Essay on Aptitude
Bobby and I were preschool classmates and one day got into a bit of a tiff. The teacher said to me “Now, Jenni, be nice. Just think, Bobby could be President of the United States someday!” Apparently I gravely turned to the teacher and informed her, “I could be President of the United States someday.” My parents thought this story was hysterical (it became part of the family lore), but certainly never tried to dissuade me from the belief I could do anything I really put my mind to.
There are many factors to be considered when designing a successful, fulfilling career, but the one most often overlooked is aptitude. While you may be able to do anything you put your mind to, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it well. We know instinctively people have different aptitudes or innate talents. I recently traveled to the University of Houston with a co-worker who, after traversing between several buildings, looked at a model of the campus and instantly saw where we were located. Let’s just say I didn’t have the same experience (I was still trying to figure out what it was a model of).
One problem is that people often confuse aptitude and skills. A skill is the ability to perform a task. Although you can increase your knowledge and skills through education and experience, your innate aptitude is largely immutable. Given sufficient intelligence and drive, you can become competent in just about anything you set your mind to. But if you don’t understand innate talents, you’re not likely to be very happy doing it. Consider the flip side as well. According to this article, “an unused aptitude is a source of frustration and restlessness.”
... There is an entire skill set necessary for effective management; however these dont have to be innate as certain abilities can be ... to be successful one needs to acquire and raise numerous aptitudes that allow the individual to understand and mold the ... steps (deals, product launches, mergers or acquisitions, etc). People skills are a crucial element to adequately handle conflict, crises, motivation ...
Making matters more difficult is our inability to accurately assess our own talents. As Nicholas Lore describes in his book The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success , most people focus on the skills they have worked the hardest to develop and take for granted those that come easily. Furthermore, what you know of your talents is based on what you have had experience with in the past. For example, if you never performed a job that required visual dexterity, you won’t be able to effectively gauge your ability for detail-oriented jobs such as editing or law (that’s right, lawyers need more than just strong verbal skills).
That being said, it is well worth the effort to determine your natural aptitudes. Bear in mind, however, success in a career is usually determined by a collection of aptitudes. For example, I happen to have a reasonably high aptitude for numerical reasoning (a feel for the patterns and rhythms in numbers), but am lousy at number memory (a gift for remembering number/details easily).
Yet another reason I shouldn’t be an accountant.
You can study various lists of aptitudes, and they are fun to look at and think about (for example, this list).
This method is probably most useful for identifying those aptitudes you are clearly lacking, thus guiding you away from certain career paths.
For a more comprehensive look, consider taking aptitude tests. There are a host of tests on the web (like this one for leadership and management), but realize many of these tests are really warmed over intelligence tests and not terribly useful. Recall, for instance, that SAT stands for “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” and I’ll argue it’s not a terribly good predictor of future performance. The Rockport Institute (founded by Lore) offers a suite of aptitude tests, as well as a CD and conference call to understand your results. Just understand, they may not recommend you for President.