The Fictionality of Failure – Why Not Succeeding is All a Matter of Perspective

I failed my driving test three times last year and – in the grand scheme of things – it’s not a complete disaster. But as someone who suffers from generalized anxiety and who is also a massive over-thinker, this was a massive hit to my sense of self-worth.  For me, the ability to be independent and do things on my own stems from a childhood insecurity of being told “don’t try anything that’s too taxing”. Whilst said with good intentions, I hate this phrase. It implies that I just shouldn’t bother, because there’s no point as I wouldn’t succeed anyway; the double sting being that this message comes from someone I care about thinking that I am not strong enough as a person to even try.

When I failed my driving test the first time, I was frustrated and upset.  I kept thinking that I just shouldn’t have bothered because I was going to fail anyway, and then in turn I was angry at myself for caving in so easily and listening to the voice of my insecurity. Looking out of the window at people’s cars parked on the driveway reinforced all my ruminating thoughts such as “other people do this every day, but you can’t. It was a waste of money, a waste of time, a waste of effort, you’re just not good enough as a person.”

The second time I sat the driving test, I had to wait three months due to availability of testing dates, which meant another three months of spending money on lessons plus the £100 or so for test and car booking fees on the day. It was so expensive, there was no option but to pass. I didn’t.

The third time I sat the driving test, it was after I had stopped driving for a little while to take a break over the Christmas holidays and also to stop putting pressure on myself.  I was a little bit hopeful this time and again, I was so anxious that I ended up failing. I put my hands up and resigned myself to the opinion that it really was not meant to be.

My whole experience was framed with this intense need to prove that I could do it, whilst at the same time I festered away in equal amounts of self-doubt.  For some people, getting their driving licence is straight sailing. They take around ten hours of lessons, have a good run on the day of the test and then continue on.  When I think back on my experiences with hindsight, I viewed passing the test with such intense importance that I placed it so high on a pedestal I was convinced was out of my reach, I screwed myself over.  

After subsequently googling “I failed my driving test three times”, drinking spoonfuls of maple syrup and having a small cry, I began to feel better.  Not just feeling better due to reading about the surprising number of people writing in forums (“omg it took me seven tries!!!”) Or even drinking all of that sugar.  I realised a few things. So here are my conclusions:

Failure is not a thing.  I believe failure and success are one and the same.  When we ‘succeed’ or ‘fail’ at something, the degree to which that happens simply aligns to our expectations either more or less accurately than we predicted.  Do we think I failed because I didn’t / couldn’t try?’ Or do we think ‘I failed because it didn’t go the exact way I wanted it to?’

Failure is not some landmark in our lives.  It is nothing but a shift in our perspective, not our situation.  So now when something doesn’t go the way that I wanted or expected it to, I try not to think of it as a failure.  I try to take a step back, to shift my perspective and see the bigger picture. Sometimes you have to zoom in and maybe see the little things that matter, sometimes you have to zoom right out.  When I thought that I had failed, I felt as though I was not in control of my experience. But I’ve learned that sometimes, to shift my perspective can certainly help.

With this in mind, a year later and I’m now ready to re-sit my test in a few weeks’ time. I’m a good driver, but I’ve realised that my anxiety has played a large part in making this test seem a heck of a lot bigger and more terrifying in many ways than it needs to be.  I’ve learned that when I’m ready I will pass, and if it doesn’t go the way I wanted it to, then there is always something to learn from that experience should I choose to look for it. And that’s okay.

[Katherine Pinkowski]

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