I failed my driverâ€™s test six times. I am not exaggerating. The first three were for parallel parking. Once I didnâ€™t come to a complete stop before turning on red. Once I didnâ€™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. â€¨â€¨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. â€¨â€¨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.
Itâ€™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 donâ€™t experience that feeling again. But tense and tight and fists grasped is no way to go through life. In fact, itâ€™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 driverâ€™s test. You cannot get into that school. You cannot get a job. You cannot play that instrument. You canâ€™t do anything right.
Once Iâ€™m in that place itâ€™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 itâ€™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 doesnâ€™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. Itâ€™s â€œyou passedâ€ instead of â€œyou failed.â€
Iâ€™m not sure thereâ€™s a real art to failure except to say that you canâ€™t let it stop you. And you have to learn whatever you can from each instance. Maybe you can get feedback. Or maybe itâ€™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.
â€¨Whatâ€™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 driverâ€™s test SIX TIMES.