I’ve never been the best test-taker in the world. Part of my challenge is what my brothers and I call Artistic ADD. All through grade school and high school I struggled with the ability to pay attention. There were times when I could not make my brain focus on topics that were not highly stimulating. And algebra? Forget it. I’ve never used that again anyway. Formulas? Pretend math. They lacked real substance in my mind.
Distraction is both the product and price of an artistic mindset like mine. At one point my grades were so flat and average the high school guidance counselor sent me to some back office where I took some bogus test doing repetitive tasks in case I ever needed to go into factory work.So I purposely messed up on that test. The school must have been thinking, “Look, this kid is getting Cs and Ds in some of his classes. Maybe he should go the vocational route…” but I fooled them, didn’t I?
Years later I took a psychographic test at work and the results came back, “Chris does not excel at repetitive tasks.”
Meanwhile, what I really spent my time doing was drawing. All day. Every day. In class. Study halls. Draw, draw, draw. Yet I never took an art class in high school. Confining myself to whatever they felt like making me do seemed stupid.
So I painted birds and the things I really loved. Then I started selling the pictures I made. I’ve lost count of how many paintings I’ve sold. Still painting. Still selling.
Over the years, I’ve become much more disciplined and able to concentrate on important tasks related to work and life and such. But once in a while, a test of one kind or another comes along, and it just seems too stupid and trite to care. It’s like I’ve got Algebra Disease all over again. I can’t bring myself to care enough to concentrate and dig through the books and find the questions they want to hear.
That happened last summer after the Road Runners Club of America coaching clinic I hosted. Everything went well during class. I answered questions and led groups. Filled people in on things they did not know or with which they had no experience. I’ve been coaching all my life and thought I knew a thing or two about it.
Then I got an 81% on the goddamned test. I had to get an 85% on the test to pass. They said for $50 I could take it over again. But I knew I’d do no better or worse, get an even lower score. Second guessing gets you nowhere in life. So move on.
The questions weren’t hard. But when you actually question the material at hand, it’s hard to take the material literally. Call it ego, but midway through the course I thought I knew more about coaching and running than the people doing the teaching.
The course was centered around “made up” athletes about which we were supposed to answer questions and draw up hypothetical training solutions for them Maybe I overthought the whole thing. Or maybe I didn’t. Because when it came time to answer those questions I went with my gut instincts and got too many wrong to pass the test.
Like my wife said, “You know, everything they want you to say on the test is in the book. Just give them that. It’s easy.”
But for me, it’s not. Is it possible that the brain of some people does not work that way? Is it possible that some sort of transitory factor shifts in my brain from the left (the artistic side) when asked to answer a question right (the practical side)?
That type of crossover or misapplied thinking cost me a few times in running races. Back in high school, I was leading a cross country race against a keen rival when I came to a point in the course where we were supposed to go straight down the track the second time around rather than doing another lap around the outside. But I’d forgotten.
I lost my 200 yard lead and narrowly missed catching him at the end. Obviously I was pissed. How was one supposed to remember that subtle change of course on an Away course after one shot at a course tour?
There had been no one at that straightway to send me the proper direction. So was it my spaciness that actually cost me the race, or was it instead a poorly managed race?
I’d passed the test of running faster than my opponent. That’s what races are supposed to be about, not how well you can remember the twists and turns and loops of the typical cross country course back in the 1970s. So I wound up running longer, and lost by four yards. A small percentage of the total race.
Just like my RRCA test.
There was another time I was winning a college steeplechase race and the meet officials miscounted the laps. They shot the gun for the final lap when I was in the lead. So, I sprinted a quarter mile for the win. But as I approached the final few yards they started waving at me to run another lap. I just stopped instead. I’d passed the test they gave me.
Was it my fault they had the number wrong?
During indoor track it was really difficult at times to keep track of the actual laps. Back when we ran on those tiny 176 yard or even 110 yard tracks it was something like 20 laps to the mile. You’d come past the starting line and they’d be flipping numbers back and forth. It left you wondering how many laps you really had left to run. My former college teammate laughs as he recalls a relay race in which I kicked like a madman and thought I’d won… only to hear from the officials there was another lap to run. “You should have seen your face,” he told me years later, laughing at the memory.
I’ve passed many a performance test over the years, but what still puzzles me are the moments when I’m not sure what the test is really all about. There is either and art or a science to knowing that. The problem is, I sometimes can’t tell one from the other..
So I just stay positive and act like that character Jeremy from the Yellow Submarine. “Yes! Ah, “yes” is a word with a glorious ring! A true universal, euphonious thing! Engenders embracing and chasing of blues! The very best word for the whole world to use!”