Not long ago, I proctored a high-stakes standardized test used in college admissions. At first, nothing was unusual. Students filed in, showed identification numerous times, left all belongings in the hallway besides soft lead number 2 pencils, testing tickets, and calculators, and shuffled to their seats. Tasked with the duty of checking every ticket against every ID as the students entered the room, I had my spiel about permitted items down pat. Then, I noticed something odd.
One of the last students to enter my room was dressed differently than his other classmates. Instead of the casual bedhead combined with the requisite Under Armour hooded sweatshirt or North Face jacket, this young man was wearing a white polo and pleated pants. His employer’s logo was embroidered above the breast pocket. He was going to sit for a five-hour test before working an eight-hour shift. For fear of deviating from my testing proctor script, I did not engage in any extended conversation with this young man. But if I did, this is what I would have liked to say:
Like you, I worked through high school. Like you, I took that test once in the fall and again in the spring when it was required of all of my classmates. Like you, I looked slightly nervous as I scanned the room, eyes searching for the index card with my name emblazoned on it. Like you, my hands trembled slightly as I tore through the seal on the testing booklet.
But you and I, we’re different, too.
When I reminded you that you could only bring pencils and a calculator into the room, you apologized and mumbled an excuse for not having a calculator, as if it was my future on the line, instead of yours. You told me you normally use the one provided for you in your classroom. Being a teacher myself, I know that pile well, and I know what it means that you select a calculator from it every day at the start of class. You see, I have my own pile in my classroom. I keep it for kids who forget or, more likely, cannot afford their own. My junior year, my parents bought me a calculator — a TI-83 — and I still own it to this day because it cost over $100 even back then. It was the most expensive electronic I had ever owned. Unlike you, my family bought me one.
I overheard you say “scholarship” to one of your friends, classmates, or casual acquaintances during the break. I remember knowing that I needed to find a way to qualify for one, too. A high score was my golden ticket, just like you hope it will be yours. My parents were willing and able to pay for as much of my schooling as they could, but I knew that I needed to keep the cost down. Unlike you, I knew more than my minimum-wage job would be paying my tuition.
I have no idea how you did on the exam. To be honest, I do not recall your name. What’s more, all the faces were a sea of anxiety. Yours did not stand out.
But I got a glimpse as to how you will do in life. You see, you already displayed an incredible work ethic and commitment. You could have called in sick or switched your shift with someone else. You could have ditched this test and waited for the spring test you will be required to take in school.
But instead you chose to show up. You showed up for the test; you showed up for your work. Showing up–even when you are at a disadvantage, even when you do not want to, even when you do not feel like it, even when the odds are stacked against you–matters more than you know right now.
Thank you for that reminder.
So Tell Me…How do you show up every week? What motivates you? How do you muscle through?