I’ve told you about a time I created more work for myself when I cheated on an essay assignment in high school and a time I let perfect be the enemy of good on what should have been a fun project in middle school. Now I’m back with another blast from the past life lesson! This time, come with me to my driver’s education class the summer I was 15 years old…
My high school didn’t offer driver’s ed or driver’s training, so I ended up going to classes at a driving school near my house the summer between freshman and sophomore years. My good friend Jenna joined me because she lived nearby and both of our birthdays are in January, so the timing of the classes worked out (we’d have all of fall to get our behind-the-wheel hours in before taking The Test on our 16th birthdays).
After a few days of lectures and videos, it was time to take a test. I’ve always been a horrible test taker, but I knew this material. That’s why I was surprised when a question tripped me up. It was something like, “What can help a drunk person sober up enough to drive?” Surely, this is a trick question, I thought. I was going to write, “nothing,” but decided instead to write, “time” because it was much more clever.
But just as I was about to put pen to paper, I happened to see Jenna’s answer to that same question: “coffee.”
Now, let me tell you something about Jenna. She was (is) brilliant and she was probably my hardest working friend. Not only did she get straight As, but she was also in a bunch of clubs and was extremely active in her church. Speaking of church, Jenna was (is) a devout Mormon, which meant she never did homework on Sundays. She had one fewer day to get everything done than the rest of us, and her work was always perfect.
So when I saw “coffee” on her test, it never occurred to me that Jenna could be wrong, even though I knew the answer was nothing (or time). I wrote “coffee,” instead, and, of course, got the question wrong.
Was I overly confident in Jenna, or did I let self-doubt get the best of me? Both, probably. While Jenna and I were in many of the same classes throughout school, I never felt like it was a competition—it was a given that she would do better than I would. But why? Why didn’t I assume that there could be things that I would be better at?
Over time, I did come to this realization. My grades weren’t as good as Jenna’s, but I came home with lots of trophies after speech and debate competitions. I struggled so much in math that my friends tutored me using notes they took years before, but I held a regional leadership position in one of the clubs I was in. I was a horrible test taker, but I performed well under pressure as a competitive dancer.
Maybe it took seeing Jenna get something wrong for me to recognize my strengths. And eventually, I was able to see those strengths not in comparison or in relation to Jenna’s and my peers’, but as absolute strengths that I can feel proud of and confident in no matter what.