On my eighteenth birthday I sat my driver’s licence.
And I failed.
It was the most mortifying moment of my life.
I’d already passed the written test with a perfect score and was almost at the end of the driving part (having executed an excellent reverse parallel park), when the driving instructor said the words: “Ok Leah, can you please pull over”.
I thought it was part of the test.
“Did you see that stop sign at the intersection we just went through?”
My heart started to thump. Oh no. No. This can’t be happening. No. No. NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
I had got to the intersection and looked for a sign, not seen one, and so followed the rules for unsigned intersections. I’d come to an almost-but-not-complete stop, looked both ways (no traffic), and then taken the left-hand turn as instructed.
Apparently there had been a stop sign. About five metres back from the road and up on the nature strip. I’d totally missed it. And not only had I now immediatly failed my driver’s licence on my birthday, I wasn’t even allowed to drive the car back to VicRoads – the instructor had to. OH MY GOD.
I was devastated. Inconsolable. A total, ridiculous, over-the-top mess.
I swore my parents to secrecy and begged VicRoads to let me sit the test again that same day. I cried – a lot.
That afternoon, with puffy tear-filled eyes and shaky hands, I did the driving component again and passed easily. As far as anyone except Mum and Dad was concerned, I’d passed it as planned first go.
I told no one about the failure. Not my sisters. Not my boyfriend. Not my friends. No-one except my parents was ever to know.
That’s how warped my perspective of failure was at the time.
You see, I didn’t fail things. I was a perfectionist. A straight A+ student. Even an A was a disappointment to me. My expectations of myself were ridiculously high – more extreme than those anyone else could ever think of placing on me. The pressure was immense and it was all of my own doing.
Looking back now, I can only shake my head, laugh, and be thankful that the way I view failure has changed. Immensely.
While I still have very high expectations of myself, I now consider myself a ‘recovering perfectionist’ and have reframed failure from my greatest fear, to an essential and in fact beneficial, part of life.
What I thought was the end of the world when I was 18, is something I endeavour to celebrate now. And I teach other people to do the same too.
So many of us see failure as a bad thing – something to hide from and avoid at all costs – and it holds us back.
We use our fear as an excuse to stick within our comfort zone; a reason not to pursue all the things we want to in life. And so we don’t go for that job, we don’t try that challenge, we don’t say yes to that opportunity.
But failure’s not the horrible monster we make it out to be. In fact, it’s awesome!
Failure is how we learn. It’s how we improve, grow and develop.
It’s only failure if we don’t try in the first place, or we don’t learn from our mistakes.
There are always opportunities in failure. We just need to look for them. Every time we fail, we’re closer to success.
JK Rowling was rejected by 12 different publishers before one finally picked up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. What if she’d stopped writing and shelved it the first time she ‘failed’?
These days when I ask myself, ‘what if I fail?’ I force myself to counter with ‘what if I fly?’. Better to try, fail, learn, and live without regrets, than not try at all.
The most successful people in life rarely get to where they are because they succeed over and over again and never fail. They get there because they take calculated risks, try, fail, learn, try again, improve – and repeat that cycle over and over.
They fail their way to success. They persist and never give up. They fail over and over, and that is why they succeed.
These days I realise how utterly stupid my 18 year old-self and her perfectionist ways was. Why? Because perfection doesn’t exist! Seeking it simply set me up for failure.
Now I strive to be a completionist instead, someone who aims for excellence, but not perfection.
I did eventually tell my boyfriend and sisters I’d failed my licence, about a year after that dreaded day.
Eventually my family and friends found out too, when my parents included the story in my 21st birthday speech.
Thankfully by then I could see how ridiculous my response was and have a laugh at my own expense.
And now you can too.
Leah Mether is a communications specialist, trainer and professional speaker with her own business, Methmac Communications. She teaches people how to overcome self-doubt by reframing failure. To find out about the workshops and services Leah offers, visit www.leahmether.com.au, or email email@example.com.