Apr 16, 2014

Learning When to Let Go

What you don't experience positively you will experience negatively.
- Joseph Campbell
Unten Menkyo Driving Test Course

When you've come a long way towards accomplishing a goal - having invested a lot of time, effort, and money into it - it's hard to give it up. When you hit a brick wall, how do you know when to let go or try once more to bust through?

Before I even began the application process for a Japanese driver's license, I knew that brick wall was there: the practical driving test. Every American expat whose had to go through the same process bemoaned its frustrating rule system and bribery tactics. The driving center itself is unreachable by public transportation, and you must use your personal vacation time to go there.

Hearing these complaints, I put off the test for as long as possible - right up to the last day my international driving permit was valid. Without a new license, I would be unable to get back to the driving center, let alone drive to my schools every morning. After a year of psyching myself out, I finally jumped through all the hoops and made my test appointment.

I didn't pass. The joyless policeman who graded my performance was unsympathetic - he crossed his fingers like an x as soon as the car was back in its parking spot. "Signal too slow," he said; I hadn't put my turn signal on at exactly 300 meters before an intersection.

I went back to my car and cried. The driving test was a culmination of my feeling helpless not understanding Japanese; of the test having nothing to do with driving ability; of being dependent on others to help me in a system designed not to help anybody. I felt humiliated I had been rejected at the end of a process I hadn't even wanted to start.

When my tears were dry, I drove to Kenroku-en. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom, some even drifting down from the trees like pink snow. I walked below their outstretched branches and took deep breaths of the cool, fresh air. If I hadn't come down for the test today, I thought, I would have missed this.

I began to look at my failure as an opportunity: instead of paying more money to re-take the test and accompanying lessons, using up my limited vacation days in the process, I decided to let it go. I could walk to and from the train station in the mornings if I woke up a little earlier. My students go to school on foot everyday, why can't I?

The more this idea sunk in, the more relieved I felt; I'm free. Now that it's spring, I can enjoy walking to the station under the cherry blossoms and watching the rice fields pass by from the train window. I embraced my setback, and realized I held a new kind of joy in my arms.


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