Susan Wider

Many Aptitudes? Find relief through a new informal network

You like doing a variety of things. You're never afraid to learn a new language, take another art class, or try a new job. Your colleagues complain of burnout and you're chanting, "Bring it on." But it wasn't until your Johnson O'Connor associate explained your many-aptitude profile that you understood why your facility in these areas was there in the first place. You were born like this.

I tried to fight it out with my Johnson O'Connor New York associate, Crystal Brown. I had high scores in the auditory aptitudes: rhythm memory, tonal memory, and pitch discrimination. "Of course I'm good at these things," I told her, "I've been playing the violin since I was seven." She laughed and clarified, "Without those aptitudes, you wouldn't have survived the first month's lessons." And there was the revelation. I had everything backwards. My logic was telling me that these were learned abilities. How fascinating to find that they were in there all the time.

Then things got murkier. I had taken the Johnson O'Connor assessment inventory in 1991, hoping to find my perfect career field. My then-boss's wife had suggested it. (Was I really discussing my career uneasiness with my boss's wife?) Her daughter had found her niche in biology through Johnson O'Connor, so I was hoping to come away with the perfect job fit for me. I never expected to hear that my ideal was probably not out there in any one job. The Foundation told me that the average person scores high in just a few of the aptitudes. Only one percent will score high in all of them. (All. That's terrifying!) I learned that most jobs only cater to one or two aptitudes. What on earth was I going to do with the dozen or so I tested high in?

Developing aptitude management skills

I still haven't figured it out in a definitive way, and I probably never will, but with the Foundation's help, I have much better aptitude management skills. For about ten years after my testing, I tried to continue my career in non-profit management, moving through two scientific research institutes and on to an art museum. I had a decent career going and these weren't bad jobs for me. I had to do a zillion things at once in areas as diverse as writing, selling, budgeting, managing, fund raising, negotiating, event planning, public speaking. Some of these areas related to career fields on my original list from Crystal which had included advertising, public relations, and marketing. And my "free" time was jammed with dance classes, and tennis, and dating, and volunteering. But at least once a year I would start to feel that uneasiness about job, career, use of leisure time, and particularly about those pesky dormant aptitudes.

During the first and second years after testing, I called Crystal when I felt out of sync. This always helped to reassure me and to get me focused again. She would remind me about the very real sources of my frustration, like needing forward momentum and results (high foresight) in job situations where no immediate change was on the horizon or even over the next couple of hills. She also always suggested I find ways to do more writing. And she reined me in if I started talking about any abrupt job leaps toward a new "perfect" job.

The third year I took another of her suggestions and changed jobs, but not careers. Same field of non-profit fund development, but a bigger job with more staff. The fourth year, while in Chicago on business, I went to a career counselor who was suggested to me by the Johnson O'Connor office there. But even she was only able to provide exercises and strategies to try to pigeonhole me somewhere. The fifth year I went back to Johnson O'Connor for a follow-up session during a business trip to Los Angele

Creating my own career

Something really clicked in that session. (And yes, I got to take another one of their tests for research purposes, and that's always a blast.) My LA associate, Robert Neubauer, suggested I think about creating my own ideal career situation instead of endlessly hunting it down. He cautioned that any occupation would eventually become routine, and I would become bored. And he told me to expect the discomfort and unrest to continue. "It's a lifelong situation," he added. Great. He also pushed me very hard to pay attention to those times in my life when I said to myself, "I like this; this feels good." He said I would find clues in there. I came away wanting to craft a professional life out of many elements such as writing, consulting, teaching, and so on.

But I chickened out, and remained in the same field. I was making a very good living, and risking anything new made my family, and me, terribly nervous. I moved to an art museum, thinking I'd feel better closer to the arts. This was great at first, new people, new job challenges, art. But eventually routine and repetition set in, and back came the uneasiness. I hadn't been unsuccessful in any of these jobs, but I bumped through many highs and lows, always traceable to neglected aptitudes.

Determined to get it right this time—I knew best after all—I enrolled in graduate school to get a masters degree in violin performance. Yes, I looked at my original Johnson O'Connor results, and music was only there under hobbies, period. And Robert in LA had told me that mine wasn't a performer's profile. But I was a good violinist. I could make this work, and I was too burnt out on non-profits to stomach another fund-raising job. In short, I didn't listen to Crystal or Robert.

I did get the degree, but it was a sometimes fun, sometimes ghastly two-year adventure. Nearly all the other students could have been my children. They called me the orchestra mom. I loved the research aspect, and writing papers, and the academic side, but I hated the isolation of the practice room. "Music can't satisfy high ideaphoria and high inductive reasoning," Robert had told me. But I was proud that I had that masters degree, my second. The first was in French translation (high silograms aptitude...).

Getting actual orchestral jobs, however, was another matter. I was mediocre at auditions. I didn't have that performer personality, just like Robert said. And my ideaphoria interfered with achieving the focus I need while playing. I'd be standing in an audition, playing the notes, and analyzing what I'd just played and what was coming next. My brain needs to free-range. I can remember scary moments as a child when teachers would tell me (and my parents!) that I needed to learn how to concentrate. I thought there was something terribly wrong with me. (And by the way, Mom, you were right when you worried that I lost interest in things easily and frequently. You just didn't know it was my high inductive reasoning aptitude acting up.)

I still manage to do a fair amount of freelancing with several orchestras, but the play-it-like-this mentality and the repetition are wearing. Thank you for conductors who program innovative, contemporary pieces. Those wake me up and engage me, but when playing the standard repertoire...I feel like a music machine.

So what now?

Once I saw this pattern of not winning auditions, I realized it was time for another Johnson O'Connor moment. I was getting older, after all, and I needed to "figure things out." I scheduled a phone session in 2004 with Ortrun Neidig, director of the Denver office, and herself a many-aptituded creature. Talking with her made me feel solid again. But her message (was I ever going to listen?) sent me right back to that old idea of creating my livelihood out of many pieces, a patchwork quilt of sorts. "You have to start thinking of yourself as the equivalent of 3-4 people in terms of aptitudes," she said. She also talked about lifelong discomfort, nearly the same words Robert used in LA. And of course with her own high ideaphoria, she was describing me with a rapid-fire list: vivid imagination, complex, easily bored, change monger, researcher, organizer. Let's try not to frighten my husband, shall we?

I cannot bear to relegate my poor violin back to its case forever, so I continue to freelance. And I've recently added freelance writing. There are great deadlines for my aptitudes in the freelance writing world. Contest deadlines, submission deadlines, draft deadlines, publication deadlines.

And if I write in many genres, the researcher in me is challenged doing a story or a book on the natural world. The creative writer settles in when I write for children. The essayist and humorist find their outlets as well. At any moment, I may have articles and books underway on cooking, hiking, sports, animals, kids' troubles at school, issues around homework or practicing an instrument. It's endlessly fresh, and wow, do I love that. I have to keep records (graphoria), organize lots of information (analytical), and my objective personality helps me see lots of other viewpoints. And I continue that jam-packed free-time thing of hiking, and tennis, and crafts, and gardening, and dance, and an astonishingly patient husband.

The only downside I've noticed so far, is that the business of waiting around for responses—and yes, those inevitable rejection letters—from magazines and agents and publishers and editors, flies in the face of my need for things to keep moving forward.

Kindred spirits await...

And I still crave comparing notes with other people who have similar aptitude patterns and are on this same frustrating path. How have they satisfied all these competing abilities in their lives? Have they found jobs that did it, or have they built them?
A solution—and I hope it's of interest to others reading this—is to create an informal network for individuals with this many-aptitude challenge. Interested individuals can contact me and I will prepare an email address list that we can use as a means to communicate.

I once had an opportunity to speak by phone with a woman who scored high in all but two of the aptitudes. Imagine! We both felt we had met a kindred spirit. We discovered we had tried similar approaches to living our lives—double majors, multiple graduate degrees, evenings and weekends chockfull of activities, 60-hour work weeks...

Shall we compare notes? You'll find me at: