
I’ve referred many people to the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation, a nonprofit scientific research and education organization founded in 1922. They’re committed to studying human abilities and providing people with knowledge about their aptitudes that will help them in make decisions about school and work. I found the testing enlightening and have recommended it for years to friends and colleagues.
Next, ask yourself how well your current job matches your aptitudes. For the aptitudes in which you test high, are those skills being used regularly in your job? If not, you’re probably not very happy with your current state of work and that could be spilling over into the rest of your life.
Also ask yourself if every single one of your aptitudes is active in your life. And if not, what steps can you take to remedy that?
It takes a lot of courage to admit that you don’t have the perfect professional marriage. It takes even more guts to do something about it. The only thing you have to gain by facing this is happiness and fulfillment, and perhaps a sense of adventure.
One of my clients, a well-respected IT executive, started to recognize some dissatisfaction with his role at work. Rather than give in and stay, he quit without even having a new job lined up. He got his aptitudes tested to help him in making his next career move, and to understand the dissatisfaction he felt in his last role.
As he told me, “Understanding my aptitudes gave me a new vocabulary for understanding myself.” This turned out to be a brilliant move by a brilliant person, as it opened up new life and work vistas. Suddenly, his world became a much bigger, more interesting place.
My own story had me headed from MBA school into the corporate world, where I wanted to be a big-company executive, even a CEO. Yet I kept finding myself in start-ups because the opportunities seemed interesting.
Then one day my “dream” came true: the start up I was with was bought by one of the biggest companies in the world and I became a VP before the age of 40. My star was on the rise. Yet the bigger my title and paycheck got, the smaller and smaller I felt. I had less of a sense of being where I needed to be.
So I quit.
I decided to have my aptitudes tested, and it turns out that two of my high aptitudes are in Divergent Thinking: the ability to generate ideas through many possible solutions, and Foresight: the ability to envision future possibilities.
It turns out that many executives at large companies (the ones who enjoy it, anyway) are often low in these particular aptitudes as they are more often called on to implement current plans than to come up with new ones. It would have helped me to know that sooner. (By the way, those big company execs have their own set of high aptitudes that make them a good fit where they are).
We all have high aptitudes, every single one of us. Knowing and owning what we learn easily and do well– and what we don’t–can help us on our way to designing fulfilling and meaningful work as part of a great life. It also helps us to uncover our unique gifts and talents that we have to offer the world. After all, there is no more important work than that.
—Sara Gates is CEO and founder of Wisegate.