This spring, I had to sit for a licensing exam for my job in the financial industry. At my age and stage in life, it seemed like it was more than I could (and wanted to) take on. It would require a couple months of intensive studying, but we had lots of plans coming up between school activities, my husband’s 50th birthday, spring break, friends in town, all the while still balancing the demands of my job on a day-to-day basis.
Since the test was somewhat optional, it knew I could opt out, but then I worried that it would rear its head at a time in my life that was even less convenient. Plus, I have always confronted challenges head on so I somehow felt compelled to do so in this case. So, I dove in pretty quickly after the idea was raised by my boss. My urgency stemmed from wanting to finish it before the weather started getting nicer and life got even busier with school plays, music and dance recitals, graduations, and various other commitments. So, I ordered my materials (a 800 page study manual nonetheless) and began consuming it. What a daunting task it was from the get-go.
There was so much information that I could not imagine keeping any of it straight. My study time was relegated to nights and weekends because even when I tried to squeeze a bit of studying in at work, I felt distracted and lacked focused. I had to start and stop my studies because life gets in the way and I felt like I was approaching it all wrong. Plus, I was already getting tired. We had the week off for a school break so I decided to focus time on the family and recalibrate, but the test was always lurking in the back of my mind so I was never fully relaxed. I was becoming an irritable person who quickly forgot how to smile and have fun. I approach everything with intensity, but this took on a whole other level. It was just horrible. Horrible.
After our eagerly anticipated vacation, I decided to start fresh because my method of watching videos and reading the material was not yielding favorable practice test scores (and that is putting it mildly). I signed up for an in-person class hoping that the dedicated focus would put me in the right frame of mind. After a few hours, I felt like things were beginning to click. Yes! But then, I took more practice tests and continued to score poorly. I felt incredibly discouraged, but kept going. In fact, I wanted to purge it from my life so badly that I moved up the exam by a couple of weeks. A very risky move. The defeatist attitude seeped in deeper and I continued on a rocky path. Fatigue amplified everything so I decided to push more things aside. Plans stopped, mail piled up, returned phone
calls ceased, personal email exchanges were limited to only pressing matters and I honed in on work and the test. My husband further took over. I was emotionally and physically unavailable and conversations were abrupt and half listened to. My daughter felt cast aside as I had limited time and energy to be with her in the way I normally was. Evenings and weekends came and went, devoid of mom. I was there occasionally for some meals and quick conversations, but I could not be bothered with much. That is how I focus on something so astutely—I must tune everything else out. My daughter became consumed with counting down the days until mom was back. She asked me constantly about my scores and continued cheering me along. After another round of practice tests, the scores, which were improving, but nowhere near I wanted or needed to be. My daughter told me I was overthinking it. The times when I thought I was bombing it, I ended up scoring well, but on the flip side, when I felt confident, I did worse than expected. What an emotional rollercoaster it became…
I took a few days off before the test and hunkered down to fully immerse myself and grunt it out. Slowly some of the sticking points started gelling and I concentrated on other areas of weakness. I thought it was a good idea to retake a portion of the test questions that I got wrong in the earlier days of studying. Bad move. My scores dipped again and I freaked out. This was two days before test date. What a mess. I decided to step back and take one more test the day before the exam and got a higher number. It was good enough to put me in a better mental place.
Test day. 6 hour exam. The first half (3 hours) was misery. Pure misery. I was certain it was beyond repair. I ran out of time to re-review the questions I marked to go over, clearly too many. I was sweating (literally and figuratively). I left the test so upset and went to Starbucks to pump myself with caffeine and prime myself for the second half. But, there was no way I going to pass. The second half was better, perhaps because I half paid attention and sort of gave up. How had all of my hard work and diligence gotten me to this despondent place? What a waste of time I was thinking…30 minutes left and the coffee kicked in. I had to pee. Leg shaking, questions remaining, time ticking. I would not be able to finish the test given the urgency. So I ran to the bathroom and went back through security with minimal time to spare—10 minutes to be exact. I changed answers, which they advise you not to do. Then, I spontaneously hit the ‘done’ button. I was spent. The computer was not cooperating and kept inquiring if I was sure I wanted to exit because I still had time left. I wanted to be put out of my misery so I answered that I was ready to conclude. Then the moment arrived and I pressed the button to send end my misery and give me my score. Minutes felt like hours.
And the score displayed…PASS.
I was in shock. It was unbelievable and pure elation. It was over. I gathered my belongings and checked out still in complete shock that I received a favorable score. I did it. Not smooth, not elegant, not without doubt, but it happened.
I immediately went home and waited for my daughter to get home from school. She saw my bag in the hallway and ran upstairs to get the verdict. We shared a moment and she was giddy. I explained that it did not come easy and had I not put in the time I did and worked extraordinarily hard, I would have never been successful. She will always remember the toll it took on me and our family, but in life you must make sacrifices if you want to get anywhere. Things don’t come easy and they don’t always work out. Fortunately, this time it did result in a favorable outcome. As she progresses through school, we will remind her of the work I put in to do what I had to do. She saw me sweat, she saw me whine, she saw me discouraged and in the end, she saw me come back. This process taught us a lot about the resiliency of our family and how times like this force change—some hard and others for the better. My husband and daughter figured things out without me and remained in tact.
That evening, my daughter looked at me so lovingly. I told her that she had her sparkle back and she said it was because she had her mama back. No sweeter reward. It was all worth it and now we appreciate our time together like never before. My newfound freedom is more treasured and precious than ever. In the end, I learned a lot from the test, but gained more from pushing the boundaries and making concessions in our lives. At some point, everyone must. In hindsight, it was all worth it and I feel a great sense of accomplishment. It’s a reminder that hard work does pay off and, sometimes, it’s worth it to let them see you sweat.