I glanced at the young man sitting at the desk to my left. “That should have been me” I thought. Getting a clear direction before heading off to college. I fought the urge to tell the kid “Be thankful you’re here now. You don’t want to wake up in twenty years and wonder what you should be doing with your life.” Instead I stared at the items on my desk. A stack of papers. A board with small holes on one side and metal pins scattered on the other. A container filled with #2 pencils and pens. Before the test started I looked to my right and saw three tiny words inscribed on the wall: ‘F*@k this test’. I chuckled and turned back to the television to read the word “Silograms”. The test had begun.
Several months ago a friend mentioned the Johnson O’Connor (JOC) aptitude test she had taken many years ago. She was returning to the test center for some career guidance. “Since the test reveals your natural talents the results never change. And you can go back at anytime for guidance” she said. I was intrigued until she said how much it cost.“But it’s totally worth it.” she said. It might be, but I couldn’t see spending $700 to take a test.
I enjoyed my job. I felt it challenged me (as much as one wants to be challenged by their work). The dull moments were few and I could support our family. But I started to ask “Do I want to be doing this in twenty years?” and “What will I do when I hit the ceiling; or if I have hit the ceiling?” I started to consider school, departmental shifts, or career changes. I was reluctant, if not downright terrified, of going back to school based solely on my interests. That could lead to me enrolling in Chinese studies one week, music the next, followed by an MBA program. Then the conversation with Stephanie came back to me. $700 for career guidance seemed like a penance compared to several years of tuition.
I wanted to know more about JOC and asked around, checking with friends and co-workers that may have heard of the foundation and test. No one had. I googled and found blog posts and articles with favorable feedback. The only complaint I found was the cost. Jenn and I talked about it and decided it was better to spend a few hundred for the direction offered by the test than thousands on a college degree chosen capriciously. The next day I called and made an appointment to take the assessment.
Taking the Test
I arrived at the Atlanta facility located in Lenox Tower. My nerves tingled while I waited to be escorted back for the test. I knew there was nothing to be nervous about yet I was queasy and parched. When the JOC administrator said the young man and I would be testing together for the first section, my anxiety increased. We sat down at our desks while the administrator, a petite blonde with a serious yet friendly demeanor, told us the initial group of tests would last about an hour. We put on our headphones and listened to the clinical voice describe our first test.
“Silograms” gauged our language acquisition by placing one nonsense word (like BIK) and one English word (like NICE) on the screen together for several seconds before moving on to the next pair. Roughly twenty words came and went before our headphones announced it was time to turn over the first sheet of paper and write from memory the English word next to the nonsense word already on the page. My first pang of frustration struck as I tried to remember the words. “I just saw them!”. I wrote down a few before my mind went blank. Time was up when the voice said we would repeat the exercise again.
As the words flashed on the screen I associated meaning with the words, tying them together anyway I could. I found myself recognizing a few more than the previous round. We repeated the exercise two more times. By the final round I remembered more than half the words. I was shocked.
There was no time to dwell on the outcome. Our disembodied guide described the next assessment. For several minutes I tried to grab three tiny pins with two fingers and place them in a single hole on the left side of the board. With the finger dexterity task accomplished, the headphones piped in our next set of instructions. What would I do if a bizarre epidemic struck the entire population of the world? The voice said to write without ceasing until told to stop. Grammar, punctuation, and penmanship were irrelevant. I turned off my internal filters and wrote until my fingers cramped.
When the recording completed we took a short break. Ten minutes later another administrator led me to an office for one-on-one testing. My penchant for misunderstanding was on display immediately. The administrator told me to hold a white rectangular board with a hole in the middle. Then I had to lift it up while fixing my gaze on the intersection of two lines crossing a board she was holding at waist height.
“Focus on the center of the board I am holding. Do not take your eye off the center of my board. Now I want you to lift the board up and bring it to your right eye” the administrator said. I lifted the board straight to my eye. “No, put the board back down then lift with your arms straight out in front of you. Slowly bring the board to your face, continuing to stare at the center of the board I’m holding” she said. With each mistake I wondered if the instructor thought I was incompetent. She remained professional which helped me relax for the rest of the session.
Next we sat across from one another at a large desk. She placed a large laminated mat with geometric shapes and connecting arrows before me and said “I’m going to place several ‘chips’ on the board. Each chip has one word on it. Place them in a logical sequence as quickly as you can. And use both hands. Speed is important.” I grabbed the chips and set them in order while the administrator timed me. I repeated the test with new boards, new words, and increasingly complex patterns. When the last test was complete I took an hour for lunch.
I returned to the 10th floor suite to continue the barrage. A woman sat in reception waiting to go back for her test. “If you don’t mind me asking, how did you find out about the Johnson O’Connor Foundation?” I asked. The woman explained many of the executives at her company sent their teenage children for testing. She felt it was time for a change and decided to test. “Mid life crisis I guess” she said. They must get a lot of that at JOC. People ready for a change without a clue what direction to go. Young and old desperate to find out what they want to do with their lives. The JOC staff called her back to begin her testing. I almost said “Good luck” but stopped. There is no luck in this test. There is no preparation. There’s just you and the natural abilities woven into your DNA.
Come back tomorrow for Part 2.