By Michael Mooney

Why are we as human beings so afraid of failure?

Ecc 3:1-6 MKJV
(1)  To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heavens:
(6)  a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

From these verses it reasonably follows that:

1) Life consists seasons

2) Life’s seasons vary between good and bad times

3) No person is exempt from these experiences

By this it must be concluded that bad times and failures are a natural part of the human experience.  Yet for some reason so many times we go about life trying to avoid bad seasons and failures as if they are cardinal sins.  We reinforce our anxieties by asking: What if I fail at _____?  What will people think of me?  What will become of me? How could I ever make a comeback?  More specifically the ordained minister wonders: What if I plant a church and not one attends?  What if I cannot find a pastorate?  What if I cannot raise enough money for my ministry?  Will people think that I missed my calling?

The reality is that failure seems to be a part of the human experience. How have we ever learned success without failure?  What if we criticized a child for falling down the first time they tried to walk or ride a bike?  Would this not be absurd?  They would never learn the joys of balance.  It seems that we must lose our balance at times in order to find it.  But how can we find it lest we try and fail?  Failing is necessary, yet for some reasons we try to escape it at all costs.  We make excuses for ourselves for why we never take action by reasoning, “if I am going to do something I better do my best, and since I don’t have time I better not start”.  This is known as perfection paralysis.  We excuse ourselves from taking action, which protects us from possible failure.  After all, if we never try we will never fail and no one will laugh at us.  Seems best to play it safe, right?  However, noting valuable ever comes to pass without someone’s risk involved.  When we were children we were so much more accepting of trial and error.  Yet now as adults we base our self worth on the outcomes of our decisions and pretend like it is totally unacceptable to fail.

This reasoning is not far from absurdity.  Solomon said, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity take note that God also has set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him” (Ecc 7:14, MKJV).  With this in mind, do we spend so much of our lives perpetuating the illusion that we can somehow live without bad seasons and failures?  The experience of such occasions has helped me to understand that they are as equally a part of life as the good times.  The best we can do is embrace this adversity and grow through it, rather than resisting as the allegorical Stoic dog being drug by a chariot against its will.  In the end we can take confidence in the truth that God is in control and is working all things to our good (Rom 8:28).

Assignment Questions:

1) What sort of excuses have you made to avoid possible failures?

2) How do you "save face" in the midst of failure?

3) How would you define a "healthy" fear of failure?

4) Has this assignment changed the way you look at the process of trial and error?

Woodring, Susan. (Speaker). (1993). Overcoming Procrastination (Cassette Recording No. 10038 1193). Boulder, CO: Career Track Publications.