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MCLEOD: The mistakes most people make when choosing a career

Lisa McLeod

Lisa McLeod

What did you want to be when you grew up? A dancer, fireman, rock star? Maybe an astronaut?

When I was 10 I told my mom I wanted to be a TV preacher. Then she informed me that I'd probably have to join a church, so I gave up on that plan.

Thus began a stream of well-intended, horrible career advice from authority figures.

Unfortunately, things haven't changed much. As the mother of two teens, I continue to be shocked, appalled, and saddened by the way most schools approach career guidance.

Advance warning, this is going to be a bit of a rant.

Here's the big, stupid mistake we continue make -- We try to help kids figure out jobs instead of letting them figure it out for themselves.

From elementary on, schools spend time and money exposing students to various careers. Yet they rarely give kids the self-assessment tools that would reveal their own unique personalities and talents.

It's absolutely bizarre. It's totally backwards. What's even weirder is, the solution is easy and free.

A simple online Myers-Briggs test (www.myersbriggs.org) will tell anyone over the age of 10 about 75 percent of what you need to know about yourself before considering career options.

This classic test assesses whether you're an extrovert who's energized by people or an introvert who produces their best work alone, whether you'll thrive in a loose environment or a hierarchical structure, whether you process things using facts or feelings, and other key personality indicators. There's no good or bad, it's just who you are.

This single test can save you tons of career missteps and heartbreak. Yet I'm amazed at how few people have taken it.

I did a Myers-Briggs on both my kids before they were 5 by utilizing the tools in "Nurture by Nature: Understand Your Child's Personality Type -- And Become a Better Parent" by Barbara Barron-Tieger.

Yet when my eldest daughter took AP Psychology in 11th grade, she was one of the few kids who had ever even heard of it.

Here they are high school seniors and no one has ever exposed them to the idea that different personalities are good at different jobs. What's worse is, only the kids in the AP Psych are learning it.

The rest of the crew is bumbling along like I did.I didn't take a Myers-Briggs test until I was 27. Within five minutes of getting the results, I realized that I was in the wrong job.

As an ENTJ, I was born to work in a high-energy environment selling big ideas and interacting daily with lots of people. Yet what was I doing? Working alone, selling a very static product to customers who didn't want to collaborate.

No wonder I hadn't broken past middle management. I changed jobs six months later. I joined a training company, selling concepts to creative customers and within six months I was the top performer.

If you've ever been miserable in a job, you know how hard it is to become something you're not.

No matter where you are in your career, it's not too late. Take the test; knowing yourself better will help you make great choices going forward.

And if you know a young person, tell them to take the test before they decide one more thing.

Oh, and that idea I had about being a TV preacher? It turns out there's a job called professional speaker that is just about the same thing. We already know who we are. Sometimes we just need reminding.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of "The Triangle of Truth," which the Washington Post named as a "Top Five Book for Leaders."

Comments

NewsReader 1 year, 12 months ago

McLeod, I'm all with you on the importance of this very over looked test. But I have to ask; testing before age 5? If you look at your children today, and especially the one that just went off to college, do you concur that the results from their test at that age was on target today; some 15 years later? And why the Myers-Briggs test versus say the ASVAB test? I'd appreciate your thoughts on this.

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