Sunday, December 2, 2012

I coulda been a diva...or a lieutenant

When I was a high school sophomore (all the way back in 1959), I took a test called the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory (SCII). The questionnaire, still used by career guidance counselors, attempts to predict success in a given career field based on shared interests.

Do you like, dislike, or feel indifferent toward visiting an art museum? White-water rafting? Collecting stamps? These and dozens more questions generate an individual's profile. Then that profile is compared with composite profiles of people working successfully in a variety of fields.

The SCII results were revealed to me and my classmates not one-on-one but in our social studies classes. Any subtle analysis went over our heads. What we heard was, This is what I’m supposed to be.

My result: “Musician-performer.”

I did absorb the caution that while my interests matched those of successful musician-performers, this test didn’t address whether I had the talent or ability to succeed. In fact, I did have musical skills; I played both piano and organ and I performed a fair amount. I accompanied church choirs from age 13 to 20 and played for many weddings and funerals. On the piano I entered a variety of talent contests including the one in which my friend Sharon Nelson and I won first prize, beating Bob Dylan.

Nevertheless, I never really considered a career in the arts. I was already planning to work in advertising, a notion that eventually led to a satisfying career in public relations, writing, design, and marketing. These, too, are creative pursuits, and the profile that matched with “musician-performer” likely would also have matched with some variation of public relations or publications professional.

Alas, one of the serious flaws of the SCII at the time was an almost non-existent set of career fields for women. Profiles were compared only with sample groups of the same gender as the test-taker. Test designers focused on careers that required training. Results depended on having enough women employed in responsible positions in a given field that they could be surveyed. But in 1959, few women were well positioned in business and the professions. My business-minded friends were told they would be good candidates for leadership in the military, the only female group large enough to yield a reliable profile.   

I’ve been thinking about this only because I’ve been trying to figure out why I am drawn to the TV show The Voice. Twice a week when Peter and I settle in the den to watch, he points out that he is only watching this show because I am, and we like to spend evenings together. Should I ever start watching another reality show, he says, I’ll be watching it alone.

We’re probably safe. I’m not a fan of other reality shows, including other talent competitions. While shows like American Idol often feature harshly critical judges, The Voice features coaches (all of them popular singers) who assemble teams and then try to coach them to victory by helping them expand their vocal and performing skills. Even negative feedback is specific and kind, along the lines of “I enjoyed that but you had a little trouble with pitch,” or “This wasn’t your best performance; I don’t think the song showcased your strengths.”

Monday night this season’s final six contestants will perform, and Tuesday night we learn which four remain, having garnered the most votes from the public. I don’t vote for my favorites; I just enjoy the performances and the coaches’ feedback.  

After all, I have a lot in common with them. The Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory told me so.


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