What Epic Failure Taught Me

What Epic Failure Taught Me About Learning

posted in: Learning | 2

Recently, I got a big life lesson about the intelligences and what it feels like to smack up against failure. Our car was totaled a few days before Christmas, and I walked across the street from the body shop and asked about a car for sale. Literally — across the street! It was the same make and model year as our beloved car (R.I.P). In my mind, buying a car we knew we loved with fewer miles would not only be a nearly-even trade, but it would buy us some time. I mean, who wants to shop around for cars right before Christmas?!


The car had one minor difference. It was a standard transmission.


But, I want to be a person who knows how to do things! Besides, it would still be easier to learn to drive a stick shift than shopping all over town for a car during the holidays, right?





Massive Failure

When I say wrong, I mean that now, three months later, I am roughly the equivalent of a newly-licensed teen driver. I hear myself say things like, “Oh, shoot, I’d really like to go, but I can’t drive in heavy traffic yet.” I’m doing grocery shopping at odd times because the parking lot is down a steep hill and I’m afraid I can’t get back out. I’m interrogating my husband when he drives. “What did you just do? Where was the clutch just then? What’s the tach say?”


This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to learn. I’ve concentrated so hard my cells hurt. There have been tears. There have been multiple teachers. I’ve read articles, watched videos, and interviewed professional drivers. I’ve seen it in my sleep…


When I mentioned it to my class, a sixteen-year-old boy scoffed. “I’ve been doing that since I was thirteen.”


I seized him. I plied him with questions. I confessed my doubts. I updated him on my progress. He still looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. But I think he’s a genius, and told him so.




He doesn’t believe me, because he struggles with school work.

You see, even though I talk about learning styles in class, and even though I’ve been passionate about discussing individual talents and gifts, I didn’t understand what it was like to try to learn something until my cells hurt. I liked school. I still like school. But I am not a kinesthetic learner —  that much has become painfully clear.


I still believe we can learn just about anything with determination. But now I have a lot more empathy. I’ll never forget the first day I drove myself to work, and how I shouted it through the halls. The elation I felt might be similar to another’s victory over algebra, or progress in English. The frustration and euphoria I’ve experienced have changed how I approach anxious students, and it’s carried over to the difficult sections of my novel. It’s okay to write, rewrite, totally stall out, yell, bang my fists on the steering wheel, take a deep breath…and start again. Just push the clutch and turn the key.




When failure confronts you, come at it again.

Come at it from another angle if you must, but keep fighting. It’s okay to erase until there are holes in the paper, crumple up the mistakes, shoot baskets with them, kick the desk, face palm…and start again.


Because one day, you will be able to take off, and no one will be able to wipe the smile off your face.



NOW YOU: What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to learn?





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2 Responses

  1. Michelle Darby

    My Dad is in the school of thought that believes EVERYONE should learn to drive a stick-shift… because what if there’s an emergency. Well, when I was 16 I almost dropped the transmission of his car. He’s since changed his mind. I’m very proud of you… keep at it. You’ll get it!

    • Cole Smith

      Michelle, if I tried to learn at 16, I think I would have abandoned driving altogether 🙂 I don’t know, though, we are sometimes braver at that age, not knowing aaall the things that can go wrong.

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