5 lessons learned from repeated failure

Back I school, I was never a failure. In fact, I worked so hard, I don’t ever remember failing a single pop quiz, test or examination. For almost the first two decades of my life, I had never tasted failure.

You know the saying “the bigger they are the harder they fall“? It is so true.

my driving story

My winning streak collapsed around me when I started driving. I sailed through the theory test and began driving almost two years ago. At first it went really well, I learned quickly and although I had little intention to actually drive a car in the near future, I quite enjoyed it. But the summer was ending and university was approaching. My instructor and I decided that I should try to pass the practical driving test before I left for university.

As the day of my first test drew nearer, I started to get more and more nervous. On the day, I was a bag of nerves, and I inevitably failed. Not miserably, but still a fail. I was so disappointed when the examiner told me I hadn’t passed. It took me a few minutes to even process his words because nobody had ever said them to me before.

But I booked another test as soon as I could. Knowing that most people pass the second time, I felt a little more confident. But a for a few nights before my test, I found myself unable to sleep too well. During the test, my mind was flying everywhere, trying to remember all of the things I’d been taught. I was distracted by the littlest things and could barely focus on the road when I was trying to look out for a thousand other things – traffic, signs, pedestrians, speed, space, gear… In the end, I failed again.

Because of uni, I waited a whole year before I did it again. I changed to a more experienced instructor and thought this time everything would be different. I was driving a nicer car and had spent a lot more money on more hours of tuition. I booked my test. My mum was so encouraging, I felt confident I would pass this time. During the drive, I made one mistake, and the whole thing fell apart. The worst thing was having to tell my mum I hadn’t managed to pass…again.

For a few weeks, I gave up. I didn’t want to drive anyway. I was questioning myself over and over again. “Why can’t I just do it?“. What was worse, my younger sister passed first time. Yeah, ouch. My self confidence was in pieces.

forgiving myself

But in the end, I had enough self-awareness to realize that people make mistakes. I picked myself up and became more determined than ever. If I fell again, I knew that I would probably give it up for life, but at least if I passed, it would be out of the way for the next 60 years. It was all or nothing.

I worked hard in my lessons, ironing out every mistake. I was a bit harsh on myself, but I needed it. I wrote down all of the things I’d failed on in the previous tests and made sure I would never repeat them. I soaked up every single word my instructor gave me. I made sure I got plenty of sleep the night before. And when the morning came a few weeks ago, I made myself a shot of coffee, gave myself a pep talk and walked out the door hoping I’d come back with a pass.

And I did.

I felt so relieved that I gave my instructor a massive hug and I was squealing on the way home. I texted my friends and spent the day smiling. Not because I wanted to drive (believe me, I’m not touching a steering wheel for the next 5 years!) but because I had gotten over a giant hurdle that had been a burden on my back for two years. I had gotten over my fear or failure and was rewarded for it.

5 lessons learned from repeated failure

1. It’s all you. You can spend days revising for an exam with your course-mates, but when it comes down to the day, you’re on your own. I hadn’t told my parents that I was taking the last test because I didn’t want to be distracted by their false encouragement (the kind that parents always give their kids – “just try your best honey!“) or even worse, I didn’t want to be motivated by not wanting to let them down. On the day, it’s all down to you – how much you’ve prepared and how you will react to the things that come your way.

I learned that most of the time shifting the blame onto others is avoiding who the real issue is with.

2. Forgiveness is magical. Letting yourself be human is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. A lot of the time, as people, we are too harsh on ourselves and expect robotic performance. ‘If we can’t accomplish something important, we’ve failed at life’ – it’s not like that at all. Accepting that we are good at some things and bad at others takes us a big step closer to changing it.

I’ve learned that hating myself accomplishes nothing. I should forgive, forget and move forwards.

3. Focus is key. If your mind is distracted by the one hundred and one things, you are not focussing on the task at hand. Yes, there are times you have to think about more than one thing at once, but they should all be related to what you’re doing right now. In the previous tests, I would be thinking about what I would do that day after I passed, where I would go etc. I wasn’t concentrating as well as I could have, which was definitely a factor in my failures.

I learned that focus and confidence at the right time and place can distinguish a pass or a fail.

4. Mistakes are lessons in disguise. When we make a mistake, we can either beat ourselves up about it, or take it as an opportunity to learn from them. In my tests, I never committed the same mistake twice. I made absolutely sure that I would never do any of them again. In the end, those who make more mistakes learn more lessons than those who were just lucky.

I learned that the biggest mistake is to not learn from your mistakes.

5. Persistence makes a difference. Finally, I’ve learned to never give up. If you keep trying and trying, one day it will happen. Don’t miss out out on stuff because it didn’t work out the way you wanted the first time you tried it. Sure, there will be ups and downs, but you should just just enjoy the ride. It’s much better to be on the roller-coaster, than just watching it.

I learned that the only real failure is simply giving up.

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  • Eli

    Oh my, this is so true for a lot of areas in life, but I’m still struggling with my own learning how to drive (I am not even close to trying the practical test), precisely because I have to deal with all of this. I get discouraged and just stop trying for long periods of time. The thing is, I demand myself that I do it perfectly, nothing less will do, and sometimes it feels as if everybody is pressuring me to learn when I’m not even sure I want to. I’ll definitely meditate on what you are saying about forgiving myself. Thank you!

    • Jessica

      Hi Eli, thank you for your comment, sorry about the late reply!

      I hope this helps, I really wish you the best of luck on your test.

  • O God. It seems that you have written my story. It is so true!

  • gilberto

    I happen to be a very good driver, according to both my teacher and exam evaluator. I aced the test, minus a tiny little error which she said she wouldn’t even penalize for because everything else was perfect.

    The deal is I hate driving. Everytime I am about to leave in my car, I think about the horror of finding parking in the city, if there is any at all, and even so being forced to park in a tight spot which may risk me damaging a very expensive car that doesn’t belong to me.
    I also hate the traffic, being caught in it, and the roads themselves.

    I honestly see myself getting a chauffeur when I’m older. To hell with minimalism , LOL

    • Jessica

      Hi gilberto! Sorry for the late reply.

      I totally understand when you say you hate driving, I do too! Thinking about which way to go on the roads so I don’t get stuck in traffic and thinking about where to park makes my head hurt!

      I don’t think I’ll ever be rich enough to have a chauffeur, so I guess I’ll have to make do 🙂

  • Though I passed the very first time, I completely understand your story. What I had to learn was: forgiving and forgetting any mistake I just made.

    I always tried to analyze every mistake, right at that moment. Why did I do this wrong? How can I do it better the next time? What will those other drivers think of me? This was a horrible stupid thing to do! How could i NOT see that sign? I must be blind.

    You know, that self-talk.

    But my teacher told me: when you do something wrong, immediately FORGET it! Because when you start thinking about the mistake, and start analyzing, you will be distracted and not focussed, and you will make even more mistakes. Always stay focussed on driving, and don’t start dwelling in your mind.

    Of course you have to analyze the things you did – but AFTER the lesson, or the trip. NOT while driving.

    Because I always want to do things perfect this was the hardest lesson to learn: make a mistake…and forget it. GO ON. Don’t punish yourself, don’t think about it.

    But when I learned to do this, it made my driving a lot better.

    And though I passed the first time, I am still not a regular driver. You know, “I only have my license since six years” (I am 36 y/o)

    By the way, I love your blog and read it every time.
    I am from The Netherlands, so maybe my English is not perfect.

    • Jessica

      Hey meibloempje, you’re totally right, forgetting about a mistake you made is essential if you want to pass the test. Sometimes, the one you made isn’t so bad, but dwelling on it may actually cause you to fail.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  • Bec

    Thanks so much for this blog. I just failed my driving test for the 2nd time yesterday and have felt so down about it. I stumbled on your post after googling ‘repeated driving test failure’. It’s made me feel less down on myself, less weird for being a two-time ‘failure’, and more hopeful that I’ll eventually succeed.

  • Hemant

    one word… awesome 🙂 !!!!!

  • Baran

    thanks i was so disappointed but now i have motivation to start again goodluck

  • chasingplaces

    It’s my first time to read your blog and I love it! 🙂 Persistence really pays off!

  • Abhishek Kumar

    Hey Jessica. Your blog is really awesome.Feeling good after reading this.

  • Guest

    I have more serious issues in life than getting through a driving test. I have failed to secure a doctoral (PhD) position for the past 1.5 years now in UK/Canadian univeristies. Good on you, atleast the message is clear.

    • Thanks Gourav for your comment!

      Yes, I understand that the problem doesn’t seem too big (it does to me now too) but at that time in my young adult life it was a big blow to my confidence. I can safely say that now I hardly care about such trivial things! Best of luck with your studies 🙂

      • Gourav Banerjee

        Thanks Jessica. Best wishes