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Evaluating How Your Brain Works

My old college roommate, Bruce, is a civil engineer by training. Recently, he was recognized by NASA for his contributions as the analysis lead on the next manned space vehicle--Orion. Out of the thousands of people contributing to this massive project Bruce was only one of seven recognized for his efforts.  Although I am biased, he is pretty impressive.

To see a story like this, people often envision a young boy building rockets knowing from early on he was destined to create great things. Bruce’s story was quite the opposite.

When I met Bruce he came to college as a business major not really knowing what to major in. However, he figured you could “get a job” with a business degree. During college he never really seemed that enthused by his studies, often just going through the motions.

A few years after we graduated, we were living together in Houston. Bruce was frustrated. He was working as a manager at a local grocery store, increasingly unhappy as the days went by.

Finally one night, he came home and said, “Dave, I want to take those aptitude tests you’re always talking about.”

He was referencing the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation’s aptitude measurement program. This program is not an IQ test, but rather measures what a person is naturally best at. After nearly 100 years of research Johnson O’Connor has determined that if people focus on what they are naturally best at they will be happier and more productive.

I had gone through the two-day program when I was 19. For me, it was truly transformational. I started college as a pre-vet major and spent my first year of college beating my head against the wall. Although I knew I liked animals, it was not a very scientific approach to choosing a career path or college major.

Johnson O’Connor determined my lowest natural abilities were sciences. As such, I could do science, but struggle with it. Instead, they steered me towards business—a field I had never considered. Three years later, my fate was happily set in stone. I loved studying business. It just worked for me and came quite naturally.

Bruce was already age 25 when he had his aptitudes evaluated. The results were surprising. Johnson O’Connor concluded that Bruce not only needed to be an engineer, but one dealing with cutting edge applications.

It was a bit of a shock—not only to Bruce, but to his family too. I remember his parents commenting, “Are you sure? Engineering requires so much math.” Indeed, in college Bruce was not the most dedicated when it came to math.

However, things were different now. He was older, more mature and definitely more serious. Bruce had a much different focus and was better equipped to make the most of his aptitude evaluation.

Bruce quit his job and went back to school. First, he started at the local community college while loading trucks at night. He was a determined man. Ultimately, he transferred to pursue his engineering degree full-time, finally graduating at age 29.

Twenty years later, Bruce is recognized as one of the top engineers in his field…despite the fact that no one thought he could pass a math class.

Bruce’s story is similar to many others. For whatever reason, we head off to school thinking we know what we are good at. Maybe we make this decision on our own and other times we are influenced by friends, family or social environment.

However, with college expenses reaching stratospheric levels, it is not a time to meander through life. The cost of the Johnson O’Connor aptitude testing is $675—about the cost of one semester worth of books. Relative to the cost of an overall education, it is minor.

Secondly, aptitude testing is not just for teenagers headed to college for the first time. Rather, aptitude testing is a natural consideration for anyone later in life who finds themselves transitioning jobs, being downsized or someone who just wants to learn how they tick.

Lastly, the human mind is far too complex to just go with your gut. Sure, you may have some inclination as to how parts of your brain work. However, not until you have had a comprehensive evaluation will you be able to understand how to maximize your true potential.

Dave Sather is a Victoria certified financial planner and owner of Sather Financial Group. His column, Money Matters, publishes every other week.