A Simple Test

When I was seventeen my father convinced me to take a career aptitude test. This was a two-hour multiple-choice questionnaire from whose answers a qualified professional would be able to determine what sort of work I should pursue. I didn’t want to take the test. I already knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to write. I knew this because when I asked myself, “What do you want to do, Bill?” I always answered, “Write.” That was my short version of this test. Plus, I didn’t like what this test insinuated. I did not like that some test held the answer to such an important question, a question I was for some reason unequipped to answer alone. What if all those dots I filled in added up to engineer or accountant? Writing had enough confidence pitfalls built-in, did I really need more? In the back of my mind was something a teacher had recently said. This teacher had known me since I was a freshman, knew me as well as any teacher in my high school. She told me that when she watched me solving math problems, I seemed more focused than when I was doing any other kind of work, including writing. She wondered if I had thought of going into accounting. Her husband, by the way, was an accountant.

I took the test. For two hours I replied that I would rather read a book than build a model train, that I preferred English classes to Math classes. When I was done I told my father I thought the test was stupid, that I already knew what I wanted to do. He told me to wait and see. A week later I had my meeting with the qualified professional. The qualified professional told me that based upon the results of the test I might want to consider a career that involved writing in some form or another. I told him I planned to be a writer. He said, “That should work.”

My father was mildly disappointed. I think he believed my desire to write was some bohemian fantasy. But the test had spoken, so he wasn’t about to argue. I may have been a little smug coming out of the qualified professional’s office that afternoon. But wouldn’t it have been even better if the test had come back engineer? Wouldn’t it have been better to have gone ahead without the hollow backing of some silly test? It was a nice “I told you so,” but no test score could prop me up when the rejection letters trickled in. Then I had to take my own test again. Then I had to ask myself, “What do you want to do, Bill?” And again here the answer was, “Write.”

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