This morning, as I was thinking and praying, my mind drifted to a subject we can all relate to: fear. This little emotion invades our lives every single day, sometimes acting in our own best interests of self-preservation and other times it likes to cause problems, like when that dark shadow is a lamp and not a crazy ax murderer. Fear has an interesting way of becoming a habit in our lives; once you give into fear a few times, you get hooked and it becomes your standard operating procedure, making it part of your daily life.
I have a crippling fear of both failure and success, which leads me to inactivity.
It’s a strange problem to have, being afraid of both failure and success. Being the rational person I am, I know that failure is a part of life and I’ve heard every platitude in the book: “Failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success”, “If you don’t fail, you don’t learn. If you don’t learn, you’ll never change,” etc. If you do a quick google search, you get thousands of responses in under a second all speaking to how failure is normal and to be expected. Yet, this doesn’t help me. I remain inactive. I stay stuck.
On the other hand, success is frightening to me because it’s a precursor to failure. A nihilistic world-view, I know, but every time I go up a level on the “ladder of success” I wonder how long it will take before I fall, doomed to work my way up from the bottom, yet again. There have been times when someone put me on a pedestal and I intentionally did something to knock myself down so I wouldn’t have to live up to the pressure that kind of idolization brings. When people compliment me, I shrink away, wanting nothing more than to sit in obscurity, quietly doing my job where no one will see or notice me.
Mediocrity is the real enemy here, drawing me in again and again with its comfortable complacency.
These fears of mine become even more interesting when coupled with the fact that I can’t seem to stay in the shadows for long. I can’t do mediocre work or live a boring, dreamless life for any extended length of time. There’s a part of me, the renewed-by-God portion of me, that seeks something greater, something more, not for myself but because I can see things others simply can’t. But I rarely say or do anything, I let fear win.
The other day, I was researching some logistics necessary for a project I’m working on. But, after a few hours, I could only see how I was setting myself up for failure. I couldn’t see how I could possibly get from where I am now to where I see the idea taking me; I was stuck and discouraged. I took a break and started praying, wishing I could be okay with mediocrity. At that moment, my desire was not for excellence or creating something great, it was to shrink back and never grow. I have prayed that prayer and wished for those things more times than I can count, but still, this burning desire to share creative ideas with the world won’t seem to leave me.
I’m writing this because I believe I’m not the only one who struggles with these feelings of crippling fear. But, I’m coming to believe that it’s people like you and me who are destined for greatness, not for ourselves, but to glorify God and help others. I believe there is a healthy balance between fear of failure and fear of success and, when used properly, they can create boundaries and lead you to strive for something greater. Fear of success can prevent you from falling into the ditch of self-idolization, when you realize you’re not worthy to be on a pedestal, but you are worthy of the success your hard work and God-breathed ideas can bring you. The fear of failure, in a healthy light, urges us to produce something excellent and well thought-out, while simultaneously leaving grace when mistakes are made.
I encourage you to take a risk (I’m writing this to me too). Do the research, form a plan, make sure your heart is right, but then go for it. If you have prayed about it, discussed it with other, trusted people who have given you the green light, and you still haven’t done anything, I would encourage you to ask yourself what’s stopping you. If it’s fear, of either failure or success, acknowledge it, realize that it can have a healthy place in your life, but don’t let it cripple you. If there are warning signs about moving forward in an area of your life, acknowledge them, because there’s wisdom in that, but don’t let that stop you, prayerfully consider how to move forward.
The good news is that God has grace for us and he patiently walks alongside us as we journey through life. I plan to go after those things God has spoken into my heart. I am willing to tell fear to get in its rightful place, are you?