Failure need not be seen as fatalistic. Sometimes it’s just an inconvenience.
I haven’t had too much experience with failure. Mostly because I am a perfectionist. My most vivid memories of failing include failing a garden course in primary school (my darn coriander seeds didn’t grow!) and then Math consistently throughout high school.
After being an Arts student throughout high school, I threw Biology into my course load at university – and I passed! And I continued taking Math through university and even statistics (and passed). So it’s not that I have avoided situations where I have the possibility of failing, it’s just that I work as hard as I can and set myself up to not fail. As best I can.
While failing isn’t something anyone of us would want to do, I think it’s so necessary to experience. Especially early on. Unfortunately this is something I’m learning quite late in life. Failing allows us to become comfortable with failure, to develop psychological responses to it and to refine our self-talk when and as it happens. This helps us treat failure as as inconvenience rather than something fatalistic (which is what failure looks like to me – something fatal).
Today I took a massive gamble. I scheduled my practical driving test, even though I knew I was unlikely to pass (and it took so much willpower to not postpone the test!). I went into the situation doing my best and with confidence but understanding that my hours of practice simply did not stack up. I needed to fail now, when I knew I wasn’t ready, because I knew it would be harder for me to forgive myself if I failed at a point when I thought I was more confident and likely to pass. Failing then would probably see me giving up driving altogether. I needed to figure out how to deal with failure and how to move on.
Driving might not seem like such a big deal to you. Neither Patrick nor I drive, and neither of us have ever really wanted to learn or seen the need to learn. Even as I drive now, we both feel it is more a grave inconvenience to our lifestyle than an asset. Why am I doing it? I ask myself this everyday. I’m looking at it as acquiring a skill and skills are good to have. And now that I’ve invested so much money into learning to drive and having already bought a car, I’m in too deep to stop. It has been a long journey to get to this point. So, I just did the test.
And I failed. Quite spectacularly actually! Not in any dramatic way. No instant fails or critical errors, just lots of little mistakes that speak directly to my lack experience behind the wheel. It was heartbreaking but I feel like I’ve got this failure out of the way now. I’m not scared of it. It’s not a mental block. I know what it’s like. It’s not a big deal. The test can be re-done (it’s already been re-booked!) and in the meantime it’s more hours of driving for me.
I’m upset, but not surprised. I’m disappointed, but not shocked that I failed. Doing the test and the hours of practice that I’ve had is not something I’ve kept quiet about. I’ve been open about taking the test this week because I don’t want to feel embarrassed or ashamed about failing. I don’t want it to be about sharing the outcome and hiding the process. Doing so would be doing myself an enormous disservice. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am with my driving, and failing today doesn’t mean “not ever”, it means “not just yet”. I’m sure I have friends who will make fun of me or be sarcastic and unkind but I am really proud of where I am today compared to being determined to never drive and how scared I was the first time I drove. Now I drive with Rafa in the back seat and I feel good.
I don’t like failing but I honestly feel like it is something I need to allow to happen more often. It builds resilience. And this, I feel is an important lesson, especially one I’d like to teach my child. I also wanted to share this and openly talk about it because as a society we put so much emphasis on celebrating the wins, and just winning generally. The whole concept of everyone is a winner is comical to me. Children are constantly told how special they are, how smart they are – a fail on a test still leaves a child with an award for participation and I think a false sense of self and ability. That doesn’t sit well with me. I think it’s important to encourage participation and effort while spending time nurturing and developing skill, rather than simply creating an inflated sense of self.
Sometimes we fail and we need to be able to look at it for what it really is. So I failed today. I had a good cry. I’m getting back in the car tomorrow and re-sitting the test in a few weeks. Who knows, I might fail again, and if that happens I know I’ll be okay. Because I failed today and life is still beautiful and it still goes on. And I’m not going to be left behind.