Chaplain's Corner: Overcoming the fear of failure
April 9, 2012
I would like to launch this article with a question: What is the most frequent command written in the Bible? It is simply not to fear - be strong and courageous, don't be afraid… you can trust God.
Scripture emphasizes this because fear is the universal deal. We all wrestle with fear. As Dave Barry writes, "All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears -- of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, of speaking before a rotary club, of the words 'some assembly required.' We all wrestle with fear."
Not all fear is bad. There are actually healthy fears that help us to survive. It teaches us to respect boundaries and alerts us to dangers like driving on the wrong side of the road or pouring gas on an open fire; or keeps us from expressing our true feelings to the law enforcement officer who stopped you for speeding even though there were many people going much faster than you on the road that he could have stopped instead of you.
Then there are the destructive fears that will keep us from doing the things we should do and particularly keep us from great achievements and personal growth. These are often distorted fears, exaggerated and out of touch with reality, that create a chronic sense of worry and anxiety in us.
One of these is the fear of failure. A few years ago, Maria Shriver interviewed the highly successful businessman and entrepreneur Ted Turner who built the Turner Television Network from scratch. She asked him what the biggest obstacle was he needed to overcome in order to achieve success, to which he replied, "I had to get over my intense fear of failure."
Ms. Shriver late remarked, "That was my problem as well, my fear of failing." Many of us can relate to that fear. But how do you get beyond it?
History is replete with examples who overcame failure to achieve great things. Men like Henry Ford, who went bankrupt at the age of 40, but started the Ford Motor Company the next year and became enormously successful. Or Walt Disney, who went broke seven times during his career and suffered a nervous breakdown. But he subsequently created an empire through cartoons, television shows and theme parks. The great writer, Leon Uris penned the novels, "Exodus" and "Trinity," literary works that became best sellers and award-winning movies. Did you know that he flunked high school English twice? He commented about that later in life saying, "It's a good thing you don't need high school English in order to write well."
Did you know that the great Michael Jordan was cut from his junior high basketball team? He volunteered to be the equipment manager that year so he could hang out with the team. The next year, he again tried out and his fabulous career was launched. All of these people realized that failure was only a temporary setback. Just because you might fail once in a while doesn't mean you have flunked life.
So how does one overcome the fear of failure? The answer can be summed up in one word, PERSPECTIVE, or the ability to sort out what's a big deal or not. Perspective determines how we respond to situations. This is best exemplified in an e-mail a female college student sent to her parents:
"Dear Mom and Dad,
I have so much to tell you. Because of the fire set off by the student riots, I experienced temporary lung damage and had to go to the hospital. While I was there I fell in love with an orderly and we have moved in together. I dropped out of school when I found out I was pregnant. He got fired because of his drinking, so we're going to move to Alaska where we might get married after the birth of the baby.
Your loving daughter
P.S. None of this really happened, but I did flunk my chemistry class and got a D in calculus, and I wanted you to keep it in perspective."
This is one smart girl who understood that no matter what adverse circumstances you are faced with, our perspective can make all the difference in dealing with it.
It's been said life is 10 percent what happens to us, and 90 percent how we respond to it. Many of the potential problems we worry about never occur, but we spend countless hours fretting about them.
Dr. Jonas Salk understood perspective. Before he developed a vaccine for polio that finally worked, he tried 200 unsuccessful ones. Somebody asked him, "How did it feel to fail 200 times?"
"I never failed 200 times in my life," Salk replied. "I was taught not to use the word 'failure.' I just discovered 200 ways not to vaccinate for polio."
In II Timothy 4:7-8 Paul writes, "I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. Now there is in store a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me."
The race of life Paul is referring to is not a sprint, it is a distance run and it is filled with mistakes, shortcomings and temporary failures. However, with proper perspective and perseverance, we can overcome obstacles to succeed at the end of the day. That's why God instructed Joshua as he assumed command of the Israeli army for the task of conquering the Promised Land, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go."
In the film, "Chariots of Fire," British runner Harold Abrams is devastated over losing a race to his arch rival, Scottish champion Eric Liddel. This represents the first time in his life he has lost to anyone. The pain of failure is so great he decides he cannot race again. His girlfriend, Cybil replies, "Harold, this is absolutely ridiculous. It's a race you've lost, not a relative. Nobody's dead… You were marvelous; he was more marvelous, that's all. He won fair and square. If you can't take a beating, perhaps it's for the best."
"I don't run to take beatings. I run to win!" Harold shouts. "If I can't win, I won't run."
Cybil pauses, and then says to him firmly, "If you don't run, you can't win."
To run the best race you can, to give it everything you've got and win -- that is glorious. To run the race, to give your best and lose, that's painful. But it is not failure. Failure is refusing to run the race at all.
What race are you running today? Do not quit. Do not let fear get the best of you. Change your perspective. This is your life. You cannot get out of it, so get into it.