A Lesson in Failure: How I Picked Myself Back Up

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last year, much to my mother's dismay, I bought a scooter, the photo of which I proudly display on my SparkPage. Scootering (if that's not a verb, it should be) around town has been a fun and eco-friendly way to travel, seeing how my "Buddy" (that's the model's actual name!) gets about 100 miles per gallon and looks oh so cute, too.

But Buddy isn't all fun and games. You see, in Ohio (and most other states, I believe), you have to have a motorcycle permit to drive a scooter, and earn your motorcycle license (endorsement) to get full driving privileges. I took my written permit test last year after buying Buddy, knowing that it would only be valid for just one year. Within that year, I'd have to pass the full motorcycle licensing exam (or pony up the cash again for yet another permit).

If you know anything about motorcycle driving tests, you probably know about their reputation for being challenging. Many people fail the first time. It's not out of the ordinary to drop your bike or fall, to hit cones or stall the engine. Knowing that, I went to the course and practiced one night before testing day. I aced all the maneuvers on my own and felt pretty confident about my upcoming test that weekend. Can you see where this might be going?

That Saturday, my boyfriend drove me to the BMV parking lot, which was filling up with scooters and motorcycles. I signed in (#1 on the list) and brought Buddy to the course, waiting to get started. As about 10 other men lined up their bikes behind me, I started to feel my nerves. I was first. They were all watching me. What if I messed up? What if I failed?

The tests consists of four maneuvers, such as a cone slalom, a tight "U" turn, a quick stop and a quick swerve. To my delight, I passed all three of the first maneuvers, including the "quick stop" that had me most worried. I lined up Buddy for the final test. I felt even more nervous for the last part, almost knowing that my perfection so far was too good to be true. This one had a speed component—I had to clock between 12 and 20 miles per hour by the time I crossed the line ahead of me, then, without stopping, do a quick swerve to the right of an obstacle further ahead.

Off I went, hoping for the best as I pulled the throttle and accelerated quickly. I was so fixated on hitting that speed requirement, that I watched my speedometer a little too much. By the time I started to swerve, things started moving in slow motion—but not in a good way. I don't know how it happened, but I was losing control. I was going to crash. Why wouldn't the scooter slow down? Why was I tipping? Why was I still on the throttle? I can't tell you exactly how I got from the starting point to where I was, but my scooter fell and skidded on its side in front of me. Somehow (almost miraculously), I was standing on the pavement—and not on (or under) my fallen scooter.

When you crash, fall, or drop the bike like I did, it's an automatic failure. I failed, on a scooter no less, which was supposed to be far easier than a motorcycle. I wrecked my orange Buddy, and not only did I fail, but I crashed in front of everyone—the 10 men behind me, my boyfriend, the test administrator, and a state highway patrol man who was there to oversee the testing.

A couple people helped me get Buddy up and off to the side so the other testers could get their turns and the instructor handed me my paper that said I had failed. It was like receiving a big red "F" from a teacher and the whole class knew it. After talking with the officer for a few minutes, he walked away and tears started streaming down my face. I don't know how I held it together for so long. I didn't want anyone to see me crying. I was embarrassed. I felt stupid for wrecking. I felt angry that I scratched up my scooter. And I felt nervous about having to re-test again.

Honestly, I don't have a lot of experience failing at things. This was my first big, public failure. About 15 minutes later, I was able to dry my eyes enough to walk back inside, show my big fat "F" to the man at the counter and reschedule my test. On the ride home, I thought about all the people I'd have to tell that I had failed—people who wished me luck and rooted me on and knew I was taking my test that morning. Not only had I failed, but I crashed! I'd have to tell them that, too. (And even if I didn't, Buddy had battle scars that I'd have to explain at some point.)

Later that day, I told my boyfriend how I felt. "I'm a failure at life," I said. He had been supportive all day of course, but what he said in response really stuck with me.

"You're far from a failure at life," he said. "In fact, I think you're pretty successful in life. Riding the scooter is just one very tiny part of your whole life."

How stupid I felt. He was right. I realized how easy it is to come to ridiculous conclusions when something bad happens. I failed my driving test. How could I possibly jump from messing up a single incident to saying that I'm a failure in general or a failure at everything. Clearly, that isn't logical. But isn't that something that we all do sometimes? Dwell on the negative. Beat ourselves up when we mess up. Assume the worst about ourselves, even when all other experiences show us that we're pretty awesome, even if we aren't perfect.

I realized that failing in and of itself isn't such a big deal. Everyone fails. Everyone messes up. And even if you've never screwed something up yet—just wait, you will someday (sorry, but it's true). In fact, knowing that failure is inevitable and accepting that you can't always be perfect is kind of freeing, don't you think?

I could have given up after my embarrassment. I could have taken the weekend-long motorcycle safety course, which waives your test-out requirement. But that would have been the easy way out. Plus, I realized that the absolute worst that could possibly happen—failing, crashing—already happened! So technically, it couldn't get any worse.

I rescheduled my test. I practiced the course again, especially my nemesis, the quick swerve. When I woke up early this past Wednesday to head to the BMV, I was certainly nervous. I barely slept the night before. I kept tracing the path of the test in my head, reliving the part where I had failed. I had dream that I passed the test, but when I arrived, #1 in line with 10 other men behind me, just like last time, my stomach was aching and my fingers were trembling. I was ready to just turn around and go home without even trying. Why put myself through that all over again, I thought.

The test started and I passed the first three maneuvers (just like before) and lined up for the quick swerve. I was still shaking with nervousness, but I just focused, moment by moment, and reminded myself that I don't have to be perfect. It's OK to mess up and it's OK to fail after trying again. I hit the throttle, accelerating to the line as indicated. I braced myself, as if expecting to fall as I swerved, and came to a stop. I put my feet down and waited. The fact that I didn't crash this time was progress already, but I wasn't sure if I had passed yet—I might have gone too slow this time. I waited for the administrator to hand me my paper.

I had passed! I couldn't control the wide grin that spread across my face! My boyfriend high-fived me, and this time, rather than hiding my face in shame as we rode past the line of testers, I held my head high, smiling. I can't believe I did it! What a feeling of accomplishment—and relief! I'm glad it's over and I'm happy to have passed. But I'm even more glad that I didn't give up on myself.

What truly defines you is not the amount of times (or degree to which) you fail. It's what you do AFTER you make a mistake. When you learn from it and pick yourself back up, you never truly fail—as long as you keep moving in the right direction.

WOO HOO! My official endorsement!

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