Updated: Mar 1, 2020
About seven months ago, I qualified to sit for an exam that would give me a valuable coaching credential. I had met all the requirements for this credential, and all I needed to do was carve out time to take the exam online, in my own time and place, and achieve the minimum passing grade.
I submitted my application to take the test and received the link. And it sat safely tucked away in a folder in my email for seven months.
What was I waiting for? Two things:
First: I have a story - let’s call it a “rule” - in my head about standardized tests. I’m not good at them. Never have been. When I sat for the college admissions test my senior year of high school, I barely passed. I was a really good student (Honor roll! College prep classes! Top 20 in a graduating class of 300+!).
But my standardized test scores didn’t reflect my academic ability. This hurt me when it came to scholarship potential or getting into the school I wanted. It stopped me from pursuing a MBA fairly early in my career. It caused me to avoid any accomplishment that had a big test tied to it. It was, in effect, life changing.
Not that I regret where that took me. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. But that’s a post for another time. Still, to say that it scarred me would be an understatement.
It’s been a long time since I had to take a test like that, and I was nervous. I knew that I had been well trained, that I am comfortable with the core competencies and code of ethics that would be covered in the exam. But I am not good at standardized tests. There was a risk.
Second: I was warned that I’d need to set aside a block of three hours to complete the exam, and I would only have three hours to complete it in one sitting. Three hours!!! Who has a block of three hours where they won’t be interrupted to take an exam that they’re not even good at anyway?? There was a risk.
So it sat in that folder in my email for seven months. To be completely candid, I had pretty much forgotten about the test, until every so often, something would pop in my head that reminded me: You still need to take that exam. What are you waiting for??
And then one day, as I was meeting with my mastermind group of peer coaches, I was thinking over the goals I wanted to set for the next two weeks. Something just inspired me to put a stake in the ground and declare my intention that by the next time we met, I’d have completed the exam.
Now, I’ve learned from having my own coach that goal setting is no joke. When you tell a coach you’re going to do something, you follow through. Otherwise, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.
It was getting down to the wire. With only three days left before I would report back to my group, I miraculously* had an entire afternoon free. With hardly even bothering to refresh my working knowledge of the core competencies and code of ethics, I closed myself off from the outside world and began the exam.
It didn’t seem very hard at all. There were the usual “trick” questions that I wasn’t sure I answered correctly, but there weren’t that many of them. I was pacing well ahead of the allotted test time. When I had finished, even having revisited those tricky questions, in about 80 minutes, my finger hovered over the “end test” button. I started sweating.
OK, I told myself silently (well, OK, maybe out loud), you can always take the test again if you need to. But remember, you only need to pass. You know you passed. At least you think you know you passed.
I clicked the button and immediately got the results.
I passed. By a big margin.
What happened next is the real point of this post. I experienced three really big life lessons in that very moment.
Old Rules Are Made to Be Broken.
I was well prepared for that exam by simply having been trained by one of the premier coaching schools in the world. Not only had I rigorously studied all of the content, but I had been practicing it for months. I knew this material, and I was still scared to take that test. When I finally took it, and not only passed but passed by a long shot, it completely busted this old story I had been telling myself about being bad at standardized tests. That’s an old rule. It’s not real anymore. My new rule is: I can easily pass standardized tests!
Accomplishment Feels Good. Accomplishing Something that Scares You Feels Even Better.
The most joyful feeling immediately washed over me. I was elated! Not only did I feel the most incredible sense of accomplishment, but I had a shiny new credential! When I learned that the dread was worse than the actual experience, because it ended up being nothing like I had expected. Those risks? They turned out to not really exist. And if that was true, then what other consequences was I trying to avoid by not doing something? Suddenly, I was looking for even more things to accomplish. I wanted to replicate the amazing dopamine high I got from true accomplishment.
Subconscious Dread Consumes a LOT of Energy.
This one is the most important of all. I had no awareness of how much of a burden I was carrying around by subconsciously dreading that test. That without even being conscious of it from day to day, there was something very big and very overwhelming that was holding me back in a very big way.
It was literally draining me and keeping me from accomplishing not only this thing but so many other things I had been avoiding. Goals I had set for myself that required me to do uncomfortable things. Projects that loomed over me that felt overwhelming and time consuming. Even though most of the time I was completely unconscious of it, my subconscious was so focused on the dread and potentially disastrous outcome of taking that exam, that it was actually blocking my path to achieving other things.
Pushing through that dread and actually doing it unlocked something in me. I like to think of it as clearing my cache. It just got rid of a lot of useless junk that was slowing down my processing speed and performance. Once I cleared my cache, I started picking off other projects, one by one, until I ended an otherwise ordinary week having accomplished ALL of them. It was like a portal of absolute productivity had opened up. It was life changing.
Like, I completely reorganized my laundry room that had been a disaster for well over a year, y’all! That’s how life changing it was.
Not only that, several new business opportunities dropped out of the sky within hours of taking that test. I closed the best week I’ve had so far in my new business. I don’t think for a minute that’s a coincidence. (I don’t believe in coincidences anyway, but that’s a post for another time.)
These things are all connected. I achieved things that had been nagging at me for months, and also things that weren’t even on my radar at the beginning of the week. How?
By pushing through fear and believing in myself.
By realizing that the dread of something is worse than experiencing the actual something.
And by freeing up immense amounts of energy that were being completely wasted on subconscious worry.
I cleared my cache.
What’s that thing that’s been nagging you for a while now? I know it exists. You think it’s contained. What could you accomplish if it weren’t in the way? Let’s talk about it, and start figuring out a path to clearing your cache and putting it behind you.
Let’s see what you can accomplish. It could be life changing.
* These things aren’t coincidences, by the way. But that’s a post for another time.