"One drove the wrong way down a street, the other couldn't park. You're up."
I hurriedly put on my coat and paid for my chamomile tea. Although I felt less nervous than the last time, my stomach was still in knots and I was trying to call on every technique I knew to calm down.
The examiner was still talking to the others when I got to the car. They weren't crying at least. Once they'd got out I slipped into the front seat, my instructor beside me, examiner in the backseat.
"When you're ready," the examiner said.
I turned the key, lowered the handbrake, changed to first and started to pull out of the car park. Beepbeepbeepbeep. I stopped to check the beep, which was showing I hadn't lowered the handbrake enough. Damn it. I pushed it down at once, before moving on, hoping the examiner wouldn't take it too seriously. It happens to everyone, doesn't it?
I thought my exam went smoothly. I didn't feel like there were any major problems. I stalled the car twice in my first exam, but this time I felt comfortable, despite the traffic on the motorway exit. After the allotted twenty-five minutes he told me to stop. I turned off the car, feeling nervous but pretty certain I'd passed.
And then he launched into his speech. He mentioned the handbrake...he mentioned I could have slowed down more at one of the zebra crossings.... he mentioned I had lost security distance at the motorway exit and he would have given me a point in my favour if I had not exited at all*. (*I don't believe this for a minute).
As he went on and on, I realised he couldn't look me in the eye. I thought, if he at least looks me in the eye, maybe I can do some Jedi mind trick! But no, he didn't. He droned on and on, while my instructor sat in stony silence in the passenger seat, looking like he planned to reverse over the examiner if he ever finished his lecture and got out of the car.
I don't think I really believed I had failed until he said the word. I stepped out of the car and swore loudly, before turning into a polite Brit and thanking the examiner.
I got home and I couldn't do a thing. I felt really miserable. Exhausted too. At some point I gave up trying to work and just went and lay in bed fully clothed until I fell asleep for two hours. I switched off my phone. Luckily I hadn't told hardly anyone so didn't have to deal with the chirpy, Sooo? messages.
The next day I received an email from my agent. She said she didn't like my latest idea for a novel I'd sent her. An agent writing to you on a Saturday - that never happens!
I hadn't recovered from my feelings of failure from the day before, so this just pushed me further into the ground. Not only could I still not drive, my writing career felt like it had stalled. Perhaps I should give it all up and focus on my kids, I thought bitterly. Oh, wait, I couldn't because I hadn't managed to make any yet! In that too, I was a complete failure!
I could observe these vicious thoughts, which meant I wasn't a complete slave to them. I have a lot to thank my parents for. They brought me up on an alternative diet of meditation and spirituality that was tedious at the time, but has come in handy over the years. I've got a lot of tools in my back pocket to deal with failure, I just need the strength to reach for them.
It's Monday now and I'm still trying to get my act together. My Dad told me that after his own father failed his first driving test he never tried again. He said how you deal with failure shows your strength. I'm not going to give up learning to drive. Not just because it would be a huge waste of money. I'm not giving up because I know I'll get my license in the end. The same way I can't give up writing, because I know, if I keep going, eventually it will pay off.
I have been here before, many times. We all have, haven't we? I know this feeling of failure won't stick around forever. It will pass. It always passes.
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. - Lao-Tzu (Chinese philosopher and writer)