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Permission to Fail.

I failed my driving test in England, three times before I passed it on the fourth try. When I failed the third time, I couldn't believe I had failed again. Failure was not something I tolerated well (I mean outside of school for subjects I did not like). It was one thing not to do something well, but to me least, it was done, but it was another thing entirely to fail, especially if I had put effort into it. So at this point, when I had failed it despite thorough preparations, I got back home and wailed as if someone had died. My mum who was visiting rushed into the living room and was so confused as to why I was crying like that. She was incredibly alarmed. It wasn't until maybe 20 minutes after she could figure out why I was crying so badly. She comforted me and reassured me that I would pass the next time. I mean looking back I could only imagine what she was thinking then, "is that why you're crying? when there are worse things in this world?" but to her credit, she never belittled or dismissed my concerns but rather listened to me, comforted me, and encouraged me not to give up. I did pass the next time and I remember I couldn't even sign the paper because my hands were shaking out of shock when I was told I had indeed passed.

Now, here is the interesting thing, for every single year after that till date, I am grateful I failed the test a number of times as it made me a much better driver. Why do I say this? - My instructor at the time, as very emphatic about me checking mirrors when I was driving. I initially found it annoying but as time went on (I mean imagine almost 7 straight months of telling you to look at your mirrors) I started to do it out of habit. I cannot tell you how many serious near misses I have had whilst driving simply because I looked at my mirror at the last second.

Because of this habit, when I was involved in an accident, the other party insisted the accident was my fault. After I had calmed down from the shock and assessed the situation, I swore hand on heart that It was not. How did I know? because I instinctively check my mirrors. There are some driving mistakes I know I can make, but this was absolutely not one of them. I was adamant, that I was not the one at fault. That is how confident I was. After the investigation was completed, it was found that indeed - I was not at fault. The point is - failure can make you confident of the mistakes you will NOT make again.

With regard to my relationships with people in general, there are certain relationships that I have held on longer than I should have against my better judgment or could have managed better. Sometimes I failed to set boundaries, or manage my expectations based on the characters individuals have shown themselves to be. Even I have failed some of my loved ones by saying things that did not necessarily need to be said at the time or not being the best person i could be for them.

I have learned the importance of communicating as best as I can without being misunderstood, knowing when to say something, and when something does NOT need to be said. Learning to ask for explanations and not take my assumptions as the sole source of truth. Understand that people have grown up with very different values and environments than I have grown up in, and know when to explain myself and when not to bother. I have learned the importance of knowing when to extend grace and be kind and when to simply just stop. The importance of knowing when the choose peace and when to choose violence - ( NOT PHYSICAL violence mind you) as sometimes people only understand or respond to violence - just ask any Lagosian. The most important lesson I have learned is to take my instinct into consideration based on my personal track record.

In my career, I have sometimes failed to advocate for myself, I have cowered and swallowed it when people have limited me due to my hearing disability. I have let people's negative professional opinions of me dictate my reality and my self-confidence. I have had opportunities taken from me, and I have lost opportunities I should have taken advantage of. (Hindsight is always 20/20) I have seen loved ones fail at certifications, important life-changing exams, and even managing workplace politics.

What I learned from this was understanding that it's not failure that determines your path forward but your attitude and what you do after the fact that determines it. Do you let it define you or take another day to fight or move forward? I always try to figure out what can be learned from this, and what can be improved. Is it possible to avoid repeating this incident? is it possible to make it better? Is this a circumstance I can avoid repeating? Do I just not have the capacity to handle situations like this as I am overestimating myself? It is a very very important human trait to really know your limit and your boundaries. In the case of my loved ones, what can I do to support them? if I do not know - I just ask (rather than assume). This has proved to be incredibly helpful and improved the quality of my friendships.

I find that it is important to sit with negative feelings (such as disappointment, frustration, heartbreak, and rage) that come out of failed circumstances and thoroughly process and understand them. They tend to bubble up in unexpected circumstances that are beyond our control if not dealt with properly. I also tend to do self-lessons learned analysis - What part did I have to play in this? was this within my control? Were my expectations too high? What can I do to avoid this next time? How does this make me feel about myself? What can I do better? How do I transfer these lessons learned to other areas of my life?

I have learned to take as long as I need and be patient with myself through this process. Rushing it helps no one. Sometimes journalling about it helps and I invest in therapy as well if needed. One powerful thing I have learned is that failure can also make you confident of some of the mistakes you will not repeat. There is serious value in this as it helps build trust in yourself.

I realize that sometimes people just aren't brave enough to talk about things they have failed at. Especially issues that are incredibly sensitive and personal to us. I believe we must find courage no matter how small. In opening up about these things, we judge ourselves less harshly, can even learn from other people's experiences and gain new perspectives on how to tackle problems. This is not a new concept but something that we so often forget, I mean we are surrounded by examples of this - counseling groups for people dealing with addictions of all sorts, in the corporate world, when there is a major failure, there are regrouping sessions to assess what went wrong and then new policies put in place to avoid such mistakes happening, so how much more should we make this an important part of our personal lives.

We are drawing near to the end of the year, and inevitably we have failed at something this year. Whether it's relationships, work, school, life, parenting, etc. We live in an age that does not necessarily tolerate failure and it starts to affect your value as a person. We are faced with pressure to constantly succeed and achieve things from various angles such as LinkedIn to Instagram etc. By talking to close friends, trusted individuals, and confidants we will understand that most of the mistakes we make are incredibly common and we are not as alone as we think. I mean it was only after I started speaking to people about my driving test failures that I realized it was pretty common and people had even failed more times than I had. If I had known earlier I would not have been so harsh on myself.

I have also realized that the fear of "what will people say" stops us from trying situations we could potentially fail at. it's important that we be kind to ourselves and give ourselves permission to try things and tolerate the possibility of failure. The thought process of "If only I had done this... If only I did not do this" would be a very common theme running in a lot of people's minds. I believe that energy could be better spent on assessing - what can be done about it now? what positive outcome can I make out of this or what can I learn? can amends be made? if not then let it go as Elsa would say. Because feeling sorry for yourself does absolutely nothing for anyone.

Failure is not always wasted. there is usually a lesson no matter how small or you learn something about yourself. It has taught me that life will still go on, that the way I tried simply did not work and to appreciate every closed door redirecting me to another path. To appreciate when I am successful at something and the good people I find myself surrounded with.

I'd love to know how have you dealt with failure in your personal life. Tell me in the comment section!

Until next time!

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Chisom Okoye
Chisom Okoye
Dec 05, 2022

I wish i took more risks and failed more in my youth :(


Folaranmi osifuwa
Folaranmi osifuwa
Dec 05, 2022

Nice piece, well sharing my experience as an individual was when I ventured into the event and real estate business which I really had passion,well both in the business of event and real estate I had invested large sum of money in setting up the business employed staffs but rather make profit, I was incurring more expenses than my profit,I took stock of things that was its where the business was located because I stayed in England but my business was located in lagos state ( adeniyi jones) were the staffs not doing marketing enough to bring profit infact I asked myself many questions,i had to close the business and felt so bad that I have failed in the busines…

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