Image of a gear shift to illustrate Cole's lesson of learning from failing.

What Epic Failure Taught Me About Learning

(by Cole Smith)

Recently, I learned a big life lesson about the intelligences and what it feels like to smack up against failure.

After our car was totaled a few days before Christmas, I walked across the street from the body shop and asked about a car that was for sale. Literally — across the street! It was the same make and model year as our beloved car (R.I.P. VW Rabbit).

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 tachometer 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 hovered over 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 I 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 (“touchy-feely,” hands-on) 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 school, 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 writing my novel. Did I tell you I was a writer?

It’s okay to write and rewrite, to 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 trying. 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 take off, and no one will be able to wipe the smile off your face.

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


Welcome to another Jubilee Guest Post Day. Today’s guest blogger is my super fun writer friend and MasterMind Partner, Cole Smith. Like me, Cole lives in wild and wonderful Best Virginia. She has been coaching 8th-12th graders on creativity, problem-solving, and writing for 11 years. That is, when she’s not teaching them science.
At, Cole shares her  experiences as a creative writer and offers helpful tips to problems writers and other creatives face. Her blog features articles on organization, productivity, and learning.
Cole Smith on a bike, her preferred method of transportation.
Cole Smith on a bike, her preferred method of transportation.

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