About an hour ago I failed my fifth driving test. There is part of me that wants to curl up, eat ice-cream and pretend it didn’t happen, and there is a part of me that wants to share my failure with the world. The urge to share has won!
I had my first driving lessons many moons ago at the age of 17. Unlike some, I didn’t take to it easily. I am quite academically minded and have a tendency to over think but can struggle with things that are more practical or things that involve co-ordination. I also wasn’t particularly sporty and used to come up with whatever excuses I could to get out of PE at school. At that age my attitude was that if I didn’t find it easy and I didn’t have to do it then I would just give up. I managed two driving lessons! At that age I hadn’t learned how to fail so it felt safer not to try.
However in recent years I realised that driving would make my life a lot easier so I have spent the last three years learning a skill that doesn’t come naturally. And what I have learned is that to learn is to fail. And that failure is ok. Every time I make a mistake it is a learning experience and a practice in letting go. Of course driving is a metaphor for life. If we spend too much time overthinking an error from the past (like misjudging a roundabout) then we are less able to make rational decisions about what to do next. I have learned that it is ok to be nervous during a test. And that trying to force myself to relax will only make it worse. I am nervous because it is important to me.
Failure is a part of being human. Yes some people pass their driving tests first time. But I have never met anyone who hasn’t failed at something. The shared experience of failure is something that connects us all. When we feel that we have messed up in some way we can feel humiliated and alone – we don’t want to others to know about our vulnerabilities and that can be even more isolating. But if we remember that this is part of our shared humanity then we can use it to connect. And yet we all have our strengths too. When we are stuck in the fog of non-compassionate failure we can become blinkered, isolated and judgemental.
In my most recent test I did pretty well except for one mistake. Unfortunately that mistake was a ‘dangerous fault’! I never do anything by halves! And as soon as it happened I knew I had failed – for a split second error. Yet there are several ways I could look at this: I could see it as unfair and typical and catastrophise about whether I will ever pass; I could beat myself up for my ‘stupid mistake’; or I could remind myself of everything I did well on test. I did a perfect parallel park. I dealt with a roundabout that I had struggled with on my previous test. No amount of self-criticism was going to make the examiner change his mind! It would only make me more miserable. Yes I was upset and disappointed. And yes I did buy myself an ice-cream to make myself feel better! But then I stopped and spoke to myself with kindness. I did my best and I made a mistake and I will learn.
What I also learned today is the importance of gaining support from others. My friends have been great. And they have also reminded me that it takes courage to fail and try again.
I have heard it said many times that you don’t really learn to drive until after you have passed your test. I suspect this applies more to people who pass first time after a few lessons rather than those who pass after three years and six tests! I honestly believe that every little failure and triumph in every lesson and every test has will make me a better driver. And learning to fail with compassion has perhaps helped me to grow as a person.
Having said that I really hope I am done with learning about this particular form of failure! Sixth time lucky?
Rachel Jones-Wild, Mindful Therapies