Burning Up Old Desires

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Curves.

It’s really not that everything in my life is drama, but in looking at old issues and pains, things I held in and never cleared out, more than I could ever have imagined comes up. Once it’s brought into the light, I can  burn up and burn away those old hurts, except for what remains on my journal pages, like a fine sheen of ash.

The Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy

Shannon’s  high  school  sometimes  treats  her  like  a child while  expecting her to make adult decisions. Now that she’s going to be  enrolled full-time in college and a high school junior with Latin and forensics classes, she’s discovering the joys of dealing with an educational institution that treats a teen like an adult and expects her to make adult decisions  and carry adult responsibility,  even though she’s only 16. I’d like to tell her  that this is the way it is when she’s all grown up and that she’ll be treated better, no longer as a child. But it doesn’t always happen.

At my day job, in the corner of my office, are several boxes of plaques and certificates  that I have yet to hang on my wall after being in this location for over a year. I jokingly refer to them as firewood and haven’t bothered to create the stereotypical I-Love-Me wall and show off my credentials to everyone who walks into my office. I don’t have to and I don’t need to.

But  there’s  one  professional  certification  in  there that’s very nicely framed. Hard to get, hard to keep. And yet,  every  time  I look  at  it,  I have  a bad  taste  in my mouth.

Years ago—about  7 or 8—I was told that if I ever wanted to get promoted, then I needed this certification. It was one of the few granted  by the National Contract Managers’ Association  (NCMA). The exam was  6 parts and lasted roughly 6 hours.

But things changed the year I took it. They decided that you could no longer score an overall 70 (75?%—I don’t remember which) to pass the exam. You now had to score the threshold  percentage for each section, and that meant a very high failure rate and a  much tougher exam.

Unlike some of my colleagues, I could not study full- time at my desk, on the job, for six months. That meant that I studied on my own  time. In the evenings,  I put aside  my  writing,  spiritual  studies,  hobbies,  time  with family, time with anything and everything to devote 5 or 6 hours a night to studying for this exam. This meant the difference  in  being  allowed  to  compete  for  upcoming promotions, so I got a lot of support from home, more than I ever got for my writing or spiritual activities. Still, it was grueling to put in a long day, often with unpaid over- time, then come home to look at  somnolent regulations for another 5 or 6 hours.

Meanwhile, an opportunity came up that excited me. If I was  willing to give it a try, I could be a part of the beta test group to take the exam online from the privacy of my own home computer. I was later asked if I had an ulterior motive for that (implying that I planned to cheat). Why, yes, I did have a motive-I like being first. I like being a test  subject. I like having a chance  to prove that something can be done and be done well. I liked that this was a forward-leaning motion  of NCMA to  come into the 21st century along with the calendar. I liked that they, too,  recognized  the  future was  tied  to  technology  and making maximum use  of it to increase our efficiency in the workforce.  The thrill of  “guinea-pigging”  an idea is the way I’m wired, and that was my only ulterior motive for it, ever.

However, I was told that I could not take the exam on my office computer, even if the exam was for work, just as I could not use my time at work to study. I would have to study at home and then take vacation time to take the actual test on my home computer.

I was also told that I would have to have a proctor watch me take the test to make sure I didn’t cheat. That made me feel like a school kid  again, in a school where kids weren’t trusted. But then, maybe they had reason to feel that way. Unlike some of my colleagues, I didn’t have my own secretary to sign up officially as my proctor while I took the exam  unwatched,  behind closed  and locked doors. Yes, that did happen for others….

Instead, I convinced my friend and business partner to spend six hours of her busy schedule, propped at a table in my home  office and staring at me while I took a test online. I filled out all the necessary paperwork, which also asked for my proctor’s  name, phone number,  and business address. Since the test was to be administered to me online, we agreed  that she could sit and read during my test time and look up every now  and then to make sure my computer table was still clear of cheat sheets and that I was being honest as I took the test online. I felt bad about asking her to take that kind of time out of her day, but she readily agreed to it because she knew how important it was to my career. And if I’d cheated, she would’ve beaten my butt over it, too! Neither of us was concerned about failures of integrity.

There are 3 things I distinctly remember in connection with that certification  exam, and I always remember them backwards  chronologically  but in ascending  order of importance.

One was taking the test. Sitting at my home computer and it freezing up a time or two. And I couldn’t go back if I skipped  a  question.  Still, I finished  a 6-hour exam in about  2.5  hours  and  then  readily  passed  (instant  feed- back), with my lowest score being in the area I’m best at because like so many people who think outside the box, it’s difficult for me to give a standardized answer, especially when I’ve  done things in my job that are not yet captured  in  the  regulations   and  policies…but   will  be. Damn those questions that ask which one of the following 4 things can’t be done, and I’ve done them all and done them legally!

The second thing I remember is dropping by to pick up some Spilled Candy mail about 4 days before I was to take the test online. The postal worker handed me a pack- age and without ever touching it, I jumped back about 2 feet and refused it. The package wasn’t for me. It was for my proctor, and I realized the moment I saw it that it had my  test  enclosed  and  it was  from  NCMA.  The  postal worker marked on the package that it had been refused, that no one outside  US Postal Service  hands had even touched the package, let alone opened it, and that it was being returned to the sender.

Working backwards,  the  third  thing  I  remember  is that about 5 days before the exam, I had worn myself to a frazzle and stayed home with the flu. This has often been a pattern in my life-burning the candle at both ends and then getting stomped on by germs because I’ve killed my stamina-but once again, my body forced me to take some downtime and to  rest. And that’s when the phone call came.

I was so nauseated that I didn’t catch the man’s name at the time,  but he was responsible  for coordinating all the test-taking for the NCMA certification  exam. I don’t remember if he’d called my proctor  to see if  she’d received the package or what, but he started the conversation by calling me a liar and a cheater and then demanding to know if I had access to the P O Box I’d given as my business partner’s address. When  I said that yes, of course, I did and that I’d fully disclosed that my proctor was my friend and business partner, his tone turned even uglier.

He spoke to me in a way that I would never speak to a dog. He was yelling into the phone that I had no integrity because I had arranged to see the test in advance and that I had the answers.

Perhaps this whole ordeal is one I’ve carried with me for 7 years because integrity is such a hot button for me, especially when I’m accused of having none.

At that point, I was able to sit up on the sofa and I told him to wait a minute. How was I to know that both the test and the answers  were being sent to the proctor? No one had ever told me that. And I was taking the test online through their website, not by paper. Why would they ever send a paper version when I was specifically to take the test online?

Now here’s the kicker: my proctor, I’d been told, was simply there  to  baby-sit. Proctors  were not to grade the tests—Headquarters did that when the proctor sent it in or when the online test got an instant pass/fail—so what did proctors need the answers for anyway?

Not that he seemed to have thought through the illogic of  sending  answers  to  proctors  who  didn’t  need them. He then demanded to know if I’d opened the package. I hadn’t seen the package. I hadn’t been to post office because I had the flu. And besides, if a package came to the PO box with my friend’s name on it, I wouldn’t open it anyway because that would be a breach of trust between us.

That  seemed  to  satisfy  him  a  little.  At  least  he’d stopped  screeching. Then he instructed me that if I did get the package, to send it back to him unopened and he would resend it to my proctor at her home address and maaaaaybe she’d receive it in time for me to take the test since I had screwed up his system.

But, he warned me, he fully expected  the package to arrive with evidence that it had been tampered with because even though he’d never met me, he personally believed I had no integrity,  and if the package  had been opened, then I would have to wait and study for another six  months  before  I  could  take  the  next  certification exam.

This was a new process, untried and full of glitches, of which my situation was one. It was most important that NCMA maintained the integrity of the examination process. Which, I suppose, is why it was more important that the exam have integrity than to allow that the coordinator had failed to inform those of us volunteer beta-testers of the process and it was far easier to accuse honest people, whom he’d never met, of wrong-doing.

In hindsight, I’m sure he was quite stressed that his best-laid plans had   huge holes in them, but that’s no excuse for the way he treated me. I was sick both from flu and the stress of wondering if I’d be able to take the test at all until I found out the day before test day that the package sent to the PO box had been returned, safe and unopened and that NCMA was satisfied that I had not seen the test or the answers. Not that anyone apologized. In the coordinator’s mind, I would always be guilty.

I’d been actively involved in the local NCMA chapter before that,  but  I let my involvement  die after the test. The certificate still sits in its very expensive frame, but I haven’t  had it on a wall in at least  5 years.  As pretty, physically, as the certificate is, I can’t stand the sight of it because of the ugly feelings associated with it. As for my career  with  the   Defense  Department,   that  certificate meant  a  chance  to  compete  for  a  promotion,  but  the NCMA certification really doesn’t mean anything to  me at all these days except that an angry stranger who didn’t have his crap together accused me of lacking integrity after I’d given up so much time with my family to study for the certification.

It’s time to let go of those ugly feelings I’ve held onto so long, the ones captured in the physical embodiment of that certificate. That’s right-time for a bonfire.