Overcoming the Fear of Failure
Failure. It’s a word no one wants to be called. Since this is true, we make every effort to avoid the label. Perhaps you often feel like a failure as you go about your day. Or, conversely, perhaps you cannot identify with those who struggle in this way. Surprise! You likely struggle with this fear more than you know. Let’s take a minute to identify the symptoms, origins, and most importantly, God’s advice for tackling this challenging issue.
Like a headache signaling the presence of a virus, there are telltale signs that you have succumbed to the fear of failure:
- You play things safe, not taking many risks.
- You only pursue activities where there is a high likelihood of success.
- You tend to be perfectionistic.
- You are a high achiever who is never satisfied with your performance.
- You are anxious about the uncertainties of the future.
- Decision making is difficult for you.
- You often rehearse past failures in your mind.
If any of these statements ring true, chances are that you fear failure to some extent. Do not despair. In order to overcome this fear, we must first identify its root causes.
Fear is a normal response when we feel out of control, threatened, or when there seems to be impending doom. We can fear lots of things. Spiders. Heights. Losing our job. Let me suggest four reasons why we fear failure:
The prouder we are of our accomplishments, family, wealth, etc., the more we will see this fear creeping into our lives.
- A misguided view of ourselves.
When we neglect to think rightly about ourselves, as redeemed sinners with lingering deceitful desires, failure can quickly become one of our deepest fears. This is because our identity gets wrapped into our performance. In such a situation, any failure seems catastrophic since it is tied to our worth as human beings.
- A misguided view of the world
We live in a world that is fallen on every level. Those who fear failure tend to think that perfection is possible. G.K. Chesterton once said, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” Those who fear failure forget that.
- Fear of Man
A question frequently asked by those who fear failure is, “What will people think of me?” In this scenario, people loom large, and we long for their approval above all.
How to Overcome
Thankfully, as a follower of Jesus, you have been given abundant resources to defeat the fear of failure.
It may sound cliché, but first we must dwell upon the gospel. The fact that Jesus had to die for us tells us we are all bigger failures than we could ever imagine. We were unable to save ourselves. The gospel simultaneously exposes our deepest failure, and it ensures that we have the freedom to fail because of what Jesus has done for us (Jn. 3:17). We are about to spend Holy Week remembering these great truths.
Second, we must reorder our fears. Proverbs tells us that the fear of man will prove to be a snare, but that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10; 29:25). Constantly seeking to honor Jesus will tear down the power of failure’s grip.
Finally, to overcome the fear of failure, we must re-commit to a life of faith. Jesus asks his followers to do crazy things from the world’s perspective. If we remember that he is with us no matter what, there’s no limit to what we can do, even in the face of failure.