When Failure is an Option–and an Opportunity
“Park the car,” the officer said to my 17 year old son who was taking his driving test. He had put the car in drive and was about to make a left turn out of the parking space as the officer instructed. He’d gone all of about 2 feet. But he did not look to the right, an offense that will require retesting.
I’d practiced with my son the day before. He is a good driver. Obeys the rules of the road religiously. Always goes the speed limit. Stops completely at stop signs and for pedestrians. Signals before turning. I was sure he would get his license on his first try.
Was he upset? His answer was a clear “no.” He wasn’t embarrassed either. “It just is,” he said.
What he didn’t do:
- Make excuses or try to justify what happened
- Blame the officer, me, my wife or even himself
- Get angry
What he did do:
- Respected the officer for calling him on the mistake
- Resolved to pay more attention
- Accepted the fact that he would have to retake the test and looked on the bright side — he would get to drive more for additional practice
We broadened our discussion about what could be learned from his experience:
- Rules for driving are important.
He came up with that one. If we did not follow those rules, the roads would be chaos and dangerous. To me, that sounds a lot like reliability, a Trust Equation component. Knowing that people stop for red lights and stop signs creates some degree of reliability.
- Civilized society requires rules.
He mentioned that we need rules to survive as a society, so we know what is expected of us and what to expect. Again, reliability on a more global, rather than individual scale. Interestingly, I think he picked that up in 8th grade where the students created their own rules.
- Failing the test was the right consequence of the mistake he made.
I was impressed by the matter-of-fact way he accepted the situation. He realized he’d made a mistake and that he should not blame others for it. That shows a low self-orientation, another Trust Equation component.
After the officer terminated my son’s driving test less than a minute after it started, he told my son that he had made the same mistake a couple of years before. The officer turned left without looking right and almost hit someone in a wheel chair. The officer exposed his own vulnerability and he connected with my son in that moment. The truth is, that moment ofintimacy made my son’s respect and admiration for the officer grow a little and I think my son grew a little too.
My son learned a lot about failure and success. And about living.