Learning to love failure

In planning for my trip I decided it would only be smart of me to achieve another life goal of learning to ride a motorcycle (read about it here) Knowing that I have many months until I depart I figured the summer would be a great time to get it done so at the end of June I went and passed my written test. I signed up for a college offered motorcycle riding class that after 2 days of field exercises they give you the road test to get your license. Great, I thought, I can learn to ride and get my license all at once. I picked the long weekend so I had an extra day to relax before heading back to work and did the research and rented the gear.

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Ready for the open road!

I showed up on the first day and just my luck it was one of the first hot days yet this summer. Head to toe leather gear and helmet and it’s 35 degrees at 120% humidity. This was a huge hurdle for me. Throughout the day I tried to stay hydrated but with limited opportunities to break and drink I became a victim of heat exhaustion losing focus, not able to master the skills I was learning.

Day two was similar thought not as hot. I started out sore and tired from the previous day but more determined. I was able to get a much better handle on the bike, that was until I took a bit of a topple. Because of my clumsiness I had to fill out an accident report and they had to take the bike I had grown accustomed to all weekend off the road. From there I was given a new bike that another rider had traded in earlier in the weekend because it kept sticking in neutral and not changing into second gear. I struggled to get used to the shifting in the new bike and barely had 20 mins to practice before it was time for testing.

In hindsight I should have spoke up. I should have asked for a different bike and explained my frustration. Instead I felt intimidated. I didn’t want to complain about the bike because somewhere in the back of my head I told myself, if I am a worthy rider I’ll make it work. They’re already approaching me with kid gloves because I’m female and I need to prove that it’s unwarranted. It’s my own problem not learning how to shift properly and if I try to make excuses they won’t give me my license anyway.

quoteWell I learned the hard way that that presumptuous line of thinking was detrimental to my success. I took the first part of the test and got points docked. I took the second part and got even more points docked. Before the third part of the test they gave me a yellow card and I was asked to exit the course.

I was embarrassed and ashamed and I felt like a failure. I have spent a lot of my life avoiding doing things that I know I wouldn’t be good at because I hate feeling like a failure. It’s easy to excel at things you have a natural talent for and be praised for it, but that’s my experience coming from a place of privilege and not how the rest of the world works.

When I came home I told my husband what had happened and I kept oscillating between being so happy I tried, learned something new and didn’t give up when I was struggling to so distraught that I failed so miserably. He was right in reminding me that when I learned to drive a car at 16 years old, it took me a long time before I was any good at it and I had a lot of practice. Then when I was 26 and learned to drive a stick shift, I again wasn’t very good and took a lot of practice until I was confident. Why did I think that in the span of two days I would master something that used similar skills that I had never done before?

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I could use some zen right now.

This is a prized trait I hear seasoned travelers talk about all the time. Rolling with the punches. Not getting upset when things don’t go your way because invariably they won’t. Making the best of it and turning a crappy situation into a positive or at least finding the silver lining. I’m lucky that I have a few months to actively work at adopting this mindset because letting my fear of failure rule my life will only hurt me in the long run.

In the meantime I have decided to take a break from the pressure I put on myself and reflect by reading a book I’ve always wanted but never took the time – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. (seems fitting) It’ll let you know how it goes ;)

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