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Career Column: Your Island of Genius at Work

Are all people intelligent? There's no question in my mind that they are. Some would go so far as to say that every creature in the animal kingdom uses intelligence to learn from experience and adapt to their environment. But unless you're dealing with animals in your career, we'll stick to a discussion of finding your personal island of genius -- your intelligence -- and applying it to a job. So where is your island?

You don't have to take a complex I.Q. test to discover where your genius lies. Consider sincerely asking friends, family and co-workers the following question: "In your opinion, what are two of my greatest strengths" or "What do you think I do better than anyone else you know?" If they laugh (which they might do as an anxious response to a surprising question), simply smile and ask again. After all, if you don't take it seriously, why should they? With several answers to your serious questions, a pattern may emerge revealing an island of genius to use to full advantage in your work.

Shy about asking for feedback? You really don't even have to ask people for direct feedback to identify areas of your own high intelligence. Make a list of things you do well. Note a great accomplishment for each year of your life, including childhood years. Take a close look at past job appraisals or letters of recommendation to see if comments follow a trend. Or note what people say about you in general conversation. Does a pattern emerge? For example, more than one person has told me that they like the way I decorated my home. I spent hours glancing through the Sears catalog as a teenager selecting furnishings for my future home. A neighbor once asked, "Are you a decorator?" A 3-year-old child commented to his mother as he gazed at my foyer, "This is beautiful, mommy." Yes, even a child helped me to realize that I have good "spatial intelligence." This island of mine, and perhaps that of the 3-year-old, is taking shape over time. I recognize it, and it's up to me to decide how to use it.

Like mine, islands of genius don't have to be used directly in careers but can be pursued as personal hobbies or vocational interests. And they are unlimited, not just measured by mathematical ability or an understanding of words and language as in the I.Q. benchmarks of the last century. Reframe your 21st century mind and identify whether you would excel in a career that involves skills in musical ability (e.g., music conductor or composer), bodily-kinesthetic (the Michael Jordans and professional dancers of the world), interpersonal-communication, (an effective salesperson or teacher), or naturalistic ability (e.g., undersea explorers and others who find ways to survive in challenging natural environments). The point is not so much to label the area of intelligence but to identify and use unique skills for personal advantage in a job or even in a hobby that improves your quality of living.

As we seek to make a mark in the world of work or in our personal lives, those who bask in the sun of their own island of genius will find themselves the most satisfied and the least stressed...possibly even making the most money. And who doesn't want to make money while at the same time enjoying life? Pinpointing your island of genius goes a long way toward making that possible.

Debi Carter-Ford is a professor of psychology and consultant to management in the areas of applied psychology and employee training. Questions and comments may be sent to careers@dunsonandassociates.com.

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