I sat there petrified.

Fear held me back. I hesitated. Should I? Should I not?

I wanted to take up the work assignment but doubted my abilities and skills at the new task. The thought of failing at it mortified me to inaction. I started having nightmares about how I would never grow in my career path, stunted and regressing toward the most minuscule and insignificant. I could not deal! I was losing my mind.

Why was I afraid?

  • Perfectionism: there were certain areas in my life I held an impossibly high standard accompanied by critical self-evaluation. I, therefore, held back, unwilling to fail. Eventually, I suffocated my creativity and joy.
  • Pride: I often based my self-worth on my performance and this fear was a desperate attempt to avoid hurting that pride should I fail in the task. I did not want to look “bad,” “incapable” or “incompetent.”
  • Fear of disapproval from others: More than I wanted to acknowledge, I probably was an approval addict—desiring the approval of certain others to feel good about myself.

As a result of this fear of failure, not just for this assignment only, I

  • avoided risks and only got involved in activities that I could perform well
  • had anxiety attacks about my performance and fear of disapproval from others
  • self-condemned myself and wallowed in self-pity when I failed. How did that manifest itself? Binging on snacks, social media and/or the television to drown out the failure feeling.

Reflection Time

Reflecting on my life, I recall being especially fearful of failure during my teenage years. And since then I have failed. And failed miserably. I remember my failing grades in high school, especially in arts and languages. I also recall trying to form friendships that did not work out and staring rejection in the face. I know what it feels like to be rejected at an interview and feel disillusioned. Most recently, work has been a place of failure. My regular to-do list of accomplishments was 100% incomplete. Read more about this in Search for Significance.

“Often our plans fail that God’s plans for us may succeed.”

Ellen White, Help in Daily Living, p. 12.

It seems like life was cut out for this thing called failure but we fear it, are often not prepared for it and most people do not talk about it. Success is often drummed into our heads with no room for anything less. So when failure happens, we do not know how to deal with it.

For others, failure would result in anger, resentment, low motivation, feelings of hopelessness, depression, sexual dysfunction, and drug dependency which may lead to drug addiction and much more.

These self-destructive methods of dealing with failure often make us feel worse than before. So how then can we deal with failure more constructively?

“Many become inefficient by evading responsibilities for fear of failure. Thus they fail of gaining that education which results from experience, and which reading and study and all the advantages otherwise gained cannot give them.”

Ellen White, Help in Daily Living, p. 44.

5 A’s of Dealing with Failure or the Fear of it

  • Acknowledge you are fearful or have failed. There is something about realizing and owning up to your state of mind and emotions. It frees the mind to act once it realises where it is at. I often refer to a Feelings Wheel when I am not sure of what I am feeling. It has helped me pin the exact feeling in the past.
  • Ask for help. No, you do not need to know all things, and neither should you be a jack of all trades. A friend of mine says, “confession is good for the soul.” Asking for help is confessing that you are not able to do something but you are willing to learn. Get an accountability partner or friend who may empathize with your feelings. Confess the feeling of failure to God through prayer. Repent where you feel you went wrong. Ask God for strength to go on with courage through life.
  • Avail yourself to learn. Learning is a good space to be. Continual knowledge growth is one of the keys to unparalleled success. Either through self-learning, attaching yourself to a mentor, or going to informal or formal training, set your mind to grow in knowledge.
  • Allow yourself to fail. There is no guarantee of success and that path may be strewn with hurdles and challenges that you may consider quitting. Recognise that your life is not made up of that one thing you failed at. Remember that many others have braved for failure and become better people as a result. “Many become inefficient by evading responsibilities for fear of failure. Thus they fail of gaining that education which results from experience, and which reading and study and all the advantages otherwise gained cannot give them.” Ellen White, Help in Daily Living, p. 44.
  • Award progress. A pat on the shoulder, a fruit bowl in celebration, a call to a friend, a card of commendation, a treat to the massage parlour or whatever virtuous way to award each small milestone is encouraged.

Lessons from the Bible and other personalities

• Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein is known for his intelligence and ‘Einstein’ synonymous with genius. Yet it is a famous fact that the pioneer of the theory of general relativity, Albert Einstein himself, could not speak fluently until the age of nine. His rebellious nature led to expulsion from school, and he was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School.

His earlier setbacks did not stop him from winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. After all, he believed that: “Success is failure in progress.” To this day, his research has influenced various aspects of life including culture, religion, and art. Just because you haven’t achieved anything great yet, does not mean you cannot be an Einstein yourself.

• Judas versus Peter

  • Judas was a star disciple: he was the treasurer of the little band of disciples and probably the most learned man among them. He excelled in all that he did until the day he betrayed Jesus and discovered his plan to elevate Jesus had miserably failed. Judas had no clue what to do with this failure. So he went hanged himself. How sad an ending!
  • Peter on the other hand was just a loud noisemaker and fisherman. He knew what it meant to go fishing all night and come empty. He had once walked on water and began to drown. He had been rebuked by Jesus in front of the other disciples. He must have felt humiliated. Peter had failed severally and had learned to fail. His story ends with him being martyred by hanging on a cross. Upon his request, he was hung upside down as he did not feel worthy to be crucified like His Master Jesus. What an encouraging ending to a life well lived.

He whose trust is in God will with Paul be able to say, “I can do all things in Him that strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:13, R.V. Whatever the mistakes or failures of the past, we may, with the help of God, rise above them. With the apostle we may say: ”This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13, 14.

Ellen White, Help in Daily Living, p. 64.

Move forward by faith. Remember you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

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