I am not exactly sure how fear of failure became such an inherent part of my nature; it may be closely tied to my quest to live up to some unattainable spiritual standard–at least unattainable by my own efforts. (Failing God, in my mind, was subject to severe punishment.) Or, it may have been something that came along with the Schambach DNA, with its strong competitive leanings.
I’ve always had a healthy drive to succeed; to be the best; to excel–to be perfect. Perfect grades, perfect behavior, perfect execution of task…everything had to be just right.
On the one hand, with that drive I achieved a few things in my life. I worked diligently at learning and applying the new information to my life’s work. God blessed the work of my hands in many areas, and I believe He accepted that work as an offering to Him, even though the successes came alongside many failures.
For me, the failures were always the most difficult to endure. I hated losing; was shamed by wrong decisions; and, mourned unattained goals. Failure was never an option I considered, and I would go to almost any length with pit bull tenacity to make something work.
That is the down-side of the perfectionist’s drive, at least in my situation. I allowed fear of failure to keep me from doing many things and to procrastinate the more challenging, necessary tasks in life.
I’ve noticed traces of this fear in everyday, mundane chores. Should time not permit my cleaning house to spotless perfection, I would put off cleaning until another day. While baking a pie, I tended to hold my breath until the pie dough made it safely into the tin. There would be no patching my crust! Patching was failure. When putting up the Christmas tree, it had to be seen through to completion: branches fluffed; ornaments in perfect symmetry; garland in place; star atop the tree properly! Should I not be able to hang stockings by the chimney with care, the tree-trimming would wait for the next weekend.
Fear of failure complicated my weight issue. When I determined to lose weight, I could not lose it fast enough. Every pound was a win; a success. Yet, when I inevitably hit a plateau and began to backslide, the weight gain was a horrible failure; and failure became my identity. My mother would gently tell me to “take one day at a time,” but my “all or nothing,” way of thinking tripped me up so often.
Every time I failed, I retreated, waiting until I had enough courage you start the whole dieting process all over again. After decades of repeated successes and failures, I quit trying. The task had become too daunting, and in my mind, I was a failure at this task. My defeat was so strong, it felt as though my courage had died altogether.
Shame, guilt, embarrassment, retreat–all these things cocooned me, hindering me from being totally transparent with God. He knew all along what I desperately wanted to shout to Him but was too proud to admit: “Father, I am afraid! I am afraid I will never lose weight. I am afraid I will die unfulfilled. I am afraid I will not complete the call on my life; I’m afraid I will end my life a miserable failure and an embarrassment to You and to my family.”
Those were my truest, deepest feelings; yet, they remained unuttered. All I could manage to let escape from my heart was, “God, You’ve got to help me!” And, help me, He did. He came alongside me in such a huge way, helping me to confront my Everest and guiding me along the steepest climb of my life.
It’s a story I’m beginning to relate and one day will share it in its entirety; but, it began to change when God helped me to confront the fear of failure in my life.
Fear has many diabolical faces. Whispy tentacles of fear invade every passage of our minds and wrap around our emotions. I am learning to identify this permeating aspect of fear. If left unchecked, it will grow into a hideous monster.
For me, confronting the enormous fear of failure in my life has given me courage to confront others. The perfectionism ghost seems to be fading somewhat. The OCD tendencies are at bay. I am enjoying life so much more. Finally, I’m listening to that wise mother of mine, taking one day at a time with Jesus; trying not to set unrealistic goals each day; but asking Father to help me make each day count for eternity.