Recently there's been a debate about a family member taking up driving lessons. It made me think about the time when I was 18, fresh out of A Levels, with lots of time on hand and nothing to do. Why hadn't I learned driving then?
I only started taking up lessons into my final year in NUS, at the ripe old age of 22-23. It isn't too uncommon. There were still plenty of people who hadn't started taking lessons yet, also plenty of people who hadn't passed their TP test yet, but there's also a fair number of my peers who are already driving for a couple of years. I wasn't particularly old among the students in my driving school. All my driving instructors regarded me as a student, along with the other 18 year olds since I was still technically a student, even as a fresh graduate.
I passed my TP test on my first attempt. Ask any Singaporean who drives and you'll know this is something to be bragged. The passing rate is low, the passing rate for first timers is lower, and the passing rate for female first timers is about shin high.
So why hadn't I been driving much earlier?
I was 18, fresh from my A Levels, and scared of the world that awaits me. All the talk about low passing rates, high driving lesson fees, and the difficult controlling the clutch frightened me. I knew I wasn't ready yet. Furthermore, I can't deny the fact that my hand-eye-mind-leg coordination was trash, I can't differentiate right and left, and worse, I have very poor judgement. I am definitely not what anyone can describe as a driver. But I love cars. Nothing excites me more that a fast German car, and I'm proud to say I know my CLKs from the SLKs, and I have my preferences. I know one day I will be driving. But that day wasn't when I was 18.
My father did express some disappointment when I wasn't like any other 18 year olds pestering to learn driving. He talked to me much about his days of driving illegally as a 14-15 year old when he was an apprentice mechanic with access to cars in the workshop, and his TP test when he had a stroke of bad luck and almost met with an accident but still managed to pass because of his quick thinking and fast reflexes. He also talked about the good old days when being 16 was all you needed to get a license. But I knew I was going to be a road hazard, and I was scared of failure. Maybe more of the latter, much more than I thought so then.
I finally decided to take up lessons in my final year of studies for a very selfish reason. That was the last year I was leeching off my parents, and if I took lessons, they would be paying for it. The deal was that they would pay for all my lessons until my driving test. If I failed, I would have to pay for more lessons on my own since I would have graduated then, and I knew I would have done so. But until then, I was happy living off my parents.
The first few lessons confirmed my greatest fear that I sucked at driving. I could have got full marks for both theory tests but that had no bearing on my ability to think and transmit my thoughts to my eyes, hands and legs in a split second. My engine stalled almost every 5 minutes. And I couldn't bring myself to learn automatic because of the dream of speeding down the A8 in a CLK in Germany. But at that time I truly hated driving. Maybe it wasn't driving that I hated, I hated that sense of failure. My life has always been plain sailing, and there wasn't anything that I truly sucked at, if there was any, I wasn't doing it, so it didn't matter.
Driving was killing me so bad that I took a 6-months break. In all my life of studying, I never once felt this amout of stress and pressure on my that I felt so suffocated. I pushed registering for the TP test because I felt I wasn't ready, and I wanted so badly to pass so that I needn't have to pay for additional driving lessons on my own.
Now thinking back, I realise that deep down in my subconscious, it was never about money, it was never about age, it was all about my fears. I wanted so badly to drive well despite knowing that nothing my my bones and reflexes contained the ability to drive. Yet still I wanted to prove my body wrong and that my will could triumph. It took my 4 years to muster up that will. Listening to horror stories of friends, listening to triumphant stories from different people, and listening to myths about how to pass. Now thinking back, I think deep down I knew I could do it.
I stepped out of my 6-month hiatus without forgetting anything about driving. All it took was another driving instructor to bolster up my confidence. It wasn't that my previous instructors were bad, but they were telling me the things I wanted to hear. This instructor seemed to be made to work the way I handle my work. And things got better, I stopped stalling, I gassed up and accelerated, I felt welded to the steering wheel, my confidence grew.
Now that my class 3 license is safely in my pocket, i slackened. I have yet grown used to driving but at least I know I could do it. My early fears were also what motivated me to prove myself.