As discussed in a recent blog post, the better you can understand your own abilities and motivation, the better chance you’ll have of finding or creating meaningful, well-paid work. Here are four paths to self-knowledge, in order of fastest to the most involved.
A competent counselor or mentor could ask you a few questions, and give you insights about your skills and work options. The people who have spent the most time with you, your friends and family, may even be able to offer you advice. Depending on the timing, and the quality of the input, you may gain tremendous insights into your own abilities, and for your future options.
It’s important to remember, though, the psychology of perception, and filter any advice through your own perspective. Even the most well-meaning and competent advisers will have known and unknown biases, and will have varying levels of understanding of your abilities, interests, and priorities. Always be open to advice, but whenever possible back it up with further exploration of your own.
We can often be a test-obsessed species. There are countless work-related assessment tools available, and you may find them to be extremely helpful in expanding your self-knowledge. It’s important, though, to understand the biases built into tests.
Test instruments are built from a data set of others who have taken the test. The underlying assumption is that your answers match the pattern of answers from others, and because of those similar answers, you have similar characteristics. Psychologists call this “structured” or “closed” analysis.
Take, for example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Myers-Briggs uses a personality typology built from a series of Jungian archetypes, to help people understand how they perceive the world, and how they make decisions. After taking the instrument, you are assigned one of 16 “types,” with a corresponding “code.” For example, if your Myers-Briggs code is ISFJ (thought to be the most common type in the world), you are considered to be an Introvert, using Sensing, Feeling, and Judging. Each code or type has a description of the personality traits and skills associated with it. Some people find these descriptions to be quite helpful in giving a language for their personality characteristics and skills. Yet Jung’s archetypes were not based on scientifically-controlled studies, and Myers-Briggs has been criticized as sounding more like horoscope profiles than scientifically-accurate insights.
Testing for skills and traits can often include recommendations for the kinds of work that others with similar answers have done. These kinds of suggestions can be extremely helpful (“It says I should be a lawyer!”) or extremely demoralizing (“It says I should be a lawyer…”). Worse, some test-takers will hear these recommendations as constricting, offering only limited options for the future. These should only be seen as suggestions of fields for more investigation, not authoritative directions for the kind of work you must do.
What’s most important with testing is that you treat it as information, rather than deep certainty about what is true. If you feel a test offers useful insights about your skills, interests, and options, marvelous. But don’t give any test more authority than it deserves.
An alternative to testing is a less-structured process of answering questions and generating your own insights. Psychologists call this approach “projective” or “open-ended,” with no “right” answer.
The eParachute tool (which we call JUMP), and the Flower in What Color Is Your Parachute?, are examples of self-inventory. There are no right answers, and your results can (and should) vary wildly based on when and how you do the exercises.You are in the driver’s seat with self-inventory. The mentality here is that more information is better, and that you are the best one to filter that information through your own lens of perception.
(As you have probably guessed, we here at eParachute are more fans of self-inventory rather than testing.)
There is a time for thinking, and a time for doing.
When going through a career transition, some people become test junkies. This may be a useful process of gathering a lot of information. Or it may be a delaying tactic from taking action.
Ultimately, the most useful information about yourself will come from taking action. You can conceptualize what you might do in a situation beforehand, but there is no real replacement for learning from experience.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that you can always jump right into a career option to learn more about yourself. If you set your sights on becoming a brain surgeon, you can’t do a quick internship in an operating room to see how you’d do. But your best understanding of your own abilities will occur when you’ve been able to perform some of the activities involved, and see what it feels like to actually do the work.
Photo: thanks to Natalia Y