3 Words to Overcome the Fear of Failure
We fear the future. We fear what “could,” “might,” and “probably will” happen. And we are controlled by it.
I call this the “tyranny of the fear of failure.” It is anti-hope. Such tyranny is derived from the experiences of life and the negative things that constantly fill our minds. Our world is flooded with media images of horrific stories of atrocity, oppression, and murder. Pundits frighten us with “what-if” stories promising that their narrative is based upon logic. Let me assure you something, our world is too complex, too overlapping, and too multifaceted for one individual to represent reality completely.
The problem is, whenever we allow “the tyranny of the fear of failure” to dominate our thinking, we fail. We fail to move, take action or invest. We fail to risk. We fail to hope. We fail to love. We fail to escape our circumstances, expand our horizons, and learn new things. We fail to live. And most importantly, we fail to fail.
Stop for a moment and consider failure. What is failure? Failure taken literally is the lack of success or fulfillment of some expectation by yourself or someone else. I set my alarm clock but I oversleep. Some failures are benign. Some failures are costly. But all failure, when framed in the right understanding is the opportunity to learn something new about yourself, someone else, or some “thing” else.
Is Failure Really That Bad?
For me, this leads to the obvious question. Is failure really that “bad”? As children we are taught in school to study hard and learn the material in order to “pass” the test. Failure to “pass” means receiving a score that is less than 70% and we get a whopping “F” in red on our test. For students of high overachieving, zealous parents, the “F” spells doom and spins off in a frenzy of emotions. So accustomed and acculturated to the expectation of success equating to outcomes that happen 7 out of 10 times, that we are afraid to undertake experiments, business ventures, church plants, investments or relationships that “may not succeed.” Certain investments have higher payoffs than others. Failure rates are higher and may be more costly. The problem, if we never fail — we never learn.
Here is what it looks like in ministry. Recently I was approached by a person who wanted to express their particular talent for the benefit of the church and community. Their idea was novel, unique, and certainly risky. Church leadership shot it down. The reason, the “tyranny of something will go wrong.” So the logic went, “if we do it for this person, then by consequence we must do it for that person. And we don’t want to because that would be inconvenient and thus, something may go wrong.” What was the result? Disappointment for the individual and failure for the church to learn.
Responding to Failure
What should be our response to the “tyranny of something will go wrong?” The Bible responds: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).”
Wisdom, as opposed to foolishness, begins with placing our trust in something greater than ourselves. By greater than ourself, I mean something greater than humanity— a reference point beyond us. That is, as the proverb declares, “in the Lord.” How does this look in everyday matters? Theologian Bruce Waltke observes that we are to live:
- Entirely (‘with all your heart’),
- Exclusively (‘do not lean on your own understanding’), and
- Exhaustively (‘in all your ways acknowledge him’).
So one way we can tell that our endeavors are not being done through trust in the Lord is to measure our fear factor.
What is your fear factor? Are you afraid? Has the fear of failure paralyzed you? Has God placed a passion on your heart? Is there a direction in your life that you wish to pursue but fear has paralyzed your actions? Are you looking for a 7 out of 10 guarantee? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then you must decide whether or not you are placing your circumstances entirely, exhaustively and exclusively in the Lord.
What are some of the things you are afraid of? What desires are you seeking to accomplish?
Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology, 916.