The F Words

I failed my driver’s test three times. No, you did not read that wrong. I failed it three times.  (Insert woman driver joke here.) Not the written portion; I rocked the written permit portion. I passed driver’s ed with flying colors, despite hating every minute of it. But the first time I got in the car with the test monitor, I was so nervous I missed the green arrow sign wasn’t on . . . yeah not my finest moment. I think that time I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t had enough hours behind the wheel. And let me assure you failing made me leery to get back behind the wheel. After some time passed, I tried the test again. This time I failed not because I did anything wrong but because I was too cautious. Okay . . . The third time, well, the third time I tried it at a different DMV and there was a weird interstate cross-over thing I didn’t know how to navigate having never encountered one before. Another failure on my record. The third time was not a charm.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, I really don’t like failing. I’m not a true Type A. I’m not very competitive- for better or worse. Sometimes I wish I were a bit more competitive. But for me, playing the game and watching other people compete is just as much fun as winning. This is why I’d never make it in law school. I don’t expect perfection of myself either. Maybe I used to but I’ve learned that it’s never going to happen and I can spare myself a lot of emotional trauma if I give myself the grace to not be perfect. But while I may not expect perfection or a perfect score, I always expect to do well or at least pass. Passing is good. Failing is not, not at all.

And the thing is, when I fail, I feel like a failure. I definitely felt like a failure when I failed my driver’s test for the third time. I remember feeling like a failure when I was little and taking piano lessons. I’d practice over and over but once the music sheets got more complicated than “Mary Had a Little Lamb” I could never get my fingers on the right notes or find the right tempo. I’d sit there with my piano teacher that I loved, and mess up over and over. Finally, I couldn’t take screwing up any more and I quit. I remember feeling relieved but also being very disappointed in myself. Now, I’ve just accepted that after years of chorus and music classes that there’s something about reading music that my brain cannot and probably will never grasp. But at eight I just knew I failed at something I thought I’d be good at.

Feeling like a failure creeps into your self-image. Let me assure you this is not a good thing. The problem with feeling like a failure is that sometimes it makes me go to lengths to ensure I do not fail. And when I start fearing failure I’m in big trouble. It keeps me from taking risks or trying new things. I start putting up walls and live inside a boring box of known abilities and areas of safety and proven success.

The F words: fear and failure, fear of failure, these are the words that whisper in my ear and turn me into an insecure, lesser version of myself.

I was watching baseball awhile back and I heard a phrase that I’d never paid enough attention to hear, “struck out looking.” I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant but quickly discovered, courtesy of Google, that it was when a batter was out on a third strike when he didn’t attempt to swing at a “good” pitch. It’s the opposite of struck out swinging. It’s okay to strike out swinging, at least you were trying. What was it Babe Ruth said, something like, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”

How many times have I struck out looking? How many times have I been so afraid of striking out that I’ve watched the pitch come in and not swung afraid it might a bad one? Why do I let the fear of failing, the fear of striking out, the fear of looking stupid, the fear of being too much, the fear of not being enough, the fear of overstepping, the fear of being just me and not someone else keep me from swinging for the fences?

You’ve Got Mail was on TV again the other day. I love this movie. It’s one of the better 90’s chick flicks. And being a girl who loves books and emails, this one’s become a sentimental favorite. Sometimes I watch it for just a few minutes and other times I watch until the final scene where Brinkley bounds around the bend at the park. This time the following scene jumped out at me:

Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Well, valuable but small. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave?

Kathleen Kelly’s words could be my own. I think I could accept if my life ends up being small as long as it is also valuable. But I’m no longer okay with striking out looking and letting the F words run my life. If I’m going to fail (which is inevitable), then I want my failure and my mistakes to reflect that I’m trying new things. That I’m daring to dream a little bigger and be a little bit more brave. That I’m attempting to knock one out of the park. I think I could use a life filled with more home runs. Maybe you could too?

On my forth attempt to get my driver’s license, I passed. And you know what, holding that plastic card in my hands was even sweeter because I’d failed so spectacularly on all my previous attempts. And maybe that’s the silver lining that comes failure: a chance for a beautiful redemption.

I guess there’s just one thing left to say, “Swing batter batter swing!”