In life there are all kinds of tests. A test can be the standard kind you take in school or to gain entrance to college or for a professional certification. Tests can also be the trials of life that happen as we grow and change and age. In this context, a test can be a divorce, or a job loss, or the illness of a parent. Right now, for a few friends and me, there are quite a few tests of the paper and pen or computer variety. I have learned that the challenging life tests are just ongoing and part of being human, in all its glory.
One friend has been studying for a professional certification over the last year. She has taken the test at least once before and was frustratingly within a few points of passing and earning the certification. The test is known to be difficult and among her industry peers rarely anyone passes on the first try. She signed up to take the test once again this spring, but in a recent text exchange she said it had been hard finding the time to study. While it’s a professional certification, the hours to study and prepare for the exam don’t get covered by her employer. She already has a full schedule, juggling the demands of a career she loves and her small family that she loves even more, with a little boy growing like a weed and a husband who has taken on a new career path. Recent family circumstances, including unexpected legal and estate issues due to the deaths of a relative and a parent, not to mention the grief, have only added to her full plate. She and I struggle to find time to schedule a phone chat as we have opposite work schedules and are separated by a couple of time zones, so we send texts sporadically when she has a rare free moment. I admire her strength and steadfastness. I suspect that with her career experience and oh-so-close-score from the last time she will pass the test and gain the certification. I hope she passes with flying colors and also gets a raise and a reprieve from her life tests, along with the relief that her career test is passed and past.
I have another friend who made the rare choice to voluntarily take some time off from work to be with her loved ones, including extra time with her mother, sister, and boyfriend. She has used the time to travel and just be, while also helping her best friend who had a surgery in the fall and needed help with childcare and housekeeping for a couple of weeks or so. This ambitious woman also decided to take on a bunch of tests to help her in her profession as an accountant. She plans to return to work in a few short months. She scheduled and passed a series of tests for a tax preparation certification over the late fall and early winter. She also began the mighty process of studying for and taking tests for the CPA license. This rigorous set of tests is renowned for being hard. She has passed one test already, I think, and she is getting ready to take another one shortly. She comes across another kind of test, with a health scare and an upcoming surgery. She faces the life test and the professional tests with a bravery and an optimism that I admire. I wish her a speedy recovery and the perseverance to do well on all the tests and thrive in her next job.
In the fall a friend, who I first got to know because she lived in the apartment across from mine, pulled me aside and asked if I could help her. Concerned, I said yes, and then she told me that she had never graduated from high school. Mind you, this is a friend who has succeeded in her career due to hard work and grit while raising three daughters on her single income. Among many things as a good mom, she made sure they were polite and stuck up for themselves, read books while she wasn’t home, and learned to do their own laundry when they were young. My friend would like to make another career advance, but I think most of all she would like to gain her GED for her own sake and pride. She told me that I am the smartest person she knows. (Yep, I will take that compliment and share it here.) She also knew I had a teaching background and asked me if I would help her to study and prepare for the GED tests. I bought a couple of GED test prep guides, one for her and one for me. We schedule time in the next week to begin the process to plot out a study and test timeline for the next few months. This friend has had her own set of life tests: a nasty breakup and some challenges that one of her daughters faces. I love her strength and determination and I look forward to studying and learning with her over the next few months.
I have also been studying for my own test. A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to transition from a 40-hour-a-week-one-job to something that went along with my varied interests and talents. While it hasn’t exactly come to fruition yet, I picture multiple paths where I get to teach and practice massage and write and pursue some other passions. While massage school is on hold for now (that’s a long story) after my school closed over a year ago, I have slowly been making progress in other areas. Right now, I am working on a two-month timeline for self-study and then a big test. While my test may not be as difficult as my friends’ tests, it still takes determination and self-discipline to carve out time outside of work and writing and time with loved ones to study and learn. While it may surprise people who know or who have seen me, I am learning and studying to pass the test to become a certified personal trainer. Like everyone else, I have had my own personal tests that make life both hard at times and beautiful, whether it’s finally dealing with my past professional mistakes and my financial messiness, or testing the waters of a new relationship.
While studying for a professional or a scholastic test can be fairly straightforward with the help of test preparation guides and other resources, preparing for life’s tests can be much trickier. For one, we never know when life’s tests will greet us: big ones like a diagnosis or the death of a loved one, or small ones like a flat tire or stolen phone. We can prepare with our own healing, so that we are ready to face life with grace and gratitude. There is the oft-repeated wisdom that life is not so much the circumstances, but our choices in response. Do we find the strength and inner-healing? What is our training for those life tests? We have our own familiar patterns and the ones we learn as we grow up. Over time, we can identify what may be unhealthy and discover new ways of responding and of being proactive. We can make the change to forge paths, instead of just riding along as passengers, being proactive instead of just reacting. We also can find that our ways and our instincts are right on, and that it’s not so much about healing as discovering that we are whole all along. Of all my spiritual and inner work over the last few years, I realized that in many ways it was a lot about studying and preparing for life’s tests. I celebrate my strong and beautiful friends and applaud my own resilience and grace.
How do we prepare and rise to meet life’s tests? How can we help others in times of need? How can we be ready for those tests of any kind?
I realize that I want to be the kind of person who can create my life, and respond to crisis and to celebration. I want to train and be ready to help myself and others, while also learning to obey and observe boundaries when needed. I want to be able to be agile and nimble and flexible, and not just responding to circumstances, but also to be forging my own path, running into life.