The Fear of Failure

Going Higher

Recently, I told God that I was scared to be elevated to a higher position of influence. I might fall into pride or lose the intimacy I have with Him. I might forget that I needed Him and become the kind of person who shouldn’t be looked up to. Going higher can do that to people––I’ve seen it even in myself.

“Maybe I don’t want to go any higher,” I whispered to Him. “I don’t need any greater recognition or influence. I like where I am.”

“What if it’s not just about you?” He asked.

“I’m scared,” I answered.

Failing Fantastically

God listened to my articulations of my fears, as He always does. Then He proceeded to pinpoint the core issue, as He has a knack for doing.

“You’re afraid of making a mistake,” He said. “It’s the same thing you’re usually afraid of. You’d rather stay where you are than try something new and fail. But making a mistake isn’t the worst thing.”

“You’re afraid of making a mistake,” He said.

To illustrate His point, God pointed to Peter, the disciple who denied Jesus. “Peter was a mess. Remember all those mistakes he made?”

I did. In fact, Peter’s blatant fails are something I’ve always liked about him–reading about him makes me feel better about myself. He’s the guy who would impulsively speak or act and promptly be rebuked by Jesus. (“Let’s set up booths so people can come worship Elijah and Moses!” “No, Peter.” “I will never allow you to die, Jesus!” “Get behind me, Satan.”)

“Yet remember what I called Peter?” God said. “Rock. He was the rock on which I founded my church. I could have chosen anyone, and I chose him.”

Not for the first time, it began to dawn on me that my perspective of this issue wasn’t quite aligned with God’s.

Paralyzed

As a child, perfectionism often paralyzed me. I wouldn’t know what to draw, so I wouldn’t draw anything. Having a poor color choice immortalized in a coloring book disturbed me, so my favorite coloring book was a Disney princess book that alternated coloring pages with tracing paper. Rather than color, I could simply follow the pre-determined pathway as perfectly as possible.

Perfectionism is part of what fueled excellence in my music-making and writing over the years, but I’ve also learned when it is time to let go. My backstage pep talk before a piano concert was always: “Be in it. Mistakes don’t matter.” When writing a story, I always give myself permission to write lame drafts. It’s the only way to let loose the best stuff.

In “real life,” however, I’m still learning the art of letting go. Mistakes cost a little more when there are people, relationships, and morality at stake.

Making a mess

I’ve felt like a failure a lot lately (as I’ve shared in my previous post about love). And while part of me recognizes that those feelings point to a commendable effort on my part (at least I’m still trying!), at the end of the day, it’s been painful. 

No one knows how much I’ve wanted to give up more than God.

No one knows how much I’ve wanted to give up more than God.

Yet He refuses to give up on me. Witnessing His patience and continued hope in me firsthand has, in itself, taught me a lot.

But also, there is this:

I (and you) were created to do great things and be amazing people. It’s who we are, it’s how we were designed, it’s the destiny God wrote for us. But in order to become that amazing person, you have go through a messy process, a journey. It’s lifelong, and it’s not really about reaching a particular destination. It’s more like something inside of us is being unlocked.

Embracing the Journey

I’m learning to hate the messy process less––because God doesn’t hate it, and hating it wastes a lot of my energy. Here’s how I’m currently shifting my perspective:

Truth #1: There is no rush.

To get from point A to B. To become better than you are today. To become who you feel in your bones you are supposed to be. To be honest, I want to be perfect. I feel that God deserves a perfect daughter and servant. But the truth is that I’m simply not there yet. And that’s okay.

God isn’t in a rush, so we shouldn’t be either. He is more focused on being with us rather than on where we are.

Truth #2: Mistakes are a sign of growth.

A child learning to walk falls down. Because they are in the process of learning. If there are no falls, that means you are still sitting on your bottom.

(Note: New mistakes are good. Making the same mistake over and over is not so good. But, even if you make the “same” mistake again and again, there is grace for you. And it is to God’s glory to give it to you. If you’re in a place of futility at the moment, you might enjoy this song.)

Truth #3: Failure matures like few experiences can.

You learn humility. Your capacity for compassion increases. Failure is basically the fast train to maturity.

And then you get to learn perseverance when you get back up and try again. Or, you gain clarity and change directions. Or––the most potent lesson––you learn even more humility as you figure out how to make things right.

Failure is basically the fast train to maturity. Click To Tweet

Truth #4: The biggest casualty of our failures is our pride.

There is a way back up when you fall down. Even if you happen to pull someone else down with you, there is a way to make it right. It will involve humbling yourself. It may be uncomfortable. But there is a way.

I tell myself that my fears of messing up are about missing opportunities, or potentially ruining something for other people, but in reality, I’m usually most concerned about myself. My standard. My reputation. My plans.

The biggest casualty of our failures is usually our pride. Pride. It’s insidious. And whatever we can do to put it to death a little bit more is probably a good thing.

High Standards are Good

It’s good to strive for excellence, to have high standards for yourself, to pursue perfection. If we aim low, we’ll undoubtedly hit even lower. Excellence is valuable. It glorifies God. It’s enjoyable. It’s just plain good. (We can all appreciate the goodness of a delicious cookie, an intricately choreographed dance, or a moving speech, right? Usually those things aren’t accidents.)

But failure is good too. It’s not something to be feared but rather embraced.

So, as God recently asked me, Are you ready to fail fantastically?

No, me neither.

But when you do fail, know you’re not alone and recognize the value of what brought you there (boldness) and the value of what you are learning (humility). And turn toward someone who will love you unconditionally and remind you that you are bigger than this one teeny bump in the road. Much, much bigger.

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Elizabeth is an American living in South Korea who believes in destiny, miracles, and living life intentionally. She holds to simple faith in a complex world, values the beauty of the everyday, and strives for vulnerability with other imperfect humans. She is always learning, laughing, and finding herself in awe of grace.

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