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144. Finding a Career that Fits with Marlys Hanson

Sarah had achieved her dream. With a PhD in Physics, she had accepted a new position as a Theoretical Physicist.

But as the months wore on, she started to feel overwhelmed and depressed. She’d done well in school and enjoyed her classes – why couldn’t she focus on her work?

Sean graduated with honors from his engineering program. But after six months on the job as a field representative for a machine company, he was fired.

He had been an excellent student, and excelled in class with top grades and praise from his professors. In the field, he had none of that feedback, and his motivation plummeted. He blamed himself for the failure, but he couldn’t understand how all his success had collapsed so quickly.

Passion and Purpose

Sarah and Sean are just two examples of what happens every day in academia. Bright, well trained students graduate to find all of that training led to a career that didn’t live up to their expectations.

Or even more commonly, they may like aspects of the job, but other factors weigh them down. The research is interesting, but they clash with the PI, or lose motivation when the experiments don’t work.

This week, we talk with psychologist and career expert Marlys Hanson. Her book PASSION AND PURPOSE: How to identify and leverage the powerful patterns that shape your work/life describes an evidence-based approach for discovering your unique “Motivated Abilities.”

With that data in hand, you’ll have the confidence to choose your next opportunity and maximize your happiness and productivity.

System for Identifying Motivated Abilities (SIMA)

passion and purpose by Marlys Hanson

You may have taken a Meyers-Briggs test, or some other psychometric analysis aimed at describing your personality traits or interests that could improve your career.

But, Ms. Hanson points out, those are preference-based tests, and our biases can creep into our choices and we actually select answers that don’t describe us well.

“Our preferences are not clean evidence,” she says. “They’re so impacted by our biases. Their reliability and validity are not very high, and they’re not very effective in making informed career decisions.”

The System for Identifying Motivated Abilities, on the other hand, is an “Evidence Based Assessment.” The process starts when you list achievements from your childhood onward.

You choose eight such examples – things that you enjoyed doing and thought you did well – and describe each event in as much detail as possible.

How did you get involved? What did you actually do step-by-step? What were you proud of after you accomplished this task?

Then, you or your SIMA analyst can go through those stories looking for patterns – evidence of your past successes and how you achieved your goals.

Building a Profile

Those bits of evidence get sorted into five categories that make up your Motivational Profile.

  1. Motivated Abilities – which of your skills do you frequently use when you’re happily working?
  2. Subject Matter – What topics inspire you? Do you work with numbers or animals or abstract concepts?
  3. Circumstances – How do you get involved in a project? Do you like to be asked or come up with the idea yourself? Do you prefer a deadline or an open ended engagement?
  4. Operating Relationship – Do you find it motivating to work in a team, or prefer to be an individual contributor? Or do you do your best work by managing others?
  5. Motivational Payoff – What do you get out work that satisfies you? Are you happy with a job well done, praise from a supervisor, or monetary gains?

Once you understand your unique motivational profile, you can put it to work for you. You’ll quickly recognize when a job will be a good fit – even before accepting the position. And you’ll be able to diagnose those times when your job changes and you just feel demotivated to get the work done.

For a comprehensive step-by-step guide to understanding your motivated abilities, check out Marlys Hanson’s book PASSION AND PURPOSE: How to identify and leverage the powerful patterns that shape your work/life (Available on Amazon Kindle).

If you’d like to work with Ms. Hanson on developing your profile, you can reach her at

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