What I Learned From Failing the LEED Green Associate Exam. Twice.

I have kind of kept it on the down low on social media, but it’s no secret that I spent the months of February, March, April, and May studying for the LEED Green Associate exam.

Before I go any further, let me explain what that is to those of you who might not know.

There is an organization centered in Washington D.C. called the U.S. Green Building Council. The USGBC’s mission is to transform the way the country (and, in fact, the world) thinks about building development, construction, and maintenance by promoting and teaching about sustainable practices. They develop what is called the LEED Rating System, LEED standing for Leadership and Energy in Environmental Design. This system is a checklist of sorts by which designers can abide during construction in order to create a building that uses less energy, is located on a sustainable site, built with regional and feasible materials, uses water efficiently, and much more.

Last year on my study abroad trip, I got to visit the USGBC headquarters where I discovered their Center for Green Schools, an organization that is dedicated to building green school buildings for children. I fell in love. I am a huge proponent of sustainability education, and here this Center was teaching children about sustainability through transforming their surroundings. Since we spend 90% of our days indoors, what greater way to educate children about sustainability than to show them firsthand what sustainable surroundings look like? And on that brainwave, what better way to teach communities, states, and nations what sustainability is through building structures?

Now, within the U.S. Green Building Council and its counterpart that enforces the LEED Rating System, the Green Building Certification Institute, there are three different accreditations people can earn in order to become qualified to help with LEED construction projects and/or have a good chance of working for the USGBC someday. They are: the LEED Fellow, the LEED Accredited Professional, and the first test anyone would have to pass to obtain accreditation of any kind: the LEED Green Associate.

When I heard about a chance to attend a free workshop that would help me pass the LEED Green Associate exam, I jumped at the opportunity. I filled out a scholarship application for a free spot in the workshop and got up at the crack of dawn to be one of the first to submit it. I got it and attended the eight-hour workshop in the middle of February then bought five practice tests (read: 500 questions) to help me study. I studied an hour a day at a minimum until May 10th, the day I had scheduled to take the exam. I made flashcards, wrote out information repeatedly to help me remember the content, took every practice test I could get my hands on, and all but gave up my sanity during my last semester of college to study for the exam.

I pinned much of my future career on that exam. And after all my hard work, after pouring my blood, sweat and tears into studying during the hardest school semester of my life, I failed by one question on May 10th. The exam is 100 questions, all taken out of a 1,000 question database. In order to pass, one needs to get 85 correct. Because some of the questions are weighed a little differently, I scored the equivalent of an 84.

Disappointment does not even begin to cover what I felt upon seeing my score on that computer screen. I sobbed hysterically cried bitterly most of that day.

Because I had only failed by one question, I resolved to try again and scheduled another exam for the 28th of May, just short of three weeks after the first. Because it had cost me an arm, a leg, and my firstborn to schedule the LEED Green Associate exam the first time, my parents were kind enough to buy my second exam and a study guide I hadn’t had my first time around. I spent the two and a half weeks after my college graduation studying for the LEED Green Associate exam. Again. All day every day.

The 28th came around as quickly as the 10th had before. And I sat through the test for the second time that morning, working steadily through the 100 questions and doing my best despite several unclear problems I faced.

And then, as I was irritably staring at an impossible question to which there was more than one correct answer, a thought struck me with the force of a lightning bolt:

The test does not, can not, accurately sum up everything I have learned in the past four months.

I blinked and let that thought sink in for a moment or two.

I had learned so much since February all on my own. I knew more about the LEED certification system than most people in the country. I knew how to make a building more sustainable and I knew the steps to beginning a project and I knew what it took to see it through.

I knew how to educate people about sustainability through transforming their homes, their neighborhoods, existing buildings of all kinds, and new buildings. I knew about the design process and the construction process and the commissioning process and the lessened impact a LEED certified building would have on the environment once it was completed.

I had failed the LEED Green Associate exam by one question last time. To the world, did that really mean that I must know nothing when in fact I had spent at least 50 hours studying the material?

I was gripped with all kinds of other thoughts after that first one. What if I passed this exam and it got me a job I hated? What if I found out that sustainable building construction was not something I wanted to do if I were to get a job in that field someday? What if by passing the exam I would launch myself into a world I didn’t care for but could not escape?

Now, I am not religious by any means, but I do happen to be spiritual. And while I don’t know exactly what kind of divine energy is up there and am perfectly fine with not knowing, I do believe everything happens for a reason.

And so as I finished the exam and my mouse hovered over the submit tab on that computer, I closed my eyes and silently said the prayer I have repeated nearly every day for years.

Whatever needs to happen, please make it happen.

I clicked.

The first time I took that exam, I failed by one question. The second time, I failed by two.

And the first time I failed the exam, I cried. The second time I failed, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and accepted it with all the grace I could muster.

As I walked out of the testing center in Downtown Phoenix and indeed as I sit here typing this, a recent college graduate with no plans, no job, and no prospects, I came to realize many different things:

I am okay with having my life unplanned.

I am okay with not knowing what is in store for me.

I am okay with not knowing what job I’m going to take in the next few weeks or months or years.

I am okay with not having a prestigious job lined up the instant I got out of school.

I am okay with working retail or other less than glamorous jobs in order to get by while I work on projects that I love.

I am okay with disappointment.

I am okay with failure.

Because in the end, I know I’m only 22 and have so much of life ahead of me. There’s no possible way for me to know what’s coming, but whatever happens will happen for a reason.

And I’m okay with not knowing that reason.

So. Am I still disappointed over failing the LEED Green Associate exam twice? Absolutely.

But on the day I failed the second time, I saw this:

79547245dce9b8144127115ed0d23bb0I may be pulled back now, but only because something great is going to happen in the future.

What will that great thing be? Will it involve the USGBC? Will I ever take the exam again?

I have no idea.

And that’s half the fun.

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