Question: Overcoming The Constant Fear of Failure

buscaguayaba asked:

Evening, Joon. I’ve really been walking this submissive path in my life and its this constant fear of failure. It seems that there are things that no matter how much I try, I keep failing and it seems to become an infectious disease to my self-esteem. I ask God for help but I feel like I’m asking a strange request that I dont even know where its coming from. Its been a silent cry for years as a young boy and I’m over it. I’m so tired of failing so often and I want God to help me end it.

Hey brother, appreciate your honesty.

You know: the fear of failure has been one of the most debilitating fears of my life.

I am constantly, constantly afraid to try new things, because I only like to do things I know I’m good at.  If success is not a possibility, I make up some lame reason why I don’t want to try.

I could probably tell you all kinds of wisdom like, “Go for it anyway” or “God is with you” or “If at first you don’t succeed …” — and while these are true, I know how scary it is.  When you fail once, it crushes your soul to powder, and it makes every next attempt that much harder.

The only way I’ve learned how to personally deal with this is to stare defeat in the face and wrestle it to the very end.  This is different than just telling yourself “I’m a winner” or “I’m loved.”  This takes a little extra work, and it’s worth it.

For me, when I totally fail a sermon, later that night I’ll take out my notepad and write all the places I went wrong.  I’ll write all the missed opportunities, the awkward statements, why this or that didn’t work, how I failed to tie it together and land the ending.  It’s just brutal, and it feels like I’m punishing myself.

But you know what?  After I’m done, I feel a million pounds lighter.  And suddenly I have a clear picture of what I want to do next time.  I gain a little hope amidst the defeat, and I realize that I can do better.  And even if I still feel terrible, at least I am now moving in a direction.

You’ll have your own process for this, whether it’s writing it down or going on a walk or drawing a diagram or talking out loud.  But however it happens, it’s best to NOT skip this process.

Unfortunately what most people do is: they call everyone they know and look for validation in their failures, they text a million people fishing for a nice response, they blame their environment or other people or their “health” or their busy schedule, they avoid or deny or whine or wallow — but there’s no direction to any of this.  They haven’t even confronted what went wrong.  They’re using friends as a sounding board instead of examining themselves first.  They don’t bring that stuff to God for healing.

We tend to beat ourselves up over some amorphous concept of low self-worth, so then we’re defeated over being defeated.

Many of us also think all pain is always bad, but even if that were true: we still need to ride through the middle of it instead of avoiding it altogether.  What I mean is: if we’re going to be hurt by life, I’d rather learn from it than not learn from it.  Surprisingly, most people choose not to learn from it, which is like gaining XP in an RPG and then deliberately not saving your game.

I’m making this sound easier than it is, and I know it’s a gut-wrenching ordeal.  But life goes on, and so must we.  Whether it’s education or your job or your marriage or raising kids or heading a project: We need to expect failure and be okay with the emotions that arise — and then not waste those failures, but use them to plan and prepare.  

We get better by being specific in our honesty, and then asking God for wisdom and grace on the next go-around.  Otherwise, we will go crazy turning ourselves inside-out.  At some point, the self-confrontation also needs to end.  When we get it on paper, it needs to be released.  And we move forward.  We can’t stay in that place of evaluation too long, and even if we fail again, God has grace for that.

I have to add too: I don’t think the feeling of being an insecure little kid ever completely goes away.  The hesitation and uncertainty and awkwardness are rooted deeply, and I’d even say that people spend most of their adult lives compensating for the lost little twelve-year-old kid inside them.  So you’re not alone there.  It’s cool to feel like a big goober sometimes, and it keeps me humble: because no matter how rich or buff or successful I get, I’m still a little boy who needs my Heavenly Father.  I’m as dependent on God as I ever was.

If you need a verse, here you are.  Praying for you brother.  Hope to see you around again soon!

Search me, O God, and know my heart.  Test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

— Psalm 139:23-24

— J.S.

Quote: New Thrills

“People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on ‘being in love’ for ever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change — not realising that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one. In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last. The sort of thrill a boy has at the first idea of flying will not go on when he has joined the R.A.F. and is really learning to fly. The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this mean it would be better not to learn to fly and not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. In both cases, if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. What is more (and I can hardly find words to tell you how important I think this), it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. The man who has learned to fly and become a good pilot will suddenly discover music; the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening.

“This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go — let it die away — go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow — and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time.”

— C. S. Lewis