Special Talents?

Sep 26th, 2010 | By | Category: abundance, application, aptitude, Career advice, career choice, career choices, challenges, choosing a career, confidence, mentor, natural talent, passion, retraining, skills, strategy, success, tactics, training

All of the career guidance literature I have seen over my years study says we all have a special talent, and if we develop that talent, work will seem like play and we will magically excel in the workplace. Sounds great! Problem is after 50 years in the workplace, I haven’t found my special talent. Have you?

I consider my self an average person in almost all respects. While there are a few things I do a little better than some others, most things turn out mediocre or worse. In grade school I discovered that while I had high expectations my grades were average, and I was very bad at spelling which I was never able to overcome. Although I participated in most school activities, I never excelled or was chosen as a leader. In high school my attention was not on learning, and it was only though the dedication of the Sister’s of Mercy that I was able to graduate and later attend college. In high school there was no particular subject that interested me, and it seemed the more I liked a subject the harder it was for me to pass. For example, mechanical drawing was supposed to be easy and fun, but I struggled with the concept and my art skills were atrocious. Even with all the mechanical aids, I couldn’t seem to draw a straight line. As engineering student in college I had to take several mechanical drawing classes. It was a repeat of my high school experience, but on a higher level. I tried music, sports, and a few other school activities none of which revealed any real talents. By the time I graduated from high school, I had no idea of what to do for a career. To be truthful, I hadn’t given it much thought.

Several of my friends were hired at the local mills right out of high school. Although I always thought that was what I would do, for no particular reason I didn’t even apply. Instead I joined the military. The military gives a battery of tests including aptitude tests. My scores were good enough that I could choose from any of the broad categories available. I had no idea what to choose, and choose electronics based on the opinion of a friend that thought it would be cool to be able to fix TVs. Air Force tech school was ok, but it did not seem to be anything that I had a special talent for. For the next 3 years I fixed problems in airborne inertial guidance systems. Although I was pretty good at diagnosing and fixing malfunctions, it was mainly because it was the same few components that failed all the time. When the end of my enlistment came, I still had not identified any special talents or great desires for a career. After roasting in jungles and deserts, and freezing in subzero cold, I decided perhaps an office job might not be so bad. So my plan was to apply to several colleges, if I got accepted I would go, if I were not accepted I would enlist for another hitch in the Air Force. Ok, now which colleges should I apply, and what should I study? Not a clue!

Fate often makes decisions, while we are busily burning brain cells trying to make up our minds. In my case it was a family tragedy that left my mother alone to finish raising my three younger brothers. At my mother’s request, I agreed to apply to colleges where I could live at home and commute to school. That settled one problem, where to apply. Picking a course of study was less fate and more apathy. My leaning was towards business and finance, perhaps stocks and bonds. One cold winter day in Germany, when the planes were grounded for bad weather, a few of us passed the down time in the NCO club. A civilian technical representative, who had an EE degree, was with us. As usual the conversation rolled around to what everyone was going to do when their tour was finished. When I said that I was going to apply to college and study business, the tech rep said with all the authority that comes from several German beers “you should get an EE degree you’ll make more money.” So everything was settled and I applied to all the engineering schools that were in commuting distance of mom’s house. Only Youngstown State accepted me so there were no more choices to make for a while.

Engineering school was difficult for me, but considering there were 200 in my freshman class and 25 in my graduating class; I guess it wasn’t supposed to be easy. Although I derived a certain satisfaction of solving a never-ending borage of math and physic problems, it was not a passion nor even enjoyable; and it most certainly was not a natural talent. After graduation I worked for 35 years as an electronics engineer. There were a lot of career choices to make during those years, but I stuck with engineering as my core expertise. Some of my peers went to night school to get law degrees, and I did earn a MBA, but the majority remained in engineering. In many cases, I think it may have been to daunting to start over. There is a certain comfort that comes with seniority, especially in government jobs.

So now I am retired, and career choices are still on my mind. One of the reasons for starting the PracticaL Mentor website was to stay in touch with the workforce and to continue to learn how to best address the challenges and issues that arise. I do enjoy helping others to avoid the pitfalls that challenged me, and I do think I have learned a great deal through experience that I would like to pass along. Although I do enjoy helping other with career advice, I am not sure that it qualifies as a passion, and it is more hard-knock experience rather than talent. The point that I am trying to make is that my experience shows that for most average people, the idea of passion and natural talent may be more on the order of preferences and capabilities. So when considering careers it may be more of rejecting careers you would not like to do, instead of a passion, and something you are capable of learning to do at an acceptable level instead of natural talent. That opens a much wider field of opportunity.

Good Luck
The PracticaL Mentor

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