Updated: May 31, 2021
Life is full of tests; things that assess what we know, what we can do, and who we are. And for most people, just hearing the word, ‘test’ brings about a lot of negative emotions. Feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and anxiety. Tests are meant to be avoided at all costs, and when you successfully dodge those tests, guess what you get? Inadequacy, self-doubt, and anxiety.
Tests Come in all Shapes & Sizes
Tests will always have their place in society; they are the best way to assess ability and readiness in any given area. Now when I say this, you may be thinking about tests given through paper or computer, and this is a very limited understanding of what a test can be.
A test that will truly assess ability and understanding should vary based on the area being tested. Some tests may require something physically, because that’s the demands of the field being tested for. Other tests may be more verbal, and in many ways, we should view job interviews as a test. And then lastly, we come to the more basic understanding of a test, which involves either a pencil and paper, or time spent staring at a computer, as question after question presents itself; we can refer to this type as a more standardized variation of assessment.
Of the three options, physical, verbal, and standardized, each person carries a unique level of comfort. This comfortability is based solely on past experiences, and your mind’s projection of the past repeating itself in the future. If you’ve always underperformed on a standardized test, then you will have already established a level of self-doubt going into a future opportunity. Likewise, if you’ve never had a bad job interview in your life, then you will walk into any meeting with a confidence that is palpable.
Our existence is not meant to be defined by strength and weakness. It’s not good enough to say that you can, and therefore you will; or you can’t, and therefore you won’t. We can’t allow our mind to tell us when we will succeed, and when we will fail. We have to check our ego at the door, and push past our limitations.
What You Work to Be
The challenge of this blog post isn’t to try to talk yourself out of certain mindsets, or to attempt to convince yourself that you are something that you’re not. Strengths and weaknesses are real, and we should be self-aware enough to know some of our own; but the idea that they should remain unchanged throughout our lives is false. The only people who believe that they can’t change, are those who are unwilling to make it happen.
If you never test yourself, and never reach outside of your comfort zone, then you have no true understanding of your abilities, beyond what is comfortable. Everyone loves to go back and forth about the idea that you can be whatever you set your mind to. Some will say it’s true, and some will say that we have to play with the hand that we’ve been dealt, meaning an inevitable lowered ability to achieve
Let’s look at it this way: you can be whatever you work to be. And not the work of one day, or month, or year, but in most cases the work of years, and decades. All of this before you achieve your goal… or what was your goal, because the beautiful thing about goals is that by the time you reach the initial goal, you have probably already set a new one, a loftier one.
The years of work, dedication, and resilience in the face of adversity are tests, in and of themselves. It’s not easy to commit each day to getting a step closer to your goal; and it’s boring to deposit a penny each day, all in hopes that it will one day amount to something worth cashing-in. People want to glamorize commitment, when in reality it’s simply a process of action, reflection, and refinement You put yourself to a test each and everyday, as you perform actions that either move you closer to, or farther from what you are meant to become.
With the Game on the Line
Let’s think about a big-man in the NBA; think Shaquille O'Neal (‘Shaq’), for some of my non-sports people. His strengths are more than likely rebounding, playing in the post, and getting around the basket. He knows he can’t shoot free-throws, and he hopes that the time never comes that the game is on the line with him being called-upon to make the shot. Sure, he’s already gotten to a high-level without having to make free-throws, but he will never take the next-step in his journey if he doesn’t take action.
Far too many of us live our lives under an assumption, a hope, and a prayer that we won’t be depended upon to succeed through our greatest challenges. If that big-man never puts his free-throw ability to the test, and never works through his weaknesses, then he is bound to fail. He will miss the shot when the stakes are at their highest, and he will let others down. Basketball is a team-sport, after all. There are teammates, coaches, fans, and some money on the line for these athletes… but here’s the thing: Life is a team-sport. You have people who are currently depending on you, or will one day rely on you to come through, when the pressure is at its highest, and the game is on the line.
You have to prove to yourself that you have what it takes. If you never invest in your actions, and never put your present-day abilities to the test, then you will have no basis for confidence. Confidence isn’t a day-dream that you have of success, and it’s certainly not a result of the instant-gratification that we so desperately seek. Confidence comes from the belief in yourself to show-up, each and everyday, for yourself and for others. The belief that you have done what it takes to make the shot, and to win the game.
Proving Something to Yourself
Consider a kid playing basketball in his driveway. He shoots around for a few minutes, and then it’s go-time. From that point on, every shot he takes is to win the game. He’s putting himself to the test; he wants to know if he has what it takes. And guess what? If he keeps making the ‘game-winning shot’ from the same spot on the court, he will move to another, more challenging spot. Because that kid understands something that we seem to lose as we get older: it’s okay to fail. Miss the shot. Try again. Shoot until you’ve proven to yourself that you can hit the shot from that place on the court; and then find a new spot, and begin shooting again.
Let’s take that idea and apply it to our lives. We all know ourselves better than anyone else could ever know us. We spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week inside of our own head, and this is the reason that we overthink everything. We think that we know what our limits are, and what our place is in this world, but far too many of these thoughts are driven by the ego; your false-self.
Your ego tells you what is safe, secure, and sure to bring comfort. Your ego is not you, and the only way that you can silence this voice in your head is to act. You must act against your comfort zone, and you must be willing to fail; because if you aren’t willing to fail, then you aren’t willing to succeed either.
Anytime you rise above your comfort zone, and push past your internal dialogue, that little lying voice in your head that says you can’t, you are essentially putting yourself to the test. And the more that you deny your ego the satisfaction to determine the trajectory of your life, the closer you will be to living out a life of true purpose, and influence.
Show Them How Great You Are
Tests are given daily. Some tests present themselves when we least expect them, and some are given by ourselves, for ourselves. There’s no escaping the tests of our professional abilities, our personal virtues, or our physical readiness. Everywhere we turn, we are tested, so we may as well become accustomed to the challenges that life’s tests provide us with.
Action, reflection, and refinement. 3 deposits that you can make from day-to-day, in an effort to enrich your life. So long as you don’t overthink your process to the point of ‘paralysis by analysis’, and you are willing to string-together days that equal months, and months that equal years, you can truly become what you envision yourself to be.
Sure, for a while you may be the only person to see your vision. The people around you won’t quite understand, even if they tell you they do. And sometimes, you won’t even see it; you will be too deep in the water to see the surface. But one day, you will be put to the test, and this test will require everything of you. Everything that you’ve been working towards, and some of the things that you didn’t even realize you were working for. This test won’t just be about you. No, you will have people who are depending on you to come through.
And you will. You will come through, and you will succeed beyond a shadow of a doubt. You will show them how great you are.