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Failure: How to Expose 3 Lies Fear Tells Us About Failure

Nov 17, 2015

I threw the worst party ever.

No, I’m completely serious. The worst!

I was interning at my church in Phoenix one summer when I decided to throw a pizza/swim party. Because the place where I was living wasn’t conducive to hosting a large event, I pitched the parents of one of our volunteers and they agreed to open up their home. The husband spent the entire day prepping for our early afternoon party. He cut the grass, cleaned the pool, and prepped the patio furniture. His wife cleaned the kitchen and bathroom and made sure there was plenty of seating and supplies. When I walked in with enough pizza for a small army, the house was immaculate. This was going to the best party ever!

And then disaster struck. No one showed up. Not a single college student!

As I began frantically texting/calling/Facebooking every student I knew, the excuses came rolling in. Homework, family commitments, sporting events, etc etc etc. I was so embarrassed to tell this family (and their kids – our volunteers) that no one was coming. Some time later, I took the walk of shame to my car and drove home completely defeated. It was so bad, I cannot remember what happened to the 8 or 10 pizzas – it’s been blocked from memory. I remember going weeks avoiding this family so I didn’t have to deal with my embarassment for my failure.

failure

The Power of Failure

Have you ever had a spectacular failure like me? One that just left you ashamed, looking for the fastest way back into private obscurity? Failure crushes our spirits and leaves us feeling low.

However, as difficult as failure is in the moment, the greatest danger surrounding failure is the lies fear tells us about failure. The myths that we believe about failure insulate us from the gifts it can bestow upon us. I believe most of us (myself included) waste failure and miss out on the fruit that comes on the other side of an excruciating experience.

You may never throw a pizza party that no one attends, but you may endure or be currently enduring failure. Exposing the three lies fear tells us about failure could be make all the difference for us.

Lie #1 – “You are a failure.”

Fear tells you that you are a failure, when you fail. Fear tries to convince you that failure is your identity, it is a value statement of your worth. When failure becomes who you are, your future gets sabotaged and sidetracked.
The truth is, failure is not your identity. Failure is an event, not a person. While we may fail, we are not failures. Even if we fail on multiple occasions, as long as we have breath in our lungs, we have a chance to learn from our failures and by God’s grace, write a new future with our choices and responses.

Lie #2 – “You will always fail.”

Fear is fatalistic. Fear treats failure as your guaranteed, unavoidable destiny. Once you’ve failed, the voice of fear convinces you that this one time result is now your all-time expectation. Fear teams up with shame and shouts you into giving up when you no longer see a future different than your past.

However, in the same way present success doesn’t guarantee future success, present failure doesn’t guarantee future failure. In fact, failure is often the quickest path to success.
3M learned how to make Post-It Notes when their adhesive wasn’t strong enough.
William Greatbatch discovered the secret to the implantable pacemaker when he reached into a box and pulled out a resistor of the wrong size and plugged it into the circuit.
Alexander Fleming invented penicillin after forgetting to throw petri dishes away before he went on vacation.

Think about your past for a minute. Which has led to greater lessons for you – failure or success?  Success often distracts us while failure gets our attention.

We often learn and grow more from failure than we do success.

Lie #3 – It’s better to give up than risk failing again.

Fear embellishes the worst case scenario. Fear is addicted to hyperbole and we fall under its spell with surprising consistency. When we think about how painful failure was in the past, we cringe and try to avoid that feeling again. If failure is intolerable and too big a risk to take, then we will find it easy to give up.

If you struggle to defeat the voice of fear (especially when it comes to failure), I encourage you to use this exercise to defang this fear.
Ask yourself, “what’s the worst that would happen?” Identify, say, or write down that worst-case outcome. After identifying the worst-case outcome, ask yourself, “then what?” You would be ________? Or you would feel _________? You would have to _________? Unless we’re talking about our parachute not working during a skydive, the outcome of our fears and the ramifications are failure are far more survivable than we realize.

What’s worth doing even if you fail?

I was listening to a podcast recently where author Brené Brown shared this question that helps her reframe failure and fear. She asked, “What’s worth doing even if you fail?” This woman knows how to ask “then what?” when her fear starts talking.

How about you? What’s worth doing even if you fail?

If you have a sense of purpose, calling, drive or vision for your life, you know those are all greater than any failure. They’re worth pursuing even if you don’t succeed initially or completely. When you get a sense of the impact you were created to have, the consequences of not pursuing it eclipses the risk of not achieving.

Even as I sit here typing this post, fear has been whispering to me. It’s been saying, “What if no one reads this post? What if no one comments on it, shares it, likes it, retweets it or opens their email to see it? What if your blog post of failure is a total failure? Total embarrassing irony, I say.” (Apparently my inner voice of fear is British!)

Well, let’s see – it would have been like throwing a pizza party where no one showed up! I learned a lot of lessons that day about what not to do. I gained a great story to tell years later. I made new friends with some people who now have a clean house. And if this post fails, I would have accomplished my goal of writing one new post per week.

Fear is Lying to You

I believe maybe…just maybe…someone needed to know that the voice in their head is lying.

You are not a failure. You may have failed, but you are not a failure.

You may have failed in the past, but that doesn’t mean you’ll fail in the future. You’re not destined to fail.

Sure, failure is always an option, a possibility. But so is success. So is fulfilling the purpose and destiny God created you in advance to complete. The risk is totally worth it.

May you reject the lies fear tells you about failure today and live with courage and hope!

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