Would you rather be unique or be the best? I remember coming across this question on a survey I was asked to take as a kid.
Maybe you are wondering why I was asked to take this survey (and why you didn’t get to take one)?
Well, one boy and one girl were randomly chosen from our eighth grade class to be part of a long-range study about drugs.
I was the lucky girl.
I was followed by researchers in this study FOR YEARS and enjoyed it quite a bit.
I even found who the boy was that was asked to do it. Occasionally we would talk about how weird we thought it was. (He ended up being in a band I competed against and lost to in this story. Also, I think he may have gotten into some drugs, but I don't know if he put it on his survey.)
What Was it Like to Take the Surveys?
I took hour long surveys and took part in taped interviews annually (even with my boyfriend/now husband) into my mid-twenties for a few hundred dollars here and there.
One of the requirements was picking three topics contentious to our family dynamic and talking about them while being filmed. Fun stuff!
“Money” was a card on the table a lot growing up.
I would sit there and watch my parents awkwardly talk about it and then chime in with all my knowledge as a teenager.
I wish I could see those tapes!
Back to the Question: Unique or the Best?
This was interesting to come across as a middle schooler. I thought about a quote mentioning ladders before answering the question.
“It’s better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than in the middle of a ladder you don’t want to climb.”
8th grade me:
"It’s always great to climb a ladder to the top, but if someone else built it, I probably wouldn’t be impressed with myself. I must be the type of person who would rather build a dilapidated ladder, but at least call the ladder my own, even if I eventually fell off it or had to build it twice."
Odd thought process over.
And I enjoyed the process of approaching the question differently, which was... apparently the answer to my question.
At the end of the test, I was asked if there was anything else the scorers of the test should know about me.
I drew a stick person falling off a ladder.
Then I wrote, “I am not a good random sample for the population you need to study. But I do like getting paid to talk about myself. I will never do drugs. I will never drink distilled beverages. Good luck with your study.”
Time and time again, I tried to save the University of Iowa researchers work by telling them to discard my test because I wasn’t “normal.”
Now that I work with middle schoolers, I realize none of them think they are normal.
I genuinely hope this research is still being conducted. It was an easy source of reflection throughout my life and I certainly enjoyed the random extra money here and there.
Still, I’ll never pursue surveys on purpose. But if they find me and my family? I’ll be fine with taking them.