They were prepared for the exam. Despite myriad recent distractions, the shows, the clubs, the book groups, a brief jaunt down to Argentina with the crew, they were prepared. They’d studied hard, committing their time and energy to their ideal self. They would win. They would achieve. They would gain fame and fortune and be praised for their greatness. This was their fate.
From the womb, they’d been soothed by Mozart and fed proper food in proper portions of vitamins and minerals. They’d gone to the proper pre-pre-pre school, the proper pre-pre school, the proper pre-school, and certainly the proper schools, until college. It was in their choice for college they demonstrated their individuality. The path they selected for themselves from the available paths laid out by one of their pre-college counselors was both bold and alternative.
Rather than Harvard, they chose Oxford, demonstrating unique wisdom and foresight. They knew a Harvard diploma would set expectations high for future employers, minimizing any delta between expectations and performance. A small delta meant a small impression. And they refused to settle for small impressions. Oxford was equally respected, but more exotic in New York, creating mental space in future supervisors for larger deltas.
They walked into the examination room. It was half-full and half-lit, as if a building employee had forgotten to flip a second lightswitch. They felt embarrassed for the organization, a think tank on the cutting edge of innovative brainstorming techniques. While relatively new on the scene, the organization was exceptionally well-funded, connected, and positioned. They had boldly picked this company during a consultation with one of their career strategists earlier that month.
They sat down at an empty desk facing a blank wall. They were a few minutes early, as always, and began to meditate away any lingering anxiety. Mid-breath, the surface of their desk switched on and a legal memo appeared.
They’d signed plenty of NDA’s, and one was as pointless as the next. Everyone talked to their friends, and their friends were extremely successful, enterprising, and connected people who’d told them to expect some trendy mind tricks during the organization’s screening exam. No problem, they were a broad thinker. They signed their NDA.
Behind them, in the back of the room, a voice spoke.
“Has everyone signed the NDA?”
Those who were seated facing the front of the room turned to see a pale face in a navy blue baseball cap address them from a small hole in the wall.
“Please don’t turn. Sit down. You have 15 minutes to answer our screening questions.”
They were confused but compliant. They sat at the clean desk ready to begin whatever challenge was set before them. The surface lit up and options appeared.
They pressed the red “Yes” with their finger and the screen changed. At the same time, on two walls, projections of YouTube videos, one titled “Maurice Ravel – Bolero (1928) Electronic by Doxent Zsigmond (A=432Hz),” and another, “Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (1970) – full album” appeared on two of the blank walls, their discordant noise filling the dim room. They rolled their eyes.
“Test instructions: Please think about and respond to each question.”
They thought this was overly simplistic, but did not dwell. They pressed the purple “Start.”
“Question 1: Who are you?”
A: A human
B: A nationalist
C: A being
D: A mammal
They were taken aback. They’d taken strange personality tests with strange questions before, most recently at the best career services center in the country run by Monty Williams’ father, but this wasn’t the same. They’re screener questions, they thought as they selected the most reasonable answer. They noted nervous giggles around them as the music volume ticked up.
“Question 2: Where are you?”
A: In a room
B: In a city
C: In a galaxy
D: The same place as everything else
They were starting to get it, they thought. They’d read about these questions. They weren’t real questions, they were designed to confuse and disorient to test mental flexibility and adaptation. They thought they were so tricky, with their stupid music and quasi-intellectual bullshit, but they were prepared. They pressed their finger to the screen.
“Question 3: What is the capital of London?”
C: United Kingdom
They definitely got it now. These were mental sabotage, designed to inflict self-doubt in overconfident egos. They’d heard these techniques from psychological operations professionals themselves, so they were well prepared. They selected their answer confidently.
“Question 4: What would you change about yourself if you were immortal?”
C: Some things
D: Specific things
This annoyed them. What was this question supposed to reveal? Where was the meat? They’d prepared! They wanted to be asked to analyze complex situations with a given set of conflicting facts to determine probability. That’s how they were told they’d be screened! Maybe they’d offer their insight into improvements after they were on payroll. They selected their answer.
“Question 5: What would you change about yourself if souls transmigrated?”
C: Some things
D: Specific things
They were displeased and logged the same answer.
“Question 6: Describe the type of leader you’d be if your philosophy mixed Plato’s Republic with Machiavelli’s Prince and Ayn Rand’s economic philosophy, and you lived in the Lord of the Rings universe during the 2nd age.”
Here’s something they could answer! Plato, no sweat! They’d read him as a freshman. Machiavelli? Please! They’d eaten Machiavelli for breakfast sophomore year! Ayn Rand? That’s kid stuff. Their investment lending professors tore Ayn Rand a new asshole junior year. But Lord of the Rings? Their dad read them Lord of the Rings as a kid, and they’d seen the movies, but they hardly felt like an expert.
“According to Plato’s Republic, “The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states till philosophers become rulers in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.” Plato is calling for a rule by the enlightened, in this case saying Middle Earth society will never see an end to trouble until ruled by the wise. Through Machiavellian machinations, playing orc off goblin, man off hobbit, elf off dwarf, I would maintain and increase my power as an enlightened philosopher ruler. Using Randian economics, often associated with Hayek and Friedman, I’d identify innovative leaders from each faction to organize ranked hierarchies of the most talented and most productive orcs, elves, and dwarves. In this way we’d create commerce and kinship among the many factions, relying on a Kantian Triangle of mutually reinforcing peace to promote stability in the international order as we transitioned to democracy.”
They’d surprised themselves. They looked over their answer one more time and felt good. Once their brain juices started flowing, the nonsense spilled forth. If it was gibberish they wanted, it was gibberish they’d get. They looked at the nearest YouTube video, playing louder than ever. Five minutes remaining.
“Question 7: Which one of these taboos have you never thought about committing yourself?”
D: Public Sex
They looked from question to answers. Each answer implied the other three, officially recorded for all history, used for data analytics and algorithmic computations by HR professionals, AI recruiting programs, credit agencies, and government background checks. They looked up and around to their peers. There were fewer than before, but it was hard to tell how many had left in the half-light. Maybe some had come to this question and simply refused to answer. They pressed next without recording anything and the next question popped up. They were relieved.
“Question 8: How confident are you that you’re not in a simulation?”
A: 0%-25% Confident
B: 25%-50% Confident
C: 50%-75% Confident
D: 75%-100% Confident
They trusted their instinct and input their answer, though they truly couldn’t hear themselves think over the music as it crescendoed further. This was torture.
“Question 9: What question would you ask us to learn more about us?”
They looked at the timer on one of the deafening YouTube rackets; 2.5 minutes left. Crunch time, their favorite time. They’d been addicted to the singular feeling of exhilaration they received when pursuing extreme challenges with extreme deadlines all the way back to their pre-pre-pre school placement exam. They lived for these moments where everything was on the line. If they registered a bad result with the global scoring system they could lose their perfect credit score, their perfect social interaction score, their perfect intelligence score, everything. Their adrenaline pumping in their ears, they wrote:
“How did you convince your funding stream to allow these screening questions?”
1.5 minutes left.
“Question 10: What do you want to figure out during your lifetime?”
They knew they didn’t know now, but they also knew they could find the perfect answer in 1.25 minutes. The music disassembled sound around them.
There were many things they wanted to figure out. They wanted to figure out how to know when they’d won, they wanted to figure out how to keep winning, and they wanted to figure out how to make it so once they won, they’d never have to compete again. 1 minute.
They wanted to figure out what made others think, they wanted to figure out why others thought differently, and they wanted to figure out how to make others think more like them. 45 seconds.
They wanted to figure out what they were supposed to be doing with their life, they wanted to figure out how to monetize what they were supposed to be doing with their life, and they wanted to figure out how to be the best at and make the most money with what they were supposed to be doing with their life. 30 seconds.
They wanted to figure out who they were, they wanted to figure out how they became who they are, and they wanted to figure out how to help others become…they had it.
The desk switched off after they hit “Submit.” They stood up as the lights came up to full and the music ended. They’d been mistaken, no one had left during the test. Their eyes adjusted back to full-light as they saw a familiar face walking towards them.
“What did you think?” They asked.
“It was just like Mr. Zossy from Latin, weird, short, and a little creepy.” They answered.
“Yeah, we have a zany HR.”
“So when do I start?”
“Whenever you want! Your uncle sent our director a note about how happy he was when you chose us, so she’s thrilled to have you on board.”
“That’s splendid! I’ve got a trip to Iceland coming up, how about right after?”
“Good stuff! But, why wasn’t I invited?”
“It’d be awkward with Cessily there, right?”
“Oh! I didn’t know! Well, have fun! Oxford Forever!”
The two each made a round O using four fingers as one side and their thumbs as the other, pressed their O’s together over their heads, and bumped chests, shouting, “Oxford Forever!”
“Harvard Forever!” was heard in response from across the room. The Oxfordians slipped custom shivs from their shin holsters and commenced to battle with three foolishly unarmed thugs from Harvard. Other examinees sighed and looked on as they filed out.
Black and blue, but victorious against their foes, whose body parts now comprised a ceremonial Victory O on the floor of the exam room, the Oxford pair walked arm-in-arm down the fluorescent hallways of their office.