The fear of failure

“Please welcome our international conference speaker, Bronwyn!” she said, and held out the microphone.

I sat there bug-eyed, waiting for another Bronwyn to stand up. No one moved. The awkwardness lay thick in the air. I stood up warily, wanting to make a thousand excuses for the introduction. Yes, I was the speaker. Yes, I had spoken at a women’s conference once before. And yes, that conference was in South Africa. But it was just one conference. And it was in my home country!

20130610-132856.jpgTechnically, the introduction was correct, but I wasn’t ready to wear the label. It begs the question though: how many conferences do you have to speak at before you are a ‘conference speaker’? Technically, I am writing a blog, but am I a blogger? I am trying my hand at writing, but does that make me a writer? I recently got a bicycle and trained to join my sisters for a bike race, but does that make me a cyclist? Describing myself as any one of those makes me feel decidedly squirrelly.

Why is it that we are loath to wear the labels? I think the chief reason for shying away from being called a cyclist, speaker or blogger is the fear that wearing the label will require me to be wildly successful.

But I am afraid of failure. Afraid that my writing will be bad, that no one will read my blog, that I am too slow and too irregular to be classified as any kind of athlete. I’m afraid people will judge my skills and find me lacking. Afraid that they (whoever they are) will think I’m bragging.

However, I have children, and that makes me a mother. Not a perfect mama, not an expert, but a mother nonetheless. I clearly remember being discharged from the hospital after our first child was born and thinking “Are they really just going to let us leave with this kid? We know nothing about parenting. Doesn’t the state make you take a test before they entrust an infant into your care?” But they let us leave with our vulnerable little bundle. The quality of my parenting notwithstanding, I am a mom.

I have put my faith in Jesus Christ, and by definition that makes me a Christian. Not a perfect Christian, not an expert, but a Christian nonetheless. Perhaps this is a label that suffers especially from performance anxiety. I mean, just how good to you have to be to call yourself a Christian? Dare I put a fish on my car if I have been known to exceed the speed limit? What about when I am selfish? Or greedy? Or just plain mean? The threat of being called one of those ‘hypocrites’ when my behavior betrays my label looms large. But the quality of my faith-walk notwithstanding, I am a Christian.

We’ve heard it said “if something is worth doing, do it well.” Surely there is truth in that. If it is worth it for me to write, I want to write as best I can. If it is worth it to follow Jesus, then I want to do that as well as I am able.

However, I should not let the fear of not doing well keep me from doing things that are still, fundamentally, worth doing. Surely it is also true to say “if something is worth doing, do it badly… simply because it was worth doing in the first place”.

So this is me. With varying degrees of proficiency and failure, I am a cyclist. A sinner. A pianist. A mother. A goofball. A wife. A blogger. A conference speaker. A servant. A friend. A cook. A traveler. These things are worth doing, even if I do them badly.

The cap fits, so I’m wearing it. Wear yours too.

11 thoughts on “The fear of failure

    • Thank you, Linda 🙂 the cap metaphor makes me think of that wonderful canine in “go, dog, go” asking, “do you like my hat?” That part makes me laugh every time.

  1. Exactly! I speak to exactly that when I’ve done talks recently. I hate the singling out of an individual as if they’re more special than others for having accomplished something. One of the main reasons it frustrates me is that it causes others to feel like it’s not worry trying something because they’re bound to make a mess of it. I grew up in that kind of culture. I’m grateful that it hasn’t harmed me too much (I’m not really a perfectionist when I think about it, so that helps). So when I’ve been asked the question ‘what would you say to others who would also like to write a book’ I’ve also quoted GK Chesterson and said ‘if its worth doing, it’s worth doing badly’. Or in other words, as the famous slogan says, ‘just do it!’ And … you may be surprised at the outcomes!

    An aside: I think it’s worth aiming at doing it well but not being hindered by the possibility that it’ll be done badly. I imagine that’s what you meant but the quote ‘…do it badly…’ May be misleading 🙂

    • Taryn, yes! Thank you- I didn’t know that was chesterton’s quote… I had heard it once and it was stored in the recesses of my mind somewhere. Now that I have looked it up, I found a very helpful and interesting article here: http://www.chesterton.org/discover-chesterton/frequently-asked-questions/a-thing-worth-doing/ explaining that while the quote does not excuse poor efforts, it does mean that sometimes we should do things even if we get poor results.

      Exercise is a great example: even if i look like a frog when i run (that is truly what my grade 1 friends told me I looked like) and I feel stupid doing it (think of the friends episode with phoebe running)… It is worth doing “badly” even if its slow, huffing, puffing and gangly; because exercise is of some value. Hang on… That sounds familiar….

  2. I really like the transition from what it takes to get the label parent to what it takes to get the label Christian. In a sense, neither label is about us at all. I’m a parent because of my child’s existence, not on my own. And I’m a Christian not because of how I behave but because of Christ’s existence and his Spirit’s existence in me.

    Sorry I missed you and the kids on Friday poolside!

    Tim

    • I think it is easier to define ourselves by relationship (wife, mother, daughter) than by skills (writer, philosopher, juggler). Maybe the reason we Christians suffer so from performance anxiety and the world at large is quick to point out our hypocrisy is that we make a mistake if we think Christian falls primarily into the second category (things we do) rather than the first (whose we are). Good food for thought – thanks Tim!

  3. Hi Bron. Good to see y’all recently. I am a firm believer in this ethic – try and do even if you will not be great at it (virtually no one is great at ANYTHING at first). You can recall that I spoke to students in S. Africa and sang (even at your wedding) without much worry if I was “great”. Paul would tell the Corinthians that he “came to [them] in weakness with great fear and trembling” (1 Co 2:3). My motto is “do your best. Let God do the rest.”

  4. Bronwyn, you have a beautiful gift. Thank you for pushing past those nasty voices of fear and sharing it. Your faith and love of Christ defines you, and I bet, that even when you aren’t feeling like it, you’re doing a terrific job being a mom too!

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