Information Technology Dark Side

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Can You Hang With Giants Without Feeling Small?

October 1st, 2007 · 3 Comments

Years ago I knew a professional football player by the name of John Tait, currently of the Chicago Bears. John is an enormous guy and hanging out with him made me feel small. I’m 6’1” and have never been less than 200 pounds as an adult, so feeling small was not something I took easily to. I realized later on that John was born to play football, whether he wanted to or not. He was so big, and so strong that even if he had hated football, teams would have sought him out and convinced him to play. From the day he was born, John was destined to be a professional athlete.
I like playing football, although I never played on a real team at any level (high school, college, etc.). When I do play football, I don’t care if I touch the ball. I just want to tackle the quarterback. Every now and then, I will get a sack, and I love the way that feels. I have, on occasion, convinced myself that, had I really wanted to, my size and build might have lent itself to playing football, if only at the high school or college level.
That is, until I think about John Tait coming at me, trying to clear a path for a runningback. You see, John is an offensive lineman, and the thought of him bearing down on me is terrifying. I wouldn’t get in his way for a million dollars, and I mean that literally. I don’t know how people get smacked by him and survive, much less get off the ground.

One thing was made perfectly and eternally clear from my experience with John Tait. I could never make it in the NFL. No matter how much I practiced, worked out, or studied, I was never meant to play or work in that circle. I could never belong, never fit in with that collection of human beings whose genetics and personalities made them good candidates for violent contact sports. I could not add value to this group of guys, and if given a role in their group, would probably have been a detriment. No matter how badly I might want to play professional football, I was clearly born to do something else. Fortunately for me, I’m not interested in that gig.
In contrast, I recently spent several very engaging days with a large group of technologists. This collection of smart, innovative, and talented people might have been as intimidating to some people as the thought of lining up against John Tait on a football field, but it wasn’t for me. Even though I am now a project manager, I still felt as though I could belong in that group – that I could contribute in a meaningful way and that I could add as much value as anyone. I was where I belonged, and we all knew it.
I used this same sort of approach on another occasion, at a time when I was very depressed about my writing aspirations. Penelope Trunk, author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, had just told me I would never make it as a writer and advised me to do something else. I was feeling pretty discouraged, and had all but stopped writing. Then, Mike Kelly invited me to go meet famous fantasy author Terry Brooks at a book signing nearby, and I went. I listened to him talk, watched him field questions from his fans, and even asked a few questions myself. Then, after the reading, I was able to chat with him for a few moments.
This experience lifted my spirits and I started writing again. Why? Because as I spoke with Terry Brooks I had the opposite experience of hanging out with John Tait. I knew I wasn’t anywhere near the skill level of a writer like Terry Brooks, but I also realized that I could be. I could hang out with successful authors and feel comfortable, capable of adding value, of contributing at a similar level. All I had to do was keep writing, keep learning, and I would make it someday.
I call this approach to figuring out if you might be able to make it in a particular profession the Tait Test, in honor of the influence knowing John had on me. It’s not enough to simply hang out with successful people in your prospective occupation – just because you like cheerleaders, for instance, doesn’t mean you could be one. You should also ask yourself questions that help reveal how well you might perform in these occupations, such as:

– Am I naturally interested in the topics that interest them?
– Do they find my perspective enlightening, or do I only add content that is already known?
– Could I spend the next five years focused on the topics that interest them?
– Could I contribute NEW meaning to the field being considered? In other words, could I contribute valuable new content by being innovative?
– Can I learn to do the things they do as well as, or better than, them?
– Would I enjoy doing the things they do over and over again?
– Would doing their jobs well make you feel fulfilled?
The Tait Test is a valuable metric for evaluating whether you might be successful in a particular occupation. Granted, it is more of a gut feel test than say, a formal aptitude test, but it can give you valuable insight into areas you might be good at and help you avoid occupations where you might not be successful or find fulfillment. So, if you think you want to write video games for a living, find some guys who do and hang out with them for a while. Apply the Tait Test – maybe you would like it, maybe you wouldn’t.
Time will tell whether or not I can ever be as successful as Terry Brooks. I’m certainly not so far, but I’m progressing and feeling better about my writing every day. Maybe I’ll never make it at all, but that’s another thing I’ve come to grips with. I’d rather be a writer that’s not famous than not write at all.

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Tags: Job Advice

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Phil Kirkham // Oct 2, 2007 at 11:39 am

    Nice article, glad you did decide to carry on writing

    Not long after I started my move into testing I went to a conference and ended up in the pub with some of the people there and found I could follow what they were saying and enjoyed their company and this gave me the push to carry on

    Now that I’ve moved jobs and am in a test consultancy surrounded by testers I’m really enjoying it and can answer yes to all the questions – a pass for the Tait Test

  • 2 David Christiansen // Oct 15, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    It’s always good to find a place where you feel you fit in and can contribute in meaningful ways. I prefer that to the two other possible outcomes of the Tait test – the first is feeling like you can’t contribute, the second is feeling you can crush everyone around you. Neither one is good for the soul, if you ask me.

  • 3 Allen // Oct 25, 2007 at 1:54 am

    Great test!

    I especially think that last one is telling.

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