No. This post is not about the horrors of standardized testing. I could write a whole book about that! Studying 4-5 hours a day for 2 months straight, cramming fractions, number properties and algebra into my head after 10 years without it and then being forced todoitallreallyreallyfastunder30minutes withthepressureofyourfuturehanginginthebalance. It is one the great joys in life. But what I really wanted to talk about was how both of these things: The Growth/Defeat and LIFE/DEATH all hit me at exactly the same time. I had a teacher at some test intro tell us to assume that it is going to rain, the train will be late, we will have a stomachache and our boyfriend will break up with us on the day of our test. That way, when only one or two of those things happen…we won’t be thrown off.
Well, I tried everything in my power to control every possible variable. But death, was not one I could get my hands on. My grandfather who had been suffering from Alzheimers for the past two years, started dying a few days before my test. I mention this part, because it turns out that the dying was way worse than than the death. To watch someone die is one of the hardest things I have ever done; the pain, uncertainty and helplessness are all consuming. I should have been taking practice tests and memorizing geometry formulas, but I couldn’t seem to get an emotional grip on the pressure of the test and the only grandfather I’ve ever known slowly slipping away. Honestly, could not tell if my tears were about my test or about him. I think I tried to make them about the test, because that felt more like it was within my control. But really, crying is not my normal reaction to pressure, if anything, it would manifest as anxiety…definitely not tears. I believe it was a combination of how hard I had been pushing myself, trying hard not to break under the self-inflicted pressure and then having something else break the dam wide open.
I am lucky enough to have extremely perceptive and ambitious friends and family. In that, I did not receive the typical platitudes on how to deal with this situation. In a nutshell, I was told that I needed to view this as a test and an opportunity to grow. Obviously, this difficult and intimidating test and subsequent MBA applications were not enough, so the universe added on. Of course, in my phone call emotional state this all seemed ridiculous. In feeling so helpless, it seemed inconceivable that I could just decide not to let this beat me. But the next day, a family member reassured me, after a frustrating practice test; ‘that my brilliance and intelligence do not lie in the quantifiable, I am an exceptional critical thinker despite what this test may say and I analyze down to the last logical detail. I am a creative person, I do it intuitively.’ Light bulb. Who knows what got through to me in that moment, but I could see that that was true. I could not have explained my brain’s process to anyone else, but to have someone on the outside do it, brought everything into focus. It is true. I solve problems with an innate logical creativity that can’t be quantified in any standard system of measurement. I can barely explain it to myself. Insight. Awesome. So no more trying to conform to the test, we’re just going to do our best and though it is only a fractional measure of my capability and potential, it is still something I have to do. I’ll do the rest…my way.
When my grandfather passed away in sleep, and I was now home at my parent’s, my father came downstairs at 6:30am to tell me the news. This was also a moment of peace. The strain and struggle were over, the worry and anguish were gone. We simply had to deal with the empty space. He died at home, with his family around him, never taken to the hospital or hooked up to machines, just fell asleep and didn’t wake up again. It is kind of the way I think we would all like to go, at 87 surrounded by family, very little pain and simply drift away in sleep. We all hope that we do not have to go before our time, but I think we all knew that this was his.
I still had to block out a lot of this in order to finish studying and prepare for test day. I certainly did not put in the effort that I had planned…which in hindsight was probably overkill anyway. So on a rainy Tuesday I spent the day at a test center and on that windy Thursday I went to a funeral. This is definitely not how I expected December to go, but I was forced to make a choice. I had to decide to grow. In any situation where you are tested, the choices come down to defeat or growth.
I choose to grow.