test. tested. testing.

Prompted by the document scanner I received for Christmas, I started sorting, scanning and filing about a decade’s worth of paperwork last week. Oh, the wonder of OneNote. During this excavation, I discovered a clear plastic folder my mom had given to me a few years ago. Inside were some important things like my birth certificate and an old passport. My acceptance and scholarship letter from UVa. That kind of thing.

In addition to these proofs of my existence, my mom had saved things like Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores from tenth grade, report cards from eleventh grade, AP and SAT test scores. I got a 1280, by the way. I giggled at the proud mama-ness of it all, looking at all of these now-obsolete datapoints about my fifteen and sixteen-year old capabilities.

What bearing does my 93 in AP Environmental Science have on my life now? None, whatsoever, but I do remember enjoying that class. We read about sustainability and global ethics in Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. The theory of the Tragedy of the Commons. Our teacher, Mrs. Hypes, made us do research entirely in printed media: newspapers, science magazines and periodicals. No internet searches allowed. We helped with an elementary school science day. I helped fifth graders build water purifiers from rock and sand. I also volunteered with an after-school gifted-in-science program for middle-schoolers. Looking back, this was probably the first experience I had with teaching. So no, neither I nor anyone else cares about the grade I got in 2003 in an AP class, but what I learned that year has had a significant bearing on my life.

Due to the ongoing job search, I requested my UVa transcripts in case someone wants proof I attended. Besides the four years worth of Facebook posts from my dorm, the sorority house, the Grounds, the apartment on 14th street. Social media definitely says I was there, but my guess is that employers would like something more official. The transcript is interesting. Reading it, I feel like an archeologist deciphering the decline and subsequent rise of an ancient culture. Besides the obvious, what do the numbers and GPA say about my life during those years? I see the first year I mostly stayed in bed. I see the semester I got past the required coursework, drilled down a bit more on my interests, but also joined a sorority. I see the final two years working like hell to bring up my GPA, on the Dean’s List. I see the concentration of my passions in Linguistics and Italian studies and the corresponding successes in those areas. I see the year I volunteered with foreign graduate students as an ESL tutor. When I arrived, it was immediately clear to me that I was nowhere near the smartest kid at UVa. I was not an engineering prodigy or a pre-med struggling through Organic Chemistry. I was not a mogul-in-the-making with an eye on the Darden School. But I am proud of myself. Proud that I found and pursued my passions. Proud that I graduated from Virginia having put everything I had into it.

Like many others this past weekend, I sat mesmerized by the Netflix docuseries Making a MurdererTalk about a train wreck. There was a lot of talk about the intellectual capabilities of Brendan Dassey. Sixteen year old Brendan was said to have an IQ around 70. Of course, I start Googling. I wanted to know what an IQ of 70 actually means in the real world. I want to know what the upper and lower ends of the scale are. I also would like to know where I fall on that scale. Turns out, there are many different types of IQ tests and the scale runs from about 45 to 155. I took five online IQ tests, each using a slightly different methodology to give myself a good idea, within one standard deviation, of my own IQ.

Here were the sites I used and my scores:

Averaging these together, and with the understanding that these were probably not the most accurate or official tests out there, this leaves me with an IQ around 126. Given I did not want to pay these websites for a full report, I got little more than my number on a sliding scale. Although, seemypersonality.com did tell me that creativity and writing are not strengths of mine. I’ll just ignore that, thank you very much. Depending on which scale you use, my intelligence quotient is categorized as either “Superior” or “High”. While those are very nice-sounding words, they, like my high school and college tests scores, do not tell the whole story.

Numbers are not strengths, simply indicators. My numbers indicate that my mind works more quickly and retains more than others. This says nothing about my emotional strengths or weaknesses. Says nothing about the fact that my family has been laughing at my seeming lack of common sense since I was a kid. Says nothing about my potential as a leader or my social skills. Says nothing about compassion or kindness. Nothing of perseverance.

Life seems to be full of tests. Never-ending tests. We are assigned numbers and ratings from the time we are in Kindergarten and on through adulthood. Think about how numbers affected the type of opportunities or limits on your own life. Or your children’s lives. From the very start. As a society, we place such high value on numbers alone. Funneling people into corresponding buckets. You’ll be placed in a gifted and talented program. You’ll be placed in remedial classes. You’ll be encouraged to take STEM electives. You’ll be steered towards auto shop and cosmetology. You’ll be given a full ride scholarship. You’ll encouraged to take community college classes. You’ll be hired. You’ll be passed on. You’ll be promoted. You’ll remain in your current position.

There is so much more to the intelligence, worth and strengths of a person than the numbers our society uses to define us from the age of five. My own numbers have led me through a great life thus far. Complete luck of the draw that my earliest numbers pushed me to the position to continue to earn and benefit from more numbers. Not everyone is so lucky. We need to recognize that and fight for another way. A better way to measure and quantify a person. Numbers do not tell the whole story.

that is the question.

I’m not talking about Hamlet’s existential crisis. I am, however, referring to one of the most basic questions in the universe. A simple, Why?

Why, Mommy? I’m fairly sure this was my first question. I’m also fairly sure that I abused it. My curiosity was, and still is, extreme. I want to know how and why things work. If I see a good movie, I follow up and research the topic until I think I have a good handle on the facts, the speculations, the lore. After reading The Other Boleyn Girl, I spent nine hours researching Henry VIII and his wives. And the Tudors. And Queen Elizabeth. And Mary Scots.

When we’re younger, we use Why to explore and understand our world. But as we grow older, Why seems to take on new meaning. It becomes the default setting, the knee jerk response to anything new and unknown, scary or simply annoying. With adulthood, Why evolves into a challenge and a dismissal. I can’t blame Why; it can be a perfectly good question. When the status quo is working just fine, why bother?

One of my favorite videos on the interwebs is called This is Water. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend not infrequent viewings to remind oneself that we are more than our default setting. The video is set to a well-known graduation speech given by Author David Foster Wallace, and follows your typical Millennial through what can arguably be called the ninth circle of hell: food shopping, after work, during rush hour. My favorite part about this whole setup? It reminds me to just consider, for a moment, before I lose my mind at the utter stupidity of the world around me, that everyone else is in the same boat. And more importantly, to consider that the lady in front of me failing miserably to control her child may just be the angel from the phone company who just yesterday took pity on me and my phone bill. And further, that the possible reason she is having trouble with her son is because he’s going through a rough phase after his father’s recent abandonment. These things are unlikely. But, I remind myself that I have the intellectual capacity to give the benefit of the doubt to my fellow humans in the ninth circle of hell.

So back to Why. A couple of years ago, I was traveling overseas and met with a colleague of mine. She boiled humanity down to one very simple phrase. She said, “There are those of us who ask Why?, and those of us who ask Why not?” Mind. Blown. Intrinsically, I understood this. However, this was the first time it had been voiced so simply and eloquently to me.

There are those of us who are still open to new possibilities and who do not immediately reject any notion which may involve a little more. More research, more effort, more compassion. I can say with complete honesty, I am definitely a Default Setting kind of person. I wish it came easier to me. I really do. There are days when I lack the patience or motivation to ask  Why not? But far more frequently, I remember to pause. Pause when someone suggests a method or idea I hadn’t considered. Pause when a friend invites me halfway across the world for a long weekend of fun. Hell, pause when a friend invites me fifteen miles away for a drink. (The introvert in me really needs to pause on that one.) I pause when someone asks for something that initially sounds completely preposterous.

What do we get when we pause? We may change our minds about the “right” way to do things. We may experience food and culture and arts that would have otherwise been too costly or time-consuming to explore. We may catch up with good friends over bottomless mimosas which will somehow lead to a new opportunity in life. We may discover that a request which seems silly or selfish at first glance, is actually quite easy to fulfill and may carry unimaginable meaning to someone else.

If, like me, you need a nudge every once in a while–or daily–to be the type of person who asks Why not? instead of Why? then remind yourself! The power of mindful thinking. If you’re not into mindful thinking, then this video will do the trick.

Choose your response to life.

four questions.

Given my current circumstances, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to interviews and hiring practices. Looking back on my own experiences sitting on hiring panels and being interviewed, I must say there are good interview questions, and those that don’t quite cut it.

How do you judge if a candidate is a good fit? That they have the goals, morals, ambitions, the technical skills and a demeanor compatible with an organization? You ask questions, of course. These are the best I’ve encountered.

Why do you want this position, and what makes you the best candidate?

This is such a basic question and yet, somehow so difficult to answer. Why do I want this thing and why am I worthy of this thing? There is a line between the simple truth that I want this thing and I think wholeheartedly that I my past experiences and future potential would make me a rockstar in this job…and the reality of needing to show an employer that I have the self-awareness of my own abilities, have done the research to describe tangible reasons why this job, why this company. Until the day that we can look into a person’s mind and translate desire and conviction into concrete reason, this is a pivotal question.

How do you handle stress?

Back to that self-awareness. A company cannot pretend that life and work will always be sunshine and rainbows and unicorn farts. And likewise, a candidate must be able to demonstrate their own strength in the face of adversity. Each person handles stress differently, but each person does experience stress. Knowing that a candidate has the maturity and wherewithal to handle stressful situations in a manner that does not obliterate workplace morale–that is important.

What does Leadership mean to you?

Now, this one. I’ve seen and answered many iterations of this question. However, not all leadership questions are equal. Most often, I’ve been asked about my ‘leadership strategy.’ Any answer to this question is likely bullshit because frankly, being a leader is fluid and flexible depending on the team one is working with, the environment and the task at hand. You will sound like a robot listing off your surefire ‘steps to being a leader.’

Asking what leadership means to an individual is able to capture so much more. How a leader communicates. How team dynamics ensure the success or failure of a project. How a true leader empowers and inspires her team. An understanding that each person has individual needs, style, passions, and hot buttons. How trust is the most important ingredient in a workplace relationship. I don’t need a strategy, but I do need to know the difference between leading and managing, and the equally important acts of listening and following.

What gives you energy?

This. This I am borrowing from a truly insightful woman. What gives you energy? What makes you tick? What makes you want to get up in the morning, Monday through Friday, with a smile on your face? More and more, my generation especially, we want a career that is meaningful. Have a positive impact on others, on the world. We want to work our asses off, see the fruits of our labor and to be recognized for such. For an employer, how amazing to see that spark in the eyes of the person sitting across from you and to start to formulate how you will leverage that passion to further the goals of your company. It is no secret that brilliance occurs when we put our energies towards a project or cause we care about and are given the freedom to pursue ideas and solutions. It’s kismet. Linking an individual and her passions with a company equally excited to put those interests to good use.

coming out of the closet.

Walking back to my desk yesterday, a CD in hand, I felt like that poor anemic-looking kid holding a damn golden ticket. That ticket? My resume. All mine. Free to share with whomever I choose. I won’t start quoting Martin Luther King Jr. just yet, but the feeling is close.

You may have noticed a difference as of late. I certainly feel different. I’ve been trying to decide on an acceptable comparison for my recent awakening. A prisoner released, after 30 years, discovering the wonder of an iPhone? Alice popping out in Wonderland? Dorothy seeing in technicolor for the first time? Let’s go with able to breathe and be myself.

Seem extreme? Here’s an illustration. I got that shiny golden ticket, ready to upload to the world on full blast on the three new social networking sites I’ve joined and on which am probably making all sorts of inexperienced faux pas. I get home and pop that sucker into my Mac only to realize that I’ve never used my laptop for anything other than email and Netflix. I have no word processing because I’ve never had to take work home. No big deal…I’ll just have to make my Mac compatible with my newfound requirements. No so fast, Cassandra. There are approximately one million document readers for Mac. After an hour of searching for an actual MS Word app, I decide that it doesn’t exist. Google is your friend. I realize that, holy hell! MS Office is expensive! I decide on a monthly subscription, sign away my firstborn, and hit the download button. Turns out, I have not updated my operating system in three years. Because, once again, my laptop was used for nothing more than email and Netflix. Falling asleep waiting for the download and install process to complete, I wake up in the middle of the night and go about finally sharing with the world what it is I can do.

I am amazed at the power and sophistication of modern technology. In the span of a few days, I am reconnected with peers, colleagues, friends. I’ve found jobs that I think may energize me once again. I imagine my face when designing my LinkedIn profile as similar to that of my grandmother’s the first time she used Facebook. I’ve signed up to be a dog sitter because you really can’t ever have enough furry friends. Discovered a dearth of online market places to clear out the clutter that has been weighing me down. Using the United app, booked a trip to Croatia for my thirtieth. This blog itself is something I’ve wanted to devote my creative juices toward for years.

For months, I’ve been planning my jump from the severe cloister of the Government to the private sector. Given I have no parachute and am clearly ignorant of the freedom of today’s technologies, this jump is really a leap of faith. But leaping headfirst, I am. And enjoying the hell out of the fall, golden ticket in hand.