Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts ~ Winston Churchill
This was the day. I could feel it. It was time. My first solo motorcycle ride. Nothing epic, just a loop around Stanley Park, slow and steady. The speed limit is 30 km/hour and a mere 10 minute ride from my apartment. It was perfect, after rush hour, on a clear, dry, sunny day. I had gone on a few rides with my Breath of Fresh Air (BOFA), on my new bike, and I wanted to clear this solo hurdle. I successfully fought my urge to overthink it, remembering my bestie’s five second rule: when I feel like going, just put on my gear and go. Don’t stop to (over)think it through. I texted BOFA, ‘I’m doing it…Stanley Park here I come!’ His reply was instantaneous, ‘You got this! Text me when you get home please.’ I grabbed my helmet, my tank bag containing my all important learner’s permit, closed the door and headed to the underground parking garage. I was excited, nervous, scared, and I had left my bike key upstairs. Back in the elevator, the adrenaline was already coursing causing a slight tremor, but I knew that it would go away, and I would settle in, after a few blocks anyway.
As Fred warmed up, I put on my helmet and gloves, secured my tank bag and placed the garage gate opener in a convenient location. I got in the saddle and put the bike in first gear, I eased slowly off the clutch and I was off. First gear all the way through the first parking gate. And up to the second one. I paused at the bottom of the ramp, made sure my bike had a straight line up, looked around for cars, seeing none I hit the button. Then a car came. Damn. I waited. The gate came all the way back down. I took a deep breath, pushed the button again and proceeded up the ramp. I was coming in hot, afraid I wasn’t going to be able to duck under the still up-rolling gate, I hesitated. Then I stalled. Stalled on the ramp, just before the gate that was now quickly moving back down. Far quicker than it wanted to roll up, I might add. I had both my feet firmly on the ground and the front brakes applied, yet I still had the sensation of rolling backwards. This was not the scenario I had planned. I started my bike again and put it in first gear, I hit the button for a third, and what would be a final time, and attempted to give enough throttle to go up the ramp. But the bike was only moving backwards, I kept trying to find first gear, was I in neutral? My wheel turned and in a split second I knew, the bike was going to lie down. I put my feet on the ground and eased Fred onto his side. Pushed the engine kill switch and turned the key to ‘OFF’. Fuck. Fred looked to be in fine shape, but I was not. Fred was on his side, on the ramp, just before the gate. And despite all of my best efforts, I could not pick him up! Shit. Now what?
Just at that moment, a car approached from the other side of the gate. I waved my arms so he would see me. He stopped just outside and opened the garage door, there I was standing beside my bike, wanting to cry. The first thing he asked me was if I was ok (that was nice) and then asked if I needed help picking up the bike. I nodded. He looked at me, “well this bike looks lighter than my *I can’t remember the bike type* 650”. Relief washed over me. He rode. After the relief left, the next wave came over me, humiliation. “I’m just learning and the gate came down so fast,” I said to him. He nodded, “this is a tricky gate, I push the button and then wait until the third panel is rolling up before accelerating up the ramp. You’ll get it on this try.” He backed my bike all the way down the ramp and then got back in his car and disappeared into the parkade, followed by several cars that were all patiently waiting to enter the garage. I inspected my bike, thankfully there was only a very small scratch on the back of the mirror. Still shaken, I swung my leg over and got back in the saddle. I turned Fred around and headed back to my parking spot. I was frustrated, I was embarrassed and I felt like a complete failure. Back upstairs and in the safety of my apartment, I texted BOFA to say I was home and safe, then despite all attempts at resistance, I threw my riding jeans across the room.
Failing is not something that I’m used to. I have traditionally chosen not to place myself in situations where I don’t know what I’m doing. I have steered clear of learning difficult new skills or activities, for fear of failing. My desire to want to ride a motorcycle was waning with each set back and my perception of failure in the face of adversity. When BOFA got home, he asked me how the ride went. I told him the whole story. He gave me a hug and said, “That was your first try at something, we will just need to come up with a different way that will work for you.” I looked at him, “but I failed. I suck.” He shook his head, ”no, you are learning something new, there will be challenges and setbacks, there will constantly be new things. You did not fail, what you attempted didn’t work. Be patient and let’s figure out a strategy for the gate.”
I knew that he was right, technically. But that didn’t help the turmoil inside. I was dwelling on the fact that I couldn’t do it. I was frustrated with myself. I felt like an idiot, like a failure, as if I should have known how to get up the ramp, as though I was inadequate in some way. I berated myself for not being perfect at something on the first try. And the gate scared me. The gate got in my head. The gate from hell.
As a child, I tried and failed all the time. Each “failure” a sign that a different strategy was required. It was expected, anticipated, normal. As an adult, each unsuccessful attempt felt like I was letting everyone down, especially myself. As if being an adult means that I nail everything perfectly on the first try, there was no longer room for anything less than success. I realized, upon reflection, that all the cliches were right, the only way I fail is if I quit. Thankfully, I inherited stubbornness from my dad. Although I consider myself stubborn, the qualities and attributes strongly resemble resilience:
Adversity is a fact of life. Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back at least as strong as before. Rather than letting difficulties or failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes ~ Psychology Today
Instead of hiding, of quitting, of continuing to spew harsh words at myself. I once again humbled myself to the process, and asked BOFA for help. We brainstormed together, while I fought my inner doubts and fears, and tried not to let them put me into a spiral. Dwelling on what happened was not going to get me anywhere. Swallowing my embarrassment, I told BOFA of my fears, of what was going on in my head and we talked it through. We made a plan. It seemed rock solid and I felt confident that I was going to be able to get out of the gate. Together we put on our gear, and cruised our bikes easily past the first (flat) gate and into position at the bottom of the next gate. The one that had foiled me earlier in the week. I took a deep breath, parked my bike, pushed the button and put my trusty Starbucks coffee cup over the sensor. The gate rolled up and stayed up. Until I build some confidence, we decided to eliminate the obstacle. I got back on Fred, gave him some throttle and sailed easily up the ramp. Mission accomplished. Next?
Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success ~ C. S. Lewis