Work: Appearance and Reality

 by Richard Brehler

What people want from a career isn't necessarily just what the work is about. Understanding what you want in a larger sense—stability, status, helping people—helps you choose what you do as much as understanding your aptitudes does.  

Some time ago, the Foundation tested a high school student who intended to pursue a medical career. She'd always done well in her science and math courses, and her score on an interest profile indicated that the scientific and technological areas appealed to her the most. Her aptitude pattern, however, was one that we call the “group-influencing” pattern: non-spatial (the opposite of three-dimensional thinking, or Structural Visualization, common to people in scientific and technical fields) and a high score on Ideaphoria (the ability to generate ideas, common to people in fields such as advertising and teaching). Fields such as mass communications, public relations, and sales would all offer more opportunities than the field of medicine for using her talents. 

In her summary conference, the discussion centered upon her decision to pursue medicine as a career. Why did she choose the medical profession? Was it her desire to help people or contribute to scientific knowledge? Was she intrigued by the demand for diagnostic thinking or the precision of surgery? “Not exactly,” she replied. “All I really know is that I want to be a professional of some kind. I would like the social status that doctors have. I'd like to be able to afford a Mercedes, and becoming a doctor seems the surest way to get all of that.” This young woman obviously had been influenced by the glamorous portrayal of doctors on television and in the movies. She had confused what she would like to be, a respected professional, with what she should do. 

As far back as 1942, Johnson O'Connor cautioned clients, “To say, 'You should be a doctor, not a lawyer,' gives little help in facing some future situation years from now... Fields change, new occupations appear. But many centuries-old problems still baffle civilization.”  Years ago, for example, there were no computer programmers. How could someone have mentioned a job that didn't exist? O'Connor recommended concentrating not on ephemeral jobs, but on one of the bewildering problems facing the world; not on current fields, but on inherent, unchanging aptitudes. 

A man, tested many years ago by the Foundation, brought his son in for testing. After the summary discussion, he expressed hope that his son would benefit as much from the testing experience as he had. “But you know,” he said, “to be perfectly honest with you, I never pursued any of the job titles suggested to me. None of them seemed all that appealing to me at the time. The reason I found your program helpful is because what I learned about myself here always guided me in the right direction. Every time I faced a decision about my career – whether to accept a promotion or transfer, whether or not to return to school – whenever I had to decide something, I'd pull out my test scores and ask myself, 'Is this move going to take me in the direction of my aptitudes or away from them?' I always based my decision on the answer I had to that question. In over thirty years of work, I've yet to regret making decisions that way.”

Because this man had learned to ask the right questions, he was able to make decisions about specific career paths even though they had never been discussed in his summary. An aptitude pattern is not a definition of a job title. There is no one-to-one correspondence between aptitude patterns and jobs, though there are certainly particular aptitudes that are helpful in particular jobs. Knowledge of one's aptitudes helps answer the question of what to DO rather than what to BE. 

Making realistic and appropriate career decisions may be more difficult today than ever before, yet it is important to remember that, while circumstances do change, the talents people have at their disposal do not. Someone gifted with Structural Visualization may be well advised to pursue a medical or engineering direction today, but the same talent could have found an outlet in any age and culture. It is the same talent that found expression in the building of the pyramids or in the making of the first wheel, and it is the talent that will find expression in the future when building cities on other planets, or when designing nanomachines that can perform brain surgery. 

As we all know, advances in technology create new fields, both technical and non-technical. Advances in biomedical and genetic engineering, for example, have opened up questions of ethics and patent law. The growth of the internet has changed the face of marketing and politics. Computers and robots impose on our traditional views of industrial techniques, education, and entertainment. New fields demand new approaches by people drawing from the same pool of talents used for thousands of years. 

A thorough investigation of educational and career opportunities is essential to all young adults and, to many, so is a knowledge of aptitudes. Aptitudes may be compared to tools – flexible and suitable to many different occupations. The trick is finding appropriate outlets for them in today's job market, and anticipating future outlets. In this search, the best answer may depend upon asking the best question. Aptitude measurement helps replace the question, “What should I BE?” with “What should I DO?”