Failing your driving test sucks.
Failing my driving test twice in one week really sucked.
I’ve reflected on it A LOT since and here are the life lessons I’ve learned.
Failure comes in different flavours: disappointment, frustration, regret.
Sometimes we dwell on the injustice. We make excuses to others — or worse yet — to ourselves. We got unlucky. It was out of our control. Maybe we did. Maybe it was. But that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.
That doesn’t help at all moving forward.
Today I want to talk about shameful failures. The failures we brush under the carpet. Feeling more scared of failing than succeeding in the first place.
You might be thinking that people fail their driving tests all the time (57% of learners, I’ll have you know). But this fact doesn’t console young Top Gear fans a great deal. It definitely didn’t console me. To appreciate why failing your driving test hurts so much, some context is needed.
Learning to drive is a milestone of modern life.
We can all remember when people started taking lessons in college. When the first friend in the group gets their mum’s old car and unknowingly becomes a part-time taxi driver. A lot of failures in life are private experiences, but a driving test is not one of them. It carries peer pressure and social stigma.
For me, failing my driving test (the first time, we’ll get onto the second) stands out from other failures. Unlike most tests you take in school, it’s pass/fail and the latter isn’t really an option. There’s no making up marks in your coursework or changing modules. You have to pass.
The fear comes from the inescapability of this. The option to take it over and over — until either the DVLA take pity on you, or Tesla crack driverless cars — might be a cause for reassurance, should accumulating lessons and exams not require a small mortgage to afford.
“How does one fail twice within the same week?”, you ask.
Especially when the waiting time for test centres is usually 6+ weeks…
The trick is to be really keen.
I learned to drive quite sporadically while at home in the holidays from university. The downside to this meant there was quite the delay between me passing my theory test (easy-peasy) and sitting the practical. 102 weeks to be exact. What did this mean? It meant I only had a fortnight to pass the latter before my theory certificate expired, meaning back to square one.
As you can imagine, this additional pressure really helped.
Now I could probably describe to you, in detail, every one of my incurred minors, especially that fatal major (fatal = the decisive fault on my scorecard — I didn’t kill anyone), but I’ll spare you the details.
After a lot of moping around, I sat on my laptop and refreshed the DVLA booking website, again and again, looking for cancellations, for two days straight, with my mum taking shifts at the keyboard. With 72 hours to spare, a slot frees up: I had my second chance.
Now often the world rewards such perseverance and determination.
This was not one of those occasions. You already know what happens next because I’m a great storyteller and I gave the plot twist away in the title. Let’s get to the redemption part already: the lessons I learned.
You see, the real failure that week didn’t occur behind the wheel.
The failure that has stayed with me ever since was rushing into something out of sheer desperation. Out of panic and blind optimism.
Looking in my rear-view mirror now, the first test really doesn’t matter to me. Sure, it sucked at the time but I had prepared for it and I almost passed. With a little luck, I might have. (I might not have.)
But the second shot — I had no right to take.
It was wishful thinking. I might have known my manoeuvres and highway code but I wasn’t ready mentally. I was so scared of failing and all the extra work it would create that I only put myself under even more stress. So much additional pressure that I made my goal unattainable. I failed myself.
My takeaway lessons:
Resist wishful thinking when making decisions—forget the best-case scenario.
Avoid escalating the stakes of a challenge—it’s probably hard enough.
Acknowledge and reframe your failures—own them, pick them apart, use them.
In case you were wondering, I passed my driving test third-time lucky.
As it would so happen, failing twice had unforeseen advantages.
When we sadly lost my nan last year, I was extremely proud to inherit her old Renault Clio (thereafter christened Leo) with only 18,000 miles on the clock. Had I passed the year before, I would have almost certainly spent £1,000s on something else.
The car still runs great. Thanks nan.
Re-learning in a different city also meant learning with a new instructor. This instructor became my first client as a freelance web developer. I’m starting project #3 now and I’m not sure I would be otherwise.