For a moment I wanted to break down into a puddle of tears over the humiliation of my unsuccessful attempt to do something thousands of people achieve everyday. It was December 4th, and I had to faced that horror of horrors – renewing my driver’s license. There were exactly twenty-seven days left until it expired and I couldn’t put it off any longer.

The task shouldn’t have been that daunting. I was familiar with the drill. In the past ten years I visited the DMV in Los Gatos eight times. When each child turned sixteen, there were four sets of learner permits followed by four sets of driving tests. But academics have never been my strong suit. Studying for a test (any test), and then actually taking it, always made me panic. So to prepare for the appointment, I downloaded practice exams on my computer and spent the previous week pouring over them.

Who has the right of way in a bike lane? I read to myself. Wondering if this was a trick question, my mind wandered to all those times I had to make room for a parade of men in their tight lime green spandex as they usurped the entire road. I think I know the right answer, but just once I’d love to knock one over.

On that fateful morning, I woke up early to prepare. First hair, makeup and then the perfect color sweater was chosen to accentuate my eyes. My last photo was taken fourteen years earlier when I sported an extremely short “do.” Looking like a mug shot from one of America’s Most Wanted in the post office, it was time to update my picture. Then with a few more rounds with the computer and test taking, out the door I went. Upon arrival, I was ushered straight to the front of the line with my paperwork and was asked to cover one eye.

“Okay, look at line A and read the fifth line down,” she instructed.

“Umm, A, C, D, I don’t know, E and maybe B”

“Let’s try the next one down.” she asked again.

“G, ah…, Q, J ?, H and M?”

After several tries, the employee took me to a machine used only by the elderly. “Please put your face up against the glass and see if you see these lines any better.”

Same vague responses.

Ushering me back to her station, I asked, “Did I flunk?” and with a sympathetic smile, the civil servant picked up a pile of new forms and said, “Honey, you need glasses.”

“But I can see everything fine!” I declared. “Do I at least get to take the written test today? I’m ready for that.”

“You don’t have to take that. All you needed was the eye test.”

“What! I’ve been studying for the past week? What do you mean I don’t have to take it?” Exasperated over what had been a waste of time and nervous energy, I inquired, “Can I at least have my picture taken? I’m having a good hair day.”

For most of my life, one of my biggest battles with self esteem has come from what I viewed as failure, my failure – trying hard, but not succeeding. Holding back the tears as I drove home, I cringed at the thought that I’d have to do this all over again after a visit with my eye doctor, but then it dawned on me. This failure was something that was completely out of my control. It wasn’t my fault. We can’t always manipulate Mother Nature to our advantage.

When the economy went sideways last year, I found myself treading in a deep, dark well barely keeping my nose above the waterline. I wasn’t prepared for that failure either and the lifestyle as I knew it was going to have to under go a complete face lift – not just a change in the color of lipstick and rouge to keep it looking good.

“What do you mean I might not get to use my line of credit?” I asked the bank. My savings were fading away and I was planning to dip into the equity in the house to make it through our mountain of bills until the real estate market became healthy again.

“I’m sorry lady, but some lenders are pulling the lines of credit because of all the recent bad loans issued.”

Raging inside, I steamed at the unfairness of it all. I paid my bills on time and never defaulted from my mortgage. Why was I being punished for the greed and stupidity of Wall Street. Then I began to see that maybe this entire mess wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. Maybe there would be lessons to learn once we got through it (and we will get through it).

For many years my children and I have lived a life of excess. If one style of shoe was good in black, then having them in the other five colors would be even better. There were the dinners out because I was too lazy to cook and throwing away large amounts of food that went bad because – again, I was too lazy to cook. I wanted their life fun and easy, but I’m afraid I may have done them a disservice.

On that “eye opening” day at the DMV, I realized that possibly the past year’s demise in our global economy was, in some ways, a good thing. It’s time my family and I got back to basics and what’s truly important, such as keeping ourselves fit and healthy for those times we spend together and treasuring a few good items in our closet and not the entire department store we currently possess. Wealth is not about what we own or 401K’s. It’s about the people in our lives and the love that we share.

On December 4th, I thought I could see just fine, but once I received my new glasses, I realized how much I was missing before – the leaves on the trees, the signs on the streets, blades of grass. And as for those annoying guys on their bikes, with improved vision I’ve been observing how amazing their bodies are from behind. I’m enjoying the view and my new driving experience.

For my New Year’s Resolution, I plan to try to stay positive and keep smiling. We can’t help but have a “woe is me” moment from time to time, but if you catch me in one, please slap me silly and remind me to put my glasses back on. It is still a wonderful world to behold. We just need to open our eyes.