I failed my driver’s test six times. I am not exaggerating. The first three were for parallel parking. Once I didn’t come to a complete stop before turning on red. Once I didn’t yield fully for a pedestrian in a parking lot. And my favorite reason for failing? Get this, I took my turns too slow: In a parking lot. Seriously. 

Each time I would get out of the car feeling totally demoralized. I felt humiliated. I felt like they had it out for me a few times, too. I struggled. It was stressful. I badly needed to get my license. I lived in a rural town and I had a pretty much full time job. My mom was driving me to and from work every single day, 30 minutes each way. I needed my license. She needed me to get my license. And I still kept failing. 

And, of course, with every failure I got more nervous. More worried that I would fail again. More worried that I would never get that coveted license. And the more nervous I was when I went into the test, the more likely it was that I would fail.

It was a self-reinforcing cycle. Failure bred nerves which bred failure.

But at some point it started getting a little bit funny. I mean, who had ever heard of someone failing the test so many times?? And for something as ridiculous as turning too slow in a parking lot? I started to laugh at myself a bit. Started to craft this into a story that I could tell that would make other people laugh; not at me but with me.

And things shifted and I passed the test. On my 7th time. And since then I have been happily driving. And safely, I might add. A couple of speeding tickets, a couple of fender benders, but mostly a clean and clear and safe driving record.

It’s easy to get rattled by failure. I still do. When I get that big old rejection letter. Or when something goes completely sideways and I have no idea how to fix it. Or when I just straight up mess up. The fear kicks in. The nerves ramp up. And then I go into the next situation feeling tense and tight and with my fists grasped so that I don’t experience that feeling again. But tense and tight and fists grasped is no way to go through life. In fact, it’s a sure fire way to make sure that failure happens again.

After a couple of failures in a row then something else starts to happen. A tape starts to play in your head that goes beyond the situation and that tape starts to say that not only do you fail a lot but that you are a failure. You are the type of person who always fails. You cannot pass that driver’s test. You cannot get into that school. You cannot get a job. You cannot play that instrument. You can’t do anything right.

Once I’m in that place it’s a real mess. I start to slump. I start to think that maybe I should just quit trying. I start to frame myself as a failure.

The only cure that I have found is to just keep going after what it is that I am aiming for. At least if it’s something I really want. If I find that after a string of failures I still want the thing that I am failing at, then the only way out is through. I have to keep trying. I have to keep putting myself out there.

Generally I keep failing for a while. And it still hurts. And I still get nervous. But I also bounce back a little faster. A rejection doesn’t keep me down for quite as long. I learn some things and get better feedback. I learn some more things and make a few less mistakes. I make new mistakes and learn from those.

And then maybe, one day, the answer is yes instead of no. It’s “you passed” instead of “you failed.”

I’m not sure there’s a real art to failure except to say that you can’t let it stop you. And you have to learn whatever you can from each instance. Maybe you can get feedback. Or maybe it’s about figuring out what you, internally, need to do differently: another revision, another set of eyes on the application, meditating before taking the test, whatever it is. You can learn. You can improve.

What’s that quote? Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better. That pretty much sums it up.

And hey, if nothing else, at the end of the day you have a pretty funny party story about the time that you failed your driver’s test SIX TIMES.

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