Way back, long, long ago, while I was in high school, my parents felt I needed to attend an aptitude program to test what I should study in college. While it wasn’t a terrible idea on their part, the two day-long sessions were held during the start of Spring Break of my junior year, so it was about the last thing I wanted to do at the time.
But I went, took the tests, and they discovered that I could do anything I wanted to do. In some ways, this didn’t help at all. In other ways, there was some interesting insight, now that I look back on the results, like I do better in small groups and I have a leaning towards writing and entrepreneurship. The question I’ve always wondered was did I need career counseling to tell me this?
The other day, though, I was cleaning out my closet, and I came across the results. And within the packet, there was a piece titled “How to Avoid Career Drift,” by an Irvin Shambaugh. It was interesting, in part because now it’s over 20-year-old article (it was nearly 10 years old when I received it). You can imagine what it discusses: the issues around not planning out your life and your career. In it, Shambaugh writes (no link, unfortunately. I couldn’t find it online):
“Those who made a bad choice must now ‘figure out what I want to do in life.’ They try different options. When they find one that seems suitable, it usually means they must now go back to school for a different degree.
As a result, many do not start their careers until their late 20’s or early 30’s. This waste of five, ten or even more years of their lives is extremely costly. Not only is there wasted expense in getting a college degree that is not appropriate, there is lost income during the years they go back to school to start over and there are lost opportunities to begin saving for their life goals while they are changing jobs and incurring additional debt for college tuition.
Career drift can continue into mid-career.”
I know, despite attending this program, I’ve experienced some career drift in my life. Going to school for journalism, I wondered if that was what I really wanted to pursue, before ending up in digital media, and now I’m back, focusing on writing. But what’s funny is I always knew, in the back of my mind, that writing was what I wanted to pursue.
When I was starting out my career as a journalist, I never got much opportunity to write on topics I wanted to write about, so I got frustrated. The move into digital media, was more for money than anything else, thinking if I’m supposed to hate my job, at least I’ll make more doing it. Only now have I found a spot where I get to write. But it has nothing to do with getting paid.
The interesting thing about these aptitude tests is that they only offer ideas in what you might be good at. You’re supposed to look at them and see where your passion lies. That’s because it does no good to be decent at some skill only to hate it.
So for those thinking of quitting a job or trying to figure out what to do next, and turn to a career guidance test, keep in mind where your passion lies. Even though you might be great at something doesn’t mean you will find happiness in it. And just because you’re immediately bad at something doesn’t mean you can’t one day find yourself among the top of your peers.
It’s all about what you’re willing to put time and effort in. That’s why understanding what you want to do does so much more for your career than understanding the X’s and O’s of what you could potentially be good at. You don’t want to one-day, wake up, only to find you’re in your mid-forties and still unsure what you want to do in your life, just like you shouldn’t want to wake up and think “I’m miserable.” They’re – what you could be good at and what you want to be good at – the two pieces of the career puzzle, and understanding both will lead you down that successful path.
Wish I had known that, when I first looked at those aptitude results. They probably would have served me better, if I had.