In conversation yesterday, a friend told me about a Firefighter Training Center nearby, where they have a room specifically for new recruits to be sent into when they start their training. A room that is completely on fire. Outside the room is a sign that says, “First comes the test, then comes the lesson.” The newbies have no idea what that means going in, but they all understand it profoundly when they come back out.
I’d take the understanding of that quote a step further, and say it this way: the test IS the lesson.
There are some things we simply cannot learn about this world, about our lives, or about our purpose here without actually going through it. There’s no way to really prepare beforehand, because while everyone wants to reach the top of the mountain, we all take different paths to get there. No one’s experiences will fully prepare anyone else for their own unique tests and lessons. And if you do well on the test, your reward is a harder test, and a greater lesson. That’s how it works.
The one thing that CAN and DOES prepare us beforehand for the tests we will experience is our attitude; the choice of how we will approach the test and of what we will do with the lessons we learn in taking it.
Not long ago, I told someone close to me, some one I had let down, that I would never, ever, fail them again. Their response was that this was an impossible promise to keep — that there was no way to guarantee that. I agreed that this was true; there was no way to guarantee anything, when you have no idea what tests might be coming. But I said what that promise meant was that when faced with a challenge or task, I would literally do everything in my power to overcome it, to make something necessary happen, to do the thing that must be done, no matter what. That was the heart of that promise: my attitude. The choice that whatever I would face, I would not quit; would never stop trying. That’s a promise that can be kept if you choose to.
The thing is, we make promises like that thinking about the big things, the big tests that haven’t happened — and those may still come to pass — but the real value is in the attitude with which that promise is made. Because a dozen, fifty, a hundred times a day, we are confronted with small challenges, with minor tests. And often, we don’t regard them, or our attitude towards them, very highly. But those tests are just as significant as the great ones, because it is not the size of the test that matters, it’s the choice you make in taking it, and the lesson you learn as you do that make all the difference.
So now, I look at every small test, every minor challenge, as if it was the fulfillment of that promise.
I could justify shirking on a number of things — inconsequential, relatively unimportant things — but not if I look at them as something that matters most to someone else to whom I have made that kind of promise. In that regard, of COURSE I would take the time and make the effort to do those things. And that’s the Answer: if you can respond that way to the little things, when the big things come, and they will, your answer will be “Of course I’ll do that.”
If you decide beforehand that doing small things well is an act of fulfillment of great purpose and greater promises, then when the big tests come, you’ll be ready to walk through the fire, boldly, confidently, and unafraid. That’s the test. That’s the lesson.
Go forth today, and be Awesome.