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It's the wrong test.

I might have discovered the secret of the universe.

Or maybe my sister did.

Here goes.

One of my sisters has lived most of her life in France, due to falling in love with a Frenchman. While this has been a blessing for all of us, the differences in culture have caused some interesting complications.

In France, there’s a test called the baccalaureate that’s given at the end of high school, which basically determines the course of your life - whether you go to college, which jobs you apply for, all that sort of stuff. It’s a big deal.

When their older daughter took it, there was a question about Gone with the Wind in the English proficiency section, and she knew nothing about it.

Like, nothing.

I don’t think she should beat herself up over it. The French do have literature of their own, and between Dumas, Proust, and Moliere, I’m not surprised they didn’t spend a lot of time talking about Margaret Mitchell.

She got good grades on the rest of the test, but when their younger daughter was preparing to take her baccalaureate, they learned that a portion of the test would be about The Great Gatsby. They thought they should help her prepare in order to avoid another Gone with the Wind debacle. They explained in great length what a WASP was. You know – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

On the day of the test, the literature section went fine, but there was also a translation portion. The passage she had to translate was about insects.

You guessed it. She wrote something like, “The White Anglo-Saxon Protestant makes its nests out of wood fibers it chews into paper, and becomes highly aggressive and stings when disturbed.”

Here’s the lesson. No matter how hard you try, you’re always studying for the wrong test.

In the early 70’s, my dad worried my long hair would keep me from getting a decent job. No reason for concern – I became a self-employed farmer AND went bald. All that worry for nothing.

It’s not just me. After WWII, the military was worried about fighting a million Russian tanks in Germany, so they prepared for that war, which meant they had the wrong equipment, training, and plans for both Korea and Vietnam. Then we completely missed everything that led up to Osama Bin Laden.

The list goes on. Ever since the 80’s, the government has been worried about runaway inflation, which has never happened. But as part of the policy to keep it from happening, the national debt is $23 trillion and my dad can’t get 2% on his CD’s. The stock market might go through the roof, but a working man or woman, looks at their retirement plans and changes them to “work until I die…”

Speaking of retirement, I turned 65 this year and now spend a certain amount of time doing and redoing the math to convince myself I have enough resources to live until I’m 90. I hope that doesn’t mean I’m going to get hit by a truck next month.

So, there’s the first lesson for the new year. What you’re most worried about probably isn’t going to happen. Just because you have the best of intentions doesn’t mean you’re not going to screw up. And no matter how you do on your last test in high school, you’ll probably turn out all right.

Happy New Year.

Copyright 2020 Brent Olson

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