The Examined Life—A Report from the Front

by Paul F. DuFlo

Today's job and career marketplaces are more competitive than ever. Downsizing, restructuring, out-sourcing, and—dare I say it—layoffs are a constant threat. How do we as individuals seize the high ground? How do we as breadwinners stay in a position of strength and control? How do we know that our work uses our best talents?

The answer to all of the above is still found in Socrates' exhortation to know thyself first. Recently I have been struggling to decide whether or not my mild frustration with work was attributable to a malady common to 43-year-old men, a condition known as midlife crisis. Was there something else? Some yearnings just will not go away. They clamor for attention. They start out asking to be heard. Eventually, they demand it.

After four years of procrastination, I finally capitulated. I bought airfare to New York, a hotel reservation, and wrote a $480 check [current fee is $720] to the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation. It is the only organization in the United States that specializes in telling a person what his aptitudes are. Aptitudes are our strengths, our God-given talents. Aptitudes generally lead our interests. Aptitudes fuel our abilities. They are usually subtle and difficult to quantify. You can quickly tell someone what your interests are. When was the last time you told someone about your aptitudes?

For two days, I had my aptitudes tested on over 20 different tasks. I assembled block puzzles, moved parts with tweezers. I distinguished subtle differences in musical tones. I compared two scenes and noted differences after only a brief glance at each. These and other trials, once endured, promised to yield a picture of true aptitudes.

Trials they were. I dropped the tweezers. Whole sequences of numbers, once shown, were promptly forgotten. A vocabulary test left my smug self-assurance as an erudite man of letters in shambles. First I felt challenged, then frustrated, and, in the end, exhausted.

After the testing sessions, the poker-faced test administrator told me to go have a late lunch. “Come back in two hours and we'll have your results.” I returned as requested. I anxiously awaited the results. After all the years of procrastination and the effort of the last two days, it was finally over. I was excited. Just because I could not mentally unfold a picture of a folded-up paper, did it mean I was a cretin? “Relax," they said. “You have a classic profile.” For a moment, I was stunned—then I realized they meant aptitudes, not noses.

“You're a communicator,” they said. “Look for work with people. You'll excel in a setting with high idea flow. Organize ideas. Work them through with others. Management would bore you, though,” they cautioned, “stay in a cutting-edge setting where you bring new ideas and people together. You have a high languages aptitude and you remember tones and words very well; pick up a second language. When you're ready to put it all together, go buy a newspaper and be the editor.”

Now let me tell you, the next two hours of interpreting the results were like Christmas, New Year's and the Fourth of July all rolled into one. At last I could clearly see the things I was most qualified to do. Not qualified by virtue of education—oh no!—nothing that pithy. But qualified by virtue of something much higher: my native, unchanging aptitudes.

The reassurance and feeling of newfound confidence were marvelous. I felt rejuvenated, redirected, insatiable, ready to lick the world. Oh glorious, unrestrained self-aggrandizement! The world was mine for the taking. In the cab to LaGuardia, I gloated at a world that now was my oyster. Then the flight to Syracuse was cancelled...

reprinted from Business Journal