I was in college two times.
The first time was when I was a child. I was there because I was “supposed” to be there. It was what a kid who graduated from my high school did. I went to class (mostly), studied (as little as possible), and passed (barely). Then I almost failed out, dropped out, and started working.
This was the best thing that could have happened to me. I was finally supporting myself, and this was amazing. I felt like my own person for the first time. I also discovered how bad the pay was at the lower end of the pay scale. After a year and a half, I decided that college might not be such a bad idea.
The second time was a different story. I was there because I wanted to be. I was interested in what I was studying, and really put my nose to the grindstone. It was amazing. I learned a ton, and really enjoyed the process. Dean’s list became a regular occurrence, and boy was that fun.
It was during this time that I learned about the joy of taking a test.
In the past, tests were something that I feared. Scratch that. The word fear is no way strong enough to describe what I felt before a test. I felt sick. I felt anguish. I felt looming failure. I felt like the littlest, shittiest thing on the entire planet. I was half way to failing before I even answered the first question.
On the second pass, it was so different, but not in the way I expected. I knew the material backwards and forwards, so doing well was not in question. I thought that after I was done, it was going to feel like crossing a finish line. I thought that I would have these amazing feelings of defeating something that beat me so badly in the past. I expected victory feelings. I expected fireworks.
That’s not how it felt.
It felt much smaller. I knew the material so well that it felt like I was filling out paperwork which asked for the personal information I know off of the top of my head. The 100 questions took me 13 minutes to finish (seriously, I timed it, and yes, I am a geek). There were no fireworks. Why would there be when I was just filling out a “form”. Instead I got a pleasant feeling about the way I prepared. It was not a big feeling, but it was nice. It just wasn’t what I expected.
Upon finishing it, I also realized that I was going to have to do this all over again (and again, and again…). In the past, this thought was the most sickening thing I could imagine. This time it felt different.
It was not sickening. To be honest, it was not even a bad feeling. I started to realize that the next test would be just as ok as the one I just finished. I might even get that nice feeling when I was done. I might not get the fireworks, but I would also avoid the crushing fear/sickness. This was a trade off that I could handle. I started to come to the grips with the thought that I could learn new things, and that doing so would feel ok.
This was so important for me. I always avoided things I did not know about due to the fear of the “test’ at the end. Over time, I started avoiding “tests” of all sorts. This was starting to make my world very small. My breakthrough changed everything.
Fast forward to today. I have been trying new things for years. Mostly I do so without fear, but not always. Sometimes the task is so big, and so complicated, that I feel the old fear/sickness/failure feelings. These feelings can cause me to avoid the big things that really need to be done to keep my life moving forward.
Yesterday, I took a “test” for something that I have been working on for 9 months. It was something that seemed too huge to even tackle when I first got started. It made me sick to work on it, or even think about it. Every time I answered one question about it, I found 9 others that I didn’t understand. It made me feel so dumb.
I fought thru these feelings. I did my best to remind myself that it was ok to not know how to do this yet. That it was ok to learn. That I could learn.
It took so much time, but I did it, and I got there. When it was time for the “test”, it was all that old familiar feeling. No, not the sick to my stomach feeling, but the good, small, easy as filling out a form feeling.
It was so great to feel this. Here I was filling out something that was actually extremely complicated, but to me, it was nothing. I easily did it off of the top of my head like I was filling out my address on a form.
So what is the point of this blog entry?
The point is that it is ok not to know something. The point is that with enough time and effort, you can learn anything. The point is that doing so is one of the most wonderful things you can do for yourself. The point is that “tests” don’t have to be painful. The point is that all tests really are is a way to see that you have truly understood a subject, and are ready to move on to the next subject.
Now I love learning and taking “tests”. If I could travel back in time, and say that to my 18-year-old self, I expect that I would have laughed in my own face. Now I know better. Now I know that learning is a wonderful, special part of life. It is the part of life that lets us make our lives bigger, and better. I will always push myself to keep learning, painful or not. The payoff is to big not to do so.
P.S. If you are curious, my “test” was the creation of the final wire frame and page detail/summary for the website that I am creating. This was the last big “test” for this part of my new business. There will be other tests, but none quite as big as this for a while. It feels good to be ready to start studying for the next one.