Failure 11/1/20

Update on Richard Bleil

This has been a very difficult night. My motorcycle class had its practical riding lessons, and I bombed completely. I dumped the motorcycle twice; I couldn’t maneuver it, I rarely felt balanced on it, and I could barely push it.

In the class, they stress to always do self-assessment, which I did. It seemed to me that I was a hazard to myself, slowing down the entire class and probably putting them at risk as well. After several hours of effort, I finally decided that it was time to give up on the dream. I am a failure.

It’s a painful experience. Twice I ended up on the ground, but the worst pain I’m feeling right now is in my heart. I guess I’ll talk more about my actual experiences on the course tomorrow, but today I think I want to examine my feelings, and what went wrong internally rather than externally.

I started off fine. I finished the online portion successfully, missing only a few questions that I felt were not terribly important to motorcycle operation and safety (like styles of motorcycle), and on the written exam I had scored a 100%. I was excited, well rested, fed, and even took a selfie (which I rarely do) at the course waiting for the lesson to begin and purchased a second “guest” helmet to keep with the bike for when I have a guest rider. Then they split us up into groups of three, and unfortunately, I ended up with two very young and very experienced riders. Well, to be fair, they were all very young, but these two had been riding for a very long time.

Although we were told not to try to keep up with the other students and go at our own pace, I did feel the pressure when they took off immediately and performed the exercises quickly. Unfortunately, I found it nearly impossible to control my ego. I had to contend both with the shame of being slow, and embarrassment that they spent so long waiting for me before continuing the exercise.

My father’s voice started out small, but it was obvious very quickly, his criticisms, insults, not telling me that I could not do it so much as just simply being excessively harsh and critical when I finished slowly or didn’t perform perfectly. Perfection was a big thing with my dad. He never praised effort, or even success for that matter, but he certainly did explode on any perception of failure. If I didn’t do something to his satisfaction, or couldn’t do it as quickly as he did, he was quick to belittle, and his voice was definitely in rare form inside of my helmet.

My fear of failure compounded my difficulties. I found myself starting to try harder and harder, being harsher and harsher on myself for my failures. As I did this, I was more in my head and tried to control and focus on too many things. It’s one of those things where if you try to hard to not do something, that’s exactly what you end up doing. It started simply enough; their exercises started combining parts (first “power walk”, then ride but a little bit more complicated). I tried so hard not to forget the second part that I would end up forgetting the first. This is probably age related, but also self-doubt as I questioned if I was remembering correctly or focusing so hard on not crashing that I would forget the instructions. I’m sure the instructors thought I wasn’t paying attention, but that wasn’t the issue.

In maneuvering, I was really just very bad. If I was supposed to ride between two cones, about a third of the time I’d run it over or knock it down. This led to panic steering, and I would end up over-compensating. The first time I landed on my side, I actually ended up face down on the concrete (but fortunately not trapped). I was fine, but my ego was crushed, and from that point it was all but over. I kept trying the exercises but found it very difficult to overcome my self-doubt and that damned voice in my head. Then they started talking about “building on the skills you’ve learned” I would be stuck thinking “but I’m not comfortable with those skills yet.” At a break they started talking about how this is all cake compared to the second day, and it became clear that I was in no way ready for anything more complicated.

Tonight’s failure was one of pride, and self-doubt. I’m sure I should have been able to do better, but I started literally saying “shut up, dad” and “you can do this” at the start of more and more exercises. I’d repeat the things the instructors said to try to be sure I followed through, and at the end of each exercise I felt a little bit better about what I was doing, but unfortunately, never comfortable. I decided for the good of the class, and in honest assessment of the chance of actually succeeding, to walk out.

Tonight, I’m literally weeping. I think the hardest thing is not that I had such a hard time with the lesson, but that I’ve hit that limit, the upper limit of my abilities. It’s not that I feel so bad that I couldn’t do it, but I’m struggling with the knowledge that I can’t do it. These are truly different things, and both are painful. I’m not sure how much I can write on this topic tonight, but suffice it to say, my demons will be playing rough tonight.

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