Last week, I was having a conversation with an acquaintance and, while they were telling me about an encounter they had had with a friend, they paused and said to me: “Olayinka, what is your recent mistake, and how did you learn from it?” Since I was more interested in their juicy story, I could only answer the question briefly.
Last night, I reflected on the question, so I decided to write about it. But before I tell you about my recent mistake and how I grew from it, I need to give you a little background.
I remember it like it happened a second ago. It was not the first time my dad and I were in his 1999 Toyota Camry, but it was the first time I was in the driver’s seat. I was fifteen years old, and my dad had finally decided to teach me how to drive a car. I was adjusting the seat with my left hand while I reached for the seat belt with the other hand when I heard her. You see, when my mum is angry, she becomes a fire truck in a suburban neighborhood – you hear her before you see her.
Although the car windows were up, they did not block out the loud bang our house’s front door made behind my mum as she charged towards the car in the driveway. When I saw her face, I knew I was not going to be driving a car anytime soon. Two weeks before that day, she had sold her car because during the five years that she had owned it, she was too scared to drive on the road. As my dad and I got out of the car, my mum stood akimbo in front of it, her face fuming. Then, she gave the speech that drove me into the domain of driving anxiety and aided my recent mistake.
Last November, I was driving to New Jersey from Toledo, Ohio. As I got closer to New Jersey, I discovered that the highways in that part of New Jersey are curvy, unlike the straight highways in Toledo where I had been living for two years. I decided to navigate the curves by slowing down and making sharp turns. Huge mistake!
The closer I drove into New Jersey, the more I checked the car’s rear-view mirror and wiped sweatdrops off my forehead. I only realized I had been holding up traffic when semi-trucks started passing me. I was driving at 55 miles per hour while the traffic flow was about 80 miles per hour. Then, it happened.
A blue and red semi-truck that immediately reminded me of Optimus Prime from the Transformers film series was on my tail, honking at me to speed up. With each honk, my mum’s road-anxiety-inducing speech dominated my mind. For the first time, I heard the speech, not in my mum’s high-pitched voice, but in Optimus Prime’s menacing bass voice. “You will just die! Why do you want to kill yourself?”
I was terrified, so I caved in and merged onto the left lane where a different semi-truck almost hit my car. I had merged onto a faster lane at a ridiculously reduced speed without checking my side mirrors and blind spot. Immediately, I swerved right, trying to merge back onto the right lane. Unfortunately, because I was on a curvy part of the road, my car occupied both lanes instead. Optimus Prime and the other semi-truck honked so loud that my wife, who had been sleeping the whole time, finally woke up. Somehow, I successfully merged onto the right lane. Then, I sped up, took the next exit, parked at a gas station, and asked my wife to continue the drive.
I said nothing during the remaining 38 minutes of the drive. During the first 20 minutes, fear, doubt, guilt, and shame dominated my mind. Then, gratitude kicked in, and I started smiling. I realized how lucky my wife and I had been to have survived the incident. I also appreciated my good fortune because I knew that I could still learn to drive confidently on curvy roads. So, I got on my phone, put on my AirPods, opened YouTube, and watched about four videos on driving on curvy roads. I made sure to check the comments section of the YouTube videos to verify that the videos have legit information. An hour after my wife and I had gotten to our hotel room, I finished my research, and I started to look forward to zooming through those curvy New Jersey highways on the drive back to Toledo.
Barely 30 minutes into our drive back to Toledo, my wife confessed that she was struggling to stay awake behind the wheel. So, I took over from her, and I prepared to meet my old friends. Since I was armed with the right knowledge, I was overwhelmed with confidence and curiosity. I needed that freeing feeling that follows an accomplishment, and I got it a few seconds after I merged onto the highway.
As soon as I got on the highway, I saw a curve ahead. When I got closer to the curve, I gripped the steering wheel harder, adjusted in my seat, and accelerated through the curve. “That was too easy,” I thought as I chuckled to myself. I repeated the process at the next two curves, and I arrived at the same conclusion. When I checked the speedometer, I noticed I had been taking on curves at 80 miles per hour. I grinned as I loosened my grip on the steering wheel.
After driving for an hour, I stopped seeing the curvy road. I only saw a road. So, I made a mental note to share my experience in the comments section of the YouTube videos that had helped me become a better driver. To be honest with you, I just liked the videos instead.
People often say that “mistakes happen,” but that’s not the entire story, since the passivity of that clause hides its subject’s responsibility. “People make mistakes” is the complete and beneficial story because it is only when we admit that we have made a mistake that we can crave and acquire the knowledge to end the cycle of that mistake. While I strive for perfection, I always keep an open mind by allowing others to point out my imperfections. Sometimes, the process is uncomfortable, but I always remind myself that anyone who wishes to become a diamond must be prepared to go through the fire. Are you prepared to go through the fire?