Personal DevelopmentProductivity

When Aptitude Is Not Enough

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Shake Things Up

I’ve said before many times that the key to job satisfaction is moving away from your Drudgery and Disinterest Zones and toward the Passion and Proficiency of your Desire Zone.

Some readers have raised a good question about this shift. “It’s easy to tell what I’m passionate about,” they tell me, “but how do I determine if I am proficient at something?”

Results Matter

It's easy to assume that just sitting down and thinking through your professional strengths is all it takes to get clear on your proficiency. However, I don't think that's the case. In fact, I'd suggest that proficiency is something you cannot determine on your own, because it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There is a lot of overlap between aptitude and proficiency but they are not the same.
Aptitude is an ability or knack for doing something. But we’re not necessarily going to be proficient at all those things we have an aptitude for, and the difference really matters.
In business, proficiency is externally validated. The attributes of proficiency – knowledge, skills, and experience – generate results that other people can measure and reward.
You’re not truly proficient unless you’re able to deliver results in the role you were hired for, or that you’ve convinced your organization to shift you into.

This can be frustrating to workers who are tired of the job they have now but haven't yet convinced their employer to move them into a different role.
In such cases, you may be tempted to throw in the towel and strike out on your own. That move could be either a great idea or a huge mistake. How can you tell the difference?

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

We’ll get to that in a second. First, let me suggest what you might do with an aptitude that does not clearly rise to the level of a proficiency.
Let’s say you’re good at hitting a baseball. That’s great, but it doesn’t mean you ought to quit your job and chase a career in the game. Instead you might join an adult team and play on weeknights and in weekend tournaments.
Or say you are good at playing the guitar. That doesn’t mean you ought to put together a band and tour the country. Maybe you can join the worship team at church or play with friends or come out to open mic nights and just enjoy it.
There shouldn’t be anything unsatisfying about this approach. Most of us have more aptitudes than we can realistically pursue in our professional life. It’s not a bad idea to use those aptitudes to help us figure out what to do to find fulfillment in our personal lives.

Ask Before You Leap

Now back to the question of when a career transition may be in order. Before you decide to change positions within your company or strike out on your own, I suggest that you ask yourself these 3 questions:

  • What do I feel passionate about doing instead of my current work?

  • Am I proficient at it?

  • How do I know that?

The last question is key. “I just know” is not a good answer. Again, it all comes back to external validation.
To take the two examples above, let’s say that while you are pursuing your aptitudes as hobbies, people see your talent and constantly encourage you to take it to the next level. Let’s further foresee that you get serious interest from a talent scout or a record executive.
These would be examples of external validation of your proficiency at these disciplines. When this happens, pay attention and at least consider moving your life into a whole new and more satisfying zone.
Because when you have both passion and proficiency, you can often get a third p into the equation that makes all of this possible: profits.

In what areas do your passions and proficiencies overlap? What external validation have you received in these areas?

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