Updated: Nov 13
Do you get really nervous before a test, interview, competition, or evaluation? I remember in university, I used to get super nervous, to the point that it disturbed my sleep! But now that I've learned philosophy, I know how to calm my nerves. Hence, it's time to practice those teachings for my upcoming tests.
This Tuesday and Wednesday, I have an oral and written test for a sinology program I applied for. I am not going to kid myself and think that I won't get nervous whatsoever, but I will do my best to nip any nervous sprouts before they have a chance to grow big.
1: Count On Your Training
One thing that I remind myself of is this quote by Greek poet Archilochus
"We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training."
For my oral test, I need to recite from memory random passages from five books. When I think about my oral test, I worry about whether or not I will make mistakes or forget lines. But I've been training for this for over a year. I can recite these books without thinking. Therefore, I don’t need to worry. I can count on the level of my training.
As for my written test, I need to punctuate and translate a classical Chinese passage, then write an essay in classical Chinese. I have only been studying classical Chinese for a few months, so I won't kid myself and think I can get a great score. I think my training level should be enough to pass, but I am not sure. Hence, there is worry. What to do?
Well, the test questions are outside my control. There is no use in idly worrying about something outside of my control. Wise people only focus on things is in their control, and the only things we can control are our own mind and actions.
2: Cultivate Your Mind
For my mind, I will manage my expectations and wants. Rather than wanting "to pass", which is totally outside of my control, I simply hope to do my best and perform at the level of my training. If I can do that, I will be satisfied with myself.
Additionally, I can find the good in every situation, including the scenario in which I fail. I mean, sure I would be happy if I passed, but if I don't pass, it's great too. Why? Because I already have a great life. I have great relationships, I like my job, and I enjoy studying sinology in my free time. Failing this test does not ruin my relationships or career, nor does it stop me from continuing to study sinology in my free time. If I fail, I'll just keep studying for another year and then apply again.
3: Take Productive Action
The other thing we can control is our actions. When nervous energy arises, we need to channel it into something productive. Aside from managing expectations, the other highly productive thing to do is to train! That's why this whole week up to my test, I am training my essay writing every day. With each day, I seek to learn something, improve something, solidify something, or solve a problem, thus my confidence grows each day.
When I reach the day before my test, I plan to relax. Why? Because by that point, I have already done 99% of the training that I can possibly do. Doing more training isn't going to tip the scale (it would only help someone who barely did any training, but that kind of person probably won't pass anyway). Calming my mind would be a much better use of my energy.
Both tests went well! I trained a lot for the oral exam, so I let my mouth recite the books from muscle memory. It went smoothly. I also practiced five essay topics and rewrote them multiple times. When I saw the real essay topic on the written exam, I was able to connect it to my practice topics and use the content from those practice essays.
We will all face tests, interviews, and evaluations in our life, thus being able to ease our worries and remain calm is an essential skill. The next time you start worrying about your upcoming evaluation, reflect on these questions:
Is my level of training enough?
How is my life already good, regardless if I pass or not?
How can I channel nervous energy productively?
Weekly Wisdom #210