“We can each define ambition and progress for our selves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents and interests.” – Sheryl Sandberg
I once took a 240-question career aptitude test and the result floored me, but before we get to that, let me start at the beginning.
The last few months of 2014, I attended several retirement gatherings for my coworkers. One with 43 years of service, a second with 40 years, and a third with 37 years. Several more will be retiring in the coming weeks, all with 30+ years of service. But honestly, while I greatly admire these people and their commitment to this work, it scares me to death to think that if I don’t do something about it, that could be me.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a job that I like and provides some occasional fulfillment. But I know this is not where I want to spend the rest of my working life. I’ve been here almost 5 years now. I’ve made some good friends, and I’ve been well trained to do what I do. But I’m bored, and not in love with what I do.
It’s not a job that makes me jump out of bed every morning. It’s a means to an end. It pays the bills. It’s easy work. Even on the bad days, it’s not that bad. In fact, I can completely understand how people can work this job for 30+ years with ease.
I know I have financial responsibilities and I haven’t been blessed with an opportunity to walk away from my job…yet. So I know I’ll be here for a little while longer, but I no longer want to be comfortable here.
For a while, everything was good. I landed this job just as I was transitioning out of an old one that had really stressed me out. This job was truly a blessing, and I’m good at it. I’ve received steady raises, and just recently received a promotion. In fact, I can see how easy it is to settle here. But watching these “lifers” retire really lit a fire in me.
It made me realize I really do want more. I want to find or create something that really excites me. I want to be a part of something that touches people, changes lives, and makes the world a better place. I want to make a difference.
The only problem was I didn’t know what that “thing” was.
So I took a career aptitude test.
240 in-depth questions exploring who I am, what I like, what I dislike, and how I would respond to specific situations. I took my time with the questions, making sure I answered based on who I really am and who I think I want to be. I wanted to be as truthful about myself as possible.
You see, I’m a passive and quiet person. I keep to myself, I’m not a conversation starter, I’m not a public speaker, and I’m not a “question-asker.” I go with the flow. I don’t rock the boat. I keep my head down and do my best to do what is asked of me.
If I were to be totally honest, I’d say I’m an introvert with a great deal of anxiety and fear.
I have fears of failure, success, public speaking, private speaking, and anything else that pushes me against the barrier of my comfort zone. There have been so many times where I had great opportunities to do things, but instead was crippled by fear and took no action.
But there’s another side me, that really nobody knows. I don’t even fully know him. But he’s daring, bold, fearless, and he knows the direction he wants his life to go.
He is me without fear.
And I’m doing my best against my own resistance to let him out. I am honest enough to admit, resistance wins most of the time. But every now and then, I make a step or two forward in that fight for myself. Ultimately, because I know I deserve a better me.
The aptitude test took me 2 hours to complete. The closer I got to the end, the more I grew excited about the possibilities it would show me. I just knew it would tell me the type of person I am and the type of jobs that would be perfect for me. I believed this test was going to show me the path to the rest of my life.
I completed the last question, took a deep breath, and clicked the big results button, and waiting for my life to change forever. But instead, all I got was…
No results. No answers. No additional insight into my heart and soul. No new definition of self. Absolutely nothing.
All I got was a blank webpage, with the word “ERROR” written in orange. No way of going back and trying it again, no contact number or email address to question what happened, nothing.
Two hours of my day, 240 questions, hopes and dreams all culminated in “ERROR.” What they hell did this mean? Why would this happen? And why did it happen now? I took the time to delve into something, spent time sharing my true self in earnest belief that the answers to my life were a click away, and instead, “ERROR.”
After calming down, I closed the window, and returned to my work. I was dejected, sad, and angry. I could feel my coping mechanism start to kick in. I thought to myself, it doesn’t matter. I told myself I didn’t care. You can’t get hurt if you don’t care right?
Truth was I did care. I wanted an answer. I needed an answer, and all I got “ERROR.”
About an hour later, my coping mechanism, negative self-talk, was in full force. But instead of letting it win again, I stopped what I was doing, opened up an email to myself and started writing.
I wrote to get my emotions out of my head so I could go home to my wife with a clear mind. But as I wrote, I discovered that I was looking for answers in the wrong place.
How could I expect a website and a few questions to sum up my existence and the course of my future? How could I leave something so important in the hands of someone or something else?
Had the test result been anything other than the error, I would have taken that list, researched each career, and possibly went on to pursue one of them to see if I could turn that into something I loved. But I think in doing so, I would have missed the point.
It’s not up to any website, book or person to determine us.
We are who we are because of the experiences we have. We will be who we will be by making the changes that we deem to be most important, taking the risk to do things differently, being more observant of our surroundings, seeking out new opportunities, and believing in ourselves every day!
No aptitude test can make you a better person or tell your future. Those are steps that you have to take on your own to find out who you really are and why you’re here.
Don’t leave something so important up to chance. You’re worth the fight, and the journey. I’m certain you’ll find yourself along the way.
Photo by Thomas Leuthard