If at First You Don’t Succeed… The Crippling Fear of Failure

“If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.”

I’m pretty sure everyone has heard this quote at one point or another. I remember seeing it on a poster in my 3rd grade classroom years ago.

Is it sound advice? Yes, I think so.

But in all honesty, I’ve never really lived by this motto, even since birth.

My mom told me the story about when I first started walking. I took a few wobbly steps while hanging onto the table.

But as soon as I let go, I fell.

I was maybe 6-8 months old at the time.

I quickly returned to crawling. It was effective enough and certainly less painful.

Somehow, I ended up learning to walk by the age of 13 months. But my response to failure as a baby has carried on for the last nineteen years.

Growing up, I was always tall. At age 2, I was 3 foot. By the end of Kindergarten, I was 51 inches tall. Maybe that accounts for some of my awkwardness and being so off-balance. Maybe not.

Here’s a confession and regret that I’ve carried throughout life: I can’t ride a bike.

I remember riding a bike with training wheels when I was younger. But I never rode a bike without them. I didn’t like the idea of getting hurt or falling. It just wasn’t worth it.

Today, I’ll ride an exercise bike, but that’s about it.

That fear of failure (and falling) has followed me through life.

I never went on the monkey bars until I was tall enough to reach them from the ground. I’ve never made it the whole way around a skating rink (I nearly wiped out, trying to let go of the rails so a 3-year-old could get around me!) And I’ve never made it to the top of a rock climbing wall, or past the first five steps, for that matter.

Fear of failure doesn’t stop there. It leaks its way into every facet of life.

Anything I struggle with, I quit. Anything that doesn’t come naturally, I quit.

That fashion show in 3rd grade. That computer project in 4th grade. That photography contest in 6th grade.

One try, and if it goes horribly, I’m done. I’ve packed my bags and vowed never to go down that same humiliating road again.

I’ve been told several times to not be a “quitter” and that “can’t” is not a word that should be in my dictionary.

Maybe you’ve struggled with this too?

I’ve given in to the fear of failure time and time again.

But one time, I had a breakthrough.

A few years back, I sent in a blog post to a popular Christian website. It was sent back to me with suggestions for improvements and a list of qualities they wanted to see in articles for their website.

At first, I started going into my cycle of “I quit”. My pride had been crushed.

But then, I began to realize that the feedback was 100% true. There was a lot of room for improvement, so I waited a while, prayed a while, and gave it another try.

Had I quit, I doubt you’d be reading this post today.

What made the difference?

I feel like God has given me talent for writing. (I admit I have absolutely none when it comes to riding bikes or skating!) This is what God’s calling me to do.

The rejected blog post reminded me of my dependency on God. When I tried to write a blog or ride a bike on my own strength, I failed. If God was in it and I gave my best, things went better.

That’s not to say that everything God calls us to do is going to be easy. But with God, all things are possible (Luke 1:37).

As Ephesians 3:20 (NLT) says,

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”

When we humbly rely on God, we don’t have to be afraid of failing. That doesn’t mean we’ll never hit dead ends or have to try again, but rather that we never have to go it alone.

No matter what the outcome of our situation, God remains the same and our identity in Him remains the same.

What has fear of failure kept you from doing? What do you feel like God is calling you to do?

Summer is a great time to reflect on life and the desires that God has given us. Don’t let fear hold you back from living, like I have for so many years.

When it Rains, it Pours…

Sometimes, things just don’t seem to go right.

This week has been one for the books. Between failed experiments in lab, questioning friendships, midterms, and a host of other things, life has been one heck of a storm. Honestly, it feels like nothing has gone right in a long time. My plans failed and my schedule was completely trashed aside from my classes. And all of this leaves me with one question…

What is going on?

When one unexpected thing comes after another, it can feel like there’s no use in trying to make more plans or make adjustments to fix the current situation. But. I think there might be some beauty in this realization. How often are we apt to take on more commitments than we can handle? To say yes to more than we realize? To load up our calendar with an impressive list of interests, activities, and one-on-one time with friends? The answer for me would have to be, “far too often.”

Now the question we have left with is, “What do I do now?”

The first and most cliché answer I can give you is to lay your worries at the feet of the Lord. In the Gospel of Matthew we find a very direct question to ask ourselves, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” While there is scientific evidence that could suggest that letting the overwhelming events and concerns of life is not adding time to your life, I think there is something else to consider. At what point in time has worry added to the minutes of enjoyable life you have had the opportunity to experience? Here, I’ll give you a hint.

It hasn’t.

While it is important to not worry, there is a difference between worry and concern. As I advise you not to be filled with worry, I also want to say to you that having zero concern is just as dangerous. If you have exams, study for them. If your friends need you, talk to them. If you have something going on in your family, love them and offer support, but know that everything in this world is working together for good and not for evil. Remember, also, that if things go wrong, it isn’t the end of it all (and for those of you staring Spring Break in anxious anticipation, don’t let anything that may happen this week get in the way of enjoying your break).

God is holding all things together and working to magnify Himself. He is working for your good and His glory, and if He loves you so dearly that He would be willing to lay down the life of His only son, what, do you think, would ever be able to get in the way of that? I’ll give you another hint.

Nothing.

So go on this week knowing that God is behind every step you take, mistake or otherwise, to remind you of His sovereign and steady hands.