Flashback Friday - The weight of the world lifting off my shoulders

Something happened to me after I graduated from high school.

Obviously, I went off to college, but the transformation was of a deep, mental variety, not just a geographical displacement.

In high school, I was the smart kid.  I don't know exactly what people thought of me, but here's my guess - I was the goody-goody who was too scared to break a rule, who didn't have to study but still aced all of her tests, who would sooner die than come in second place...at anything.

That's all well and good, and truth be told, it gave me a little bit of an ego.

And then...I went off to college.  And I wasn't the automatic best and brightest.  I was one of many hand-selected students at a prestigious private university, most of whom were much more talented and smarter than I could ever dream of being.

I have to tell you, realizing that was, hands-down, the most humbling experience of my life.

The next-most humbling experience was figuring out that after skating through my first 13 years of school, I was going to have to learn how to study.  Or I was not going to succeed.  It was as simple as that.

I developed a completely and totally irrational fear of tests after bombing a few that freshman year.  I could have studied and studied, but when I would sit down to take the exam, my mind would go blank.  I would literally sit at my desk fighting back tears as the minutes ticked by and I frantically tried to remember anything that I could put down on the paper.

I eventually got over the gripping fear and was able to keep control of my faculties while testing, but the nerves remained.  And it's something that, to this day, I'm still not over.  It's the reason that when I see the word "quiz" in a magazine my heart skips a couple of beats.  It's why when I take an eye exam at the doctor's office, I get a little pit in my stomach.  It's certifiable - I suffer from "test anxiety".

It probably goes without saying that college was an uphill battle for me.  

The story gets better though.

After four grueling years of engineering school, there are two rites of passage that each student must hurtle through to get to graduation.  One of them is the Senior Design Project.  I was blessed enough to be on a team with my husband.  Sparing you the majority of the boring details, we worked on a project for a residential greywater reuse system at one of my professor's homes.  Sam did the electrical "stuff" and I did the environmental "things".   (I feel obligated to mention that there was a third teammate involved in there too).  The process takes the entire year to complete, each semester culminating with the submission of a written document and presentation of our results to a group of professors who would inevitably inundate us with questions that, God-willing, we would be able to answer because we'd done our research thoroughly.  Peers were welcome to come to the presentation as well, and some of those jokers asked questions that were harder than the professor's.  (And when that happened you took note of who they were, looked up their presentation time, and vowed to pay them back with hard questions of your own.)  From what I understand, it's a lot like the process of presenting your thesis for a doctorate degree.  Grueling, brutal, sickness-inciting.  

The week before Thanksgiving in 2005, we made the final presentation to a group of professors late on a Friday afternoon.  We breezed through the slideshow.  The professors asked questions.  We, miraculously, had an answer for every single one.  There was a back-handed compliment offered by one of our advisors.  We graciously accepted.  And for as long as it took us to prepare for that 30 minute exercise, it was over in the blink of an eye.  I remember packing up my things, walking down the stairs of the engineering building, and getting to the car in a total haze.  We drove the 15 interstate miles to pick Ben up from daycare, and found ourselves standing in line for a table at Longhorn Steakhouse at dinner time on a Friday.  Ordinarily, we wouldn't have dreamed of waiting with a two year old, but we had just finished our senior design project.  

And even better - we nailed it.  

I can't name many other times in my life that I have been that freed from the chains of stress.  But in an instant, the moment we walked out of the presentation room, I was like a new woman.  It was as if the weight of the previous entire year had just vanished.  All that time I had spent worrying just disappeared.  And I was free.

The other rite of passage is to take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam as a first step towards becoming a professional engineer.  The exam is a rigorous test of your comprehensive engineering knowledge.  I took the exam on a Saturday in April, which just so happened to be the first gorgeous spring day we'd had all season.  Long story short, it was eight hours of strenuous mental torture.  I left at the end of the day never wanting to look at a calculator again in my life.  (And that's a big deal for me, folks.)  If I didn't know better, I might have even been drooling a little bit.  That's how fried my brain was.  

Sam and I went home to our little house and sat on the backyard swing, watching Ben romp around in the yard for hours.  I don't think we spoke the entire time.  It was mental exhaustion of epic proportions.  But you know what?  Mixed in with the exhaustion was a familar sense of relief.  

I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I hadn't passed the exam.  There was just no way.  But it didn't matter so much, I was just relieved to have it behind me.

And yet...two months later, Sam and I both received letters indicating that we'd passed.  I'm pretty sure I cried tears of happiness.

One week from today, I will be taking the final step towards licensure.  I will be taking the Professional Engineer Exam.  I have been studying like I taught myself how to study early in college for the first time in at least five years.  I have been getting up early with my dear husband so I can sit at the kitchen table before the sun even comes up with my cup of coffee and work practice problem after practice problem.  I have been whittling away at the nerves.  It might be helping, and it might not.  But one week from today, I will be sitting at a table solving problems about hydraulic jump, stopping distances, and runoff coefficients, and feeling my brain turn to goo.

If you would, pray for me.

To be honest, I'm looking forward to it.  Not so much the brain turning to goo, but the relief I just know I will feel when it's over.

Jennie + October 29th at 6pm = Complete and Total Freedom

And that, friends, is the most boring Flashback Friday ever.

Thanks for reading!  You are a blessing to me!  I hope you have an absolutely wonderful weekend.


Debbie said...

Not boring to me!

I remember when MD toured Mercer and saw a plaque or something like that in the engineering school with your names on it. I'm pretty sure it was commendation for the above mentioned senior project. It made her proud in that odd "claim to fame" sort of way.

Proud enough to tell me all about it.

You have long been one of the finest examples of achievement I know. I say that with all sincerity and no vain praise. You know I have a heart for the nerdy girls...

I will be putting a sign on the refrigerator with the big date on it so that I'll see it every day this coming week. My prayer is that God will remind you of everything you know and give you a calm, focused brain.

Go nail it, Jennie.

And oh...I plan on having Laura call you if she needs a pep talk, OK? Or maybe she can just read and reread this post.

Denise said...

I don't think "normal" people realize that nerdy types suffer from test anxiety too. (I include myself and daughters in this class). I'm so glad to hear you're pushing through all of this. I will continue to pray for you as you prepare and take this exam. I KNOW God will see you through!!

Sharon Kirby said...

Loved this story!

I'm so proud of your discipline and perseverance getting ready for this test! I just KNOW you're going to do great - and as I told you before, I just have a feeling you're going to pass!! (A mother's intuition!)

May God bless you with a clear mind, a calm spirit, and a calculator that solves problems faster than a speeding bullet...

Will be praying!

(Maybe after the test is over you can treat yourself to a SECOND piece of chocolate!! :)

Sue said...

I can't tell you how blessed I was by reading of this journey that you and your dh have been on, perseverance it one word that comes to mind of this journey.
I most certainly will be praying for you this week as you prepare for the final trek of this journey, and especially will be remembering you Oct. 29th at 6 p.m.
May the Lord continue to bless and keep you always.

Susan DiMickele said...

Awesome Jennie! I am so proud of you. Keep me posted, and I am putting next Friday on my calendar to pray for you.

Kristen said...

I wish you well this Friday!

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