Do you remember… that kid in school that always wanted to sit next to you so he could copy your paper? Or your answers on a test? Were you that kid? Do you remember the guy you worked with who seemed to always copy your moves or changes or growth… whatever he saw you doing that he thought might benefit him if he did it too? Do you remember the neighbor you had that seemed to buy a new car every time you did? Or he only mowed his lawn the afternoon of the day you did yours in the morning? We all remember one or more of those folks. They are those who watch how we live life and, seeing how well we’re doing, they follow along, copying our moves, tracking our changes and thinking that if they just do the same, then they can do as well. Little do they realize: Not only are we not living the same life, but we’re not even in the same reality – because reality is as individual as we are. Let me explain that.

As happens so often these days, something popped up in one of my social feeds that caught my eye. It was a meme that said,

“Life is the most difficult exam. Many people fail because they try to copy others, not realizing that everyone has a different question paper.”

It made me stop to think for a moment and that moment was all it took for me to realize just how accurate this statement is.  The more I thought about it the more I realized that life IS the ultimate test… but there are some really cool things that go along with that outlook.

As I think about it, the test of life begins the day we are born. Many of us have it relatively easy while a few have quite the challenge from the moment they are born. Those of us who have it easy are really just learning how the test works, how to answer the questions, how we can affect the questions that come next, how complex the questions get and whether or not we improve in our test performance as we get deeper into it.

Babies, in general, have it pretty easy. It’s rough on them because the world is cold compared to where they spent their last nine months, but there are these nice people called parents who keep them warm, keep them fed, and keep their bottoms clean. They sleep all bundled up and have no worries beyond being hungry or needing a clean diaper. They are learning by all they see and hear and trying to sort out everything their little sponge brains take in.

As they become toddlers they’ve sorted through a lot of what they’ve learned and are applying it without thinking about it. They crawl, they walk, they run, they climb, they explore… and they learn more lessons. They are experiencing what I like to think of as the orientation portion of the life test. They’ve answered some of the simple test questions about things like balance and locomotion, eating and sleeping, etc. They’ve got no idea of how complicated the questions can get yet but they are learning how to at least understand the questions (challenges) and they also learn one of the most important lessons we can without even realizing it: They realize that there is no time limit on answering the questions. They learn to walk… at their own pace. They learn to run… at their own pace. They learn to climb… when they’re ready. They learn to no longer need diapers (usually with some prompting from mom and dad) at a different pace than all their peers. They learn to “answer questions” (overcome challenges or learn new skills) when they are ready to and not due to some artificially created time limit. This is a very important lesson to learn that remains valuable through the test of life.

The formalized school comes along and they learn how to obey a greater set of rules, follow directions from folks who aren’t their parents or family and more. The questions in life’s test get distorted or lost in the background because tests for structured learning become so seemingly important. For years the test of life seems to be all about the tests of school… but it really isn’t and folks who have been through it really need to remember that. While we look back and remember the tests of school, we sometimes forget about the test of life that existed in parallel; all of the questions and challenges about things like trust, friendship, habits, values, priorities and more. As we move through the test of life from the age of about five until we’ve finished high school (at least) or college (for many), we are figuring out who we are as an individual and that is one of the biggest questions we have to answer in this test of life.

After that life continues to test us as we continue to exist in the contemporary world. There are tests of relationships, finances, employment, parenting and more. There are tests of fitness, more habit tests, more prioritizing… Every challenge is a test question and sometimes how we answer a question (or several) impacts how difficult the next question will be. How well we answer the question of fitness and nutrition may well have a meaningful impact on how well we manage the question of recovery when we get into an auto accident. While we were testing on the fitness and nutrition we weren’t aware of the upcoming test section on auto accident recovery. That’s one of the most challenging parts of life’s test: we never know what the questions will be, when we’ll have to answer them or what might or might not be included on the test.

Some say there is no study guide. I think they aren’t paying attention. My parents were the largest part of my study guide. Teachers, coaches, siblings, other family, books and television are all part of the study guide in today’s world. The virtual world has multiple chapters in life’s study guide as well these days, but there is still a separation between reality and the virtual world, so quite often the value of the virtual study guide in limited.

The interesting part is that the questions seem to radically alter when we reach a certain point in life. It’s not a particular age – because we’ve all answered questions in our own way, thereby altering the test at our own pace. Retirement, becoming grandparents, home ownership, “senior travel” and more are all test questions we (hopefully) get to answer. Different fitness and nutrition questions continue to pop up and we get to answer them based on our memories and experiences with the earlier test questions on those topics in our life.

Here’s the kicker: None of us ever really knows what grade we get. We can get a really good indication when we reminisce and see what we’ve accomplished, what we have left to do, what we’ve created in the world, etc. We can look at full careers, full families, what type of people our children and grandchildren are. We can look at what we’re leaving for our kids, whether we’ve impacted a community or how we’ve served society. We can estimate the balance of questions we’ve answered right and those we think we could have answered better. There might be some we feel we answered completely wrong but then we used what we learned to answer later questions in the test correctly. It’s like when I ask my college age son, “So, how do you think you did on that test?” and he replies, “I feel pretty good about it,” or, “I’m not sure. I THINK I did okay, but there were a lot of questions I wasn’t expecting to see.”

None of us knows. Life is a test. It starts the day we’re born and ends the day we die. Since none of us knows when that will be, we don’t know how long the test is, how many questions there will be, or how easy/difficult the mix of questions is. But you can be reassured of one thing: YOUR test is radically different from the test of everyone else, including your siblings. Each test of life is as individual as the person taking it. Each test of life is of different length and difficulty level. We all get tested in different fashion and whether it seems easy or hard is entirely dependent on what we’ve learned from earlier sections of the test.

I hope your test is fairly easy, VERY long and that you get an awesome grade.


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