Three weeks ago, I took my US driving test. I have driven for many years back home, and also drove in the US with my Singapore license a few times. But I didn’t want to be presumptive and hence I took four practice lessons with a driving school.
On the morning of the test, it rained. The visibility was not good, and the road was slippery. Not the best conditions for a test. I felt a bit nervous, and even entertained thoughts of taking the test on a better day.
My driving instructor picked me up in a different car (a Chevy) from the one I had driven in practice (a Toyota). He apologized for the change, as there were issues with the Toyota.
At that point, my mind began to drift back to those essays I wrote in primary school about “The day that everything went wrong”.
We arrived early and were among the first test-takers. I suspect some people might have decided to postpone taking their test. Not a problem for me, because it meant I didn’t have to wait long :)
My test proctor was a middle-aged lady called Michelle. She was very nice and kept giving me reminders throughout the test (e.g. where to stop, where to yield etc.) It felt strange, because I thought test proctors were always waiting to catch your errors!
And I thought, maybe this isn’t such a bad day after all… :P
At one junction, Michelle again “guided” me through the turn. There was a car in the opposite direction signaling to turn (i.e. not going in my direction). I’m usually cautious about such turns, because some drivers give one signal but do something else! But Michelle told me to proceed, so I went ahead cautiously. It was a good thing I did, because the driver went straight at me! Fortunately, I was able to brake the car in time.
Even when things seem to be going well, you never know where a situation would emerge!
Fortunately, it was the only incident in an otherwise uneventful test. I got my license (yay!), but the day’s developments got me thinking:
“Is there a best time to take a driving test?“
Sometimes when we approach a significant challenge, we like to wish for the perfect conditions (or as perfect as it can get). We pay much attention to things that might enhance or derail our chances. Unfortunately when we do so, we may get unnecessarily focused on those things, rather than our capabilities and adaptability.
It’s like playing cards. We hope to get a great hand, but most of the time we don’t. Yet we still have to play on, and if we are skillful enough we can play an average hand very well, and we can salvage a poor hand.
In my view, there is no “ideal” set of conditions. Just when I thought the rain and change of car were going to lower my chances of passing the driving test, I got a nice test proctor. Just when I thought I got so much help from the test proctor, I encountered a driver who drove badly!
In a way, that’s life – complex and unpredictable! In fact, far more complex and unpredictable than a game of cards. There are limitless variations, and when we worry too much about such external variables, we lose focus on ourselves.
This past week, I was reading about mindsets, how they influence one’s inclination to learning and one’s outlook in life. I learned there are two types of mindsets: fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.
People with fixed mindsets tend to perceive their qualities as fixed or carved in stone. They are less likely to pick up something new, thinking that it is something they cannot learn well. They say things like, “Oh, I’m not good at this”, “I tried the last time and it did not work”, “These things are not for old timers like me” etc.
On the other hand, people with growth mindsets tend to perceive their qualities as things they can work on and improve. They are likely to see something new as a challenge to be overcome, and they have greater confidence in their abilities to learn. When they don’t succeed, they learn from it and try again with a different approach.
I see some parallels to the driving test. If we look to life to deal us a great set of cards each time, we may implicitly concede that our abilities are fixed and we subject ourselves to lady luck and life’s unpredictability.
Conversely, if we look upon each hand not as a pre-determinant of our success, but as tools to make best use of, we will have greater confidence and control over our own destinies :)