Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Rites of Passage and Test Anxiety

When you move to a new state, certain things are required. One is to register your car and get new license plates. In fact, in Minnesota you have 60 days from your move-in date to do that. I trooped off to the department of motor vehicles one morning with all the appropriate paper work--title to the car, proof of insurance, identification, and a filled-out application.  I was determined not to get frustrated and instead to be friendly and patient. Basically, that went well, even though in spite of being number two in line and having all the required documents and information, it still took over 45 minutes to complete this task. Mission accomplished.

Next on the "must do" list: take the written test for a Minnesota driver's license. That meant I needed to study the Minnesota Drivers Manual. Most of what I read seemed like common sense ("Driving faster than the posted speed limit is illegal."), or has been learned with experience, such as maneuvering roundabouts.  However, I was not familiar with the sign for a narrow bridge nor did I know it is possible to be killed in a crash when traveling at speeds as low as 12 mph. I read through the manual twice, underlining key points as I read, and then I made an appointment with myself for Test Day.

I vividly recall doing the same thing when we moved to Ohio. I studied the manual and went to a testing location and took the written test. I remember thinking when it came time to relinquish my Minnesota driver's license, "Do I really want to do this? I guess we really live here." The state employee extended his hand for the license, but I held the license  tightly, a little too tightly.  Ultimately, I handed it over, relieved at least I had passed the test. Mission accomplished.

When we moved to Wisconsin, taking the written test was not required. I wondered why that is, but I didn't argue. I breathed a sigh of relief and replaced my Ohio license with the Wisconsin one. Mission accomplished. 

Test Anxiety
I didn't need to make an appointment to take the written test, except with myself, and I didn't tell anyone that was my Wednesday morning plan. I made a lunch date with my Dad, saying I would be doing errands that morning, and in my usual morning email to a friend I didn't mention the specific "errand" I would be doing. Why? Well, what if I didn't pass and then had to admit that? I was anticipating embarrassment.

Off I went. Again, I had the appropriate documents in hand--my passport and my Wisconsin drivers license--and I had a bag full of reading material, anticipating a wait. I had meditated before leaving, and again, I was determined not to get frustrated, but instead to be friendly and patient. 

Still, I was nervous. 

How many tests have I taken over the years, beginning with the Iowa Basic Skills Tests over and over again in elementary school and later the dreaded SATs and Grad Recs and all the tests in between? Instead of accruing enough confidence to get me through yet another test, I had accumulated unconscious test anxiety, which I could feel rising as I stood in line waiting to register. 

Eventually, I was seated at the computer monitor, put on the head phones, took a deep breath, a very deep breath, and started the test.  With each answer you are told immediately if your answer is correct or incorrect. First question: correct. Yes! Second question: incorrect. Oh no! I knew 80% was a passing grade, but I didn't know how many questions there would be, and I didn't know how many questions you could answer incorrectly and still pass the test.

I took another deep breath and knew there was nothing to do, but continue. On and on and on the questions seemed to keep coming. Would this never end? I missed two other questions, becoming more nervous as I went along. Did you know a slow-moving vehicle emblem must be displayed on all vehicles that travel at speeds of 30 mph or less? I guessed 20 mph. Wrong!!!! However, one question was repeated--something about whether having a drivers license in Minnesota is a right or a privilege--and I had answered that correctly the first time, so the second time was a sweet gift. 

Finally, the test was over, and I had passed with a score of 91%! I was elated, absolutely thrilled. I felt like I was 16 and was applying for my drivers license for the very first time. I paid my money and stood for the unflattering photo and walked out the door a little taller and lighter. Mission accomplished. 

What was that all about I have wondered in the days since then? Where does that kind of anxiety come from? After all, if I had not passed it, I could have studied more and returned to take the test again. And more importantly, I only needed to take the written test and not the road test. I am a good driver and logically, I knew I would pass the test. The idea of failing loomed over me, however. The worry I would not measure up sat heavily within. 

For the most part I am not a person who worries a great deal. I don't generally become nervous about what could happen, what might happen and what is waiting to happen. Basically, I put my confidence in preparation and then move forward, but the anxiety I felt about this test made me think about what fears I hold and about my relationship to trust. 

Re-Learning the Lessons of Trust and Courage
It seems to me that each time I feel anxiety or fear rise within me, there is an opportunity to re-learn that God is within me. Instead of discounting how my body or thoughts are speaking to me, I need to remind myself to listen closely to what life is telling me. It is through our day to day experiences, the people and situations and events that swirl around us, that there is a call to live fully, live deeply. An invitation to live with trust and courage.

Harriet Lerner http://www.harrietlerner.com  has written a marvelous book about fear and anxiety, Fear and Other Uninvited Guests, Tackling the Anxiety, Fear, and Shame That Keep Us from Optimal Living and Loving. I commend this book to you no matter what anxiety lurks within you today. As a sample, here is her courage list: 
          There is courage in taking action.
          There is courage in speaking.
          There is courage in questioning.
          There is courage in pure listening.
          There is courage in thinking for ourselves.
          There is courage in being accountable.

Ultimately, every decision, every action is one reflecting love or reflecting fear. Even taking the test to get my drivers license. I love living here once again, and therefore, I needed to conquer my fear of taking the test. I am so glad I did, and doing that, I know that I have reinforced, if only a little bit, my ability to live with courage and trust.

An Invitation
What kinds of situations raise "test anxiety" within you and how do you typically respond? Where are you being invited to live with courage and trust?


  1. Seems like this entry was written for me, as I anticipate hip replacement surgery and recovery. Fortunately I have been through this before, I trust the surgeon, and I anticipate a positive outcome. I need to muster the courage to enter the hospital calmly and to face the required pre-surgery tests/exams with patience. Inhale, exhale, repeat:)

  2. You know what you need --and you have everything you need within you. Know you are and will continue to be on my prayer list.

  3. I thought of your piece when I read a long quote from Jan Phillips newsletter: Audre Lorde says, "Your silence will not protect you."In a Sinister Wisdom article, she wrote:

    We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for the final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us....

    The transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation and that always seems fraught with danger. We fear the very visibility without which we also cannot truly live ... and
    that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which is also the source of our greatest strength.

    Jan continues with this quote: Like that quote from W. H. Murray's Scottish Himalayan Expedition piece:

    Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no one could have dreamed would have come their way.

    I have found this to be true...

  4. I have found this to be true. What I realize that sometimes I think I am committed, but in reality am still holding back in some way. Providence seems to listen to full commitment. Fabulous quotes--thank you~


All respectful and relevant comments are welcome. Potential spam and offensive comments will be deleted