Learning to drive, learning to fail

Learning to drive, learning to fail

“Success is liking what yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it” – Maya Angelou

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about fear, failure, success and perfection.

This has come about because I’ve been taking my driving test. I finally passed it last week (cue fanfare!) after two previous attempts, but the act of not passing – otherwise known as FAILING – has been uncomfortable to say the least.

As a recovering perfectionist, failure is not something that comes easy to me. In fact my driving test is the first test that I have ever failed (apart from maybe job interviews but that’s a whole other nail-biting, sweat-inducing topic for a blog post right there).

You could say I’m pretty lucky to have made it to my thirties without ever really failing at anything – I must be incredible, right?

Sadly not.

Looking back, it’s clear to me that I have usually stuck to things I know I’m good at. Success guaranteed.

Driving, like running, is not something that I am naturally good at. But learning to drive has always had an extra layer of anxiety associated with it, not least because I’d been in two car accidents as a young adult. However it wasn’t just the fact that I was basically in charge of a machine and all the responsibility that entails that terrified me but also my complete lack of ability at something being observed and quietly judged by another human being. Yuk.

Over time I learned to trust the guy sat in the chair next to me and that he wasn’t there just to laugh/shout at me and tell me what I was doing wrong (seriously, I had one instructor in my early twenties who did nothing but shout, it was horrible). As well as not laughing or shouting, he also pointed out when I was doing something right, especially if it was something I used to get wrong. And slowly slowly, I started to realise that all the things I had thought were impossible (like steering, using my feet, changing gears and reading signs all at the same time) were becoming possible.

But the knowledge that I could actually drive still didn’t make my tests any less daunting.

Before my second test, I had a really good chat with my instructor in which he said “I blame our school system, cause it just tells you you’re either wrong or you’re right. So people get terrified of being wrong. There is no room for saying ‘well that wasn’t great but what can you learn from it?'” I have to say I tend to agree.

Secondary, further and higher education taught me lots of things, but generally it was how to cram for a test or write a killer essay. It also taught me how to get by and to avoid failure at all costs.

It didn’t teach me that I might learn BY failing, and it didn’t teach me the joy of learning. Something that has come to me much later in life.

Before my third and final test I was driving myself back home on one of my many test runs with my dad (thanks Dad!) and I thought to myself ‘this is it, I’m doing it. I set out to learn to drive and overcome my fear and I’ve done it. Even if I don’t get that piece of paper tomorrow, I’ve achieved what I set out to’. And that made me feel at peace with this whole test thing for the first time.

It’s like when my college tutor asked our class once “if you could pass this course just by magic – or by cheating but you’d never get caught, would you do it?” and my answer was no, because then I’d miss out on the learning. I wouldn’t want the achievement for the sake of it, I want to go on the journey and get the knowledge.

And it’s been the same with driving. Even if I have wanted to give up and literally cried at the wheel in a car park (true story), trying and failing and trying again has taught me not just about driving but about myself, what makes me feel uncomfortable and why.

Jesus, learning to drive is basically therapy. No wonder it’s so expensive!

So why am I telling you about my failed attempts at driving rather than just that I passed? Well, I think its important to share our ‘failures’ sometimes to dispel some of the myth and shame around them. Especially in this social media age where it’s all too tempting to just show the edited highlights of our lives.

The truth is I took several attempts over ten years to learn to drive, and this time around it took me two whole years to even make it to test, let alone pass. The fact that I was a grown woman who couldn’t get herself from A to B or was so dependent on other people was embarassing to me, yet I was so scared of both driving and failing that I quite often couldn’t see a way out.

So if you’re in the same position, about driving or whatever big scary change you want to make, I want to say that I get it. But it is possible – start, take it slow, find someone you trust to show you the way and, most importantly, learn from your mistakes.

Good luck.

Note: If you’re reading this cause you have a driving phobia, I can highly recommend this book. It really helped me a lot.