Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

I rock at tests.

I do.

All I’m saying is; tests don’t scare me. At the risk of being obnoxious and having you guys toss glares in my direction (especially those of you currently studying for finals), I have to tell you – I am so competitive that I see tests as another way to excel. The validation that comes from an “A” was always the ultimate success for me. My competitive streak (again, think: Monica Gellar. Yes, it’s that bad.) also compelled me to sneak furtive glances at others around me, comparing my own grade to theirs. It was even more gratifying if I did better than someone else. (I am horrible, aren’t I?)

Yes, I am that girl. But I am not, repeat NOT, an overachiever. Never have been. I do the minimum to be able to get an A, nothing more. Does that make me a little better?

Being out of school means I no longer have that holy grail – a 4.0 GPA – by which to measure my self-worth and success. Honestly, I was nervous when graduating college that I wouldn’t be compelled to work hard without a measurable sign of achievement. Thankfully, I don’t think that has been the case. (But since I’m totally still a people pleaser, I just cannot get away from my need to feel an outside source affirm my sense of worth.)

Wait, I’m not writing to talk about my academic tests or my own need for affirmation. Nope, I want to talk about another kind of test we’re facing. As a country, we’re facing a final exam. A “do or die” kind of exam. And, to be honest, we’ve shown up a bit late to the test compared to other developed nations.

On this test, there are only two questions:
  • How much do you care about your planet/the environment?

  • How much are you willing to change to reflect that?
The results of the test are coming in, and it seems to be a split verdict. Most Americans are of the “Yeah, I could change my light bulbs. Sure, gimme a cloth bag” persuasion. And that’s fantastic. Every little bit adds up, right?

But at the same time, I think we need to recognize that if we aren’t willing to challenge ourselves or change at all, we can’t expect a dramatic difference. (And the scientists are pretty unanimous that we desperately need a dramatic difference. Not to go all End! Of! The! World! on ya, but...)

If we don’t challenge companies to make swift steps in becoming more sustainable and less of a problem to our environment, things won’t change. We vote with our money. With this in mind, I decided to test my convictions and put my money where my mouth was. Or something like that.

This past month, I’ve embarked on a little test of myself – could an retail therapy advocate, Target lover, and self-professed crunchy 20-something not buy ANYTHING for a month? Notwithstanding food – both eating out and grocery shopping – I pledged to not purchase any new goods in the entire month of April.

How did it go?

Actually, I hadn’t expected it to be much of a change from any other month. Being married and away from my mom and sisters (the true shopping mavens), I just don’t go shopping much. Shopping isn’t really an activity for me; I don’t particularly enjoy shopping. It’s just such a hassle to find cute clothes whose price tags don’t make me balk, hassle find a salesperson to let me in a fitting room, bother taking off my clothes, and subjecting myself to the fluorescent lighting of the fitting rooms. *Shudder* But I digress.

So, I took the Buy Nothing pledge, testing my ability to just say no to consumerism for one whole month. 30 days. Piece of cake; I’m fairly broke and don’t have much opportunity for shopping. I expected to get another A – it’d be a little competition with myself, expectedly with satisfactory results.

It didn't meet my expectations.

For once, though, I can let down my competitive, rule-abiding, affirmation-seeking side and admit that it’s what you learn from a test, not the results of the test that is the real measure of your success. If I had been graded on this test, I surely wouldn’t get an A. (Or an ‘O’ for outstanding, if we’re doing it old-school). After all, I cheated. I BROKE THE RULES. (!) I had an interview “emergency” and spent $42.31 on a blouse and jacket (which, by the way, I totally regret that jacket purchase. Totally makes me look pregnant. And God knows I don’t need any more family members wondering about that.).

I learned something: I am capable of going without. Sure, I “needed” a few things throughout the month, but instead of the instant gratification of jumping in the car and driving a few miles to get a bottle of contact solution or some hangars, I was creative. I made do.

It's true, this small test isn't huge impact. It was a few hundred people - but imagine the repercussions. Imagine us all deciding to be more creative when we "need" something. Thrifting and borrowing instead of hitting up Target (it still pains me a little to say that.). Insignificant, maybe. But influential, definitely.

So what does it all mean?

It means we can all be stronger than we think if we test ourselves.

It means unless we challenge ourselves to new things, we can't expect anything new - whether that's an improved work situation, world, or bad habit.

It means we can't limit ourselves by our previous notions of ourselves.

It means it's not too late to change.

(And I'm still working on that people-pleasing, desperate-for-affirmation habit.)


  1. Awesome, Ashley! What a great post. I love the call to challenge.

  2. I really liked this post too... Very well thought out and said! :)

  3. That's a really great idea; I'd love to try it!

    30 days of no spending - not including groceries, bills, rent.

    I wonder if I could do it?


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