Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Ever-Present Quandry: Fear of Failure

I have changed a lot in the past few years. I don’t know why I find that surprising. When I look back at how drastically life has changed, it seems only fair that I should allow myself to change along with it. I have never struggled excessively with fear in life. I remember one evening when I was little, sobbing next to my dad’s chair in the living room because I was afraid of dying. I have always been afraid of the dark, and I think I always will be. But, the kind of crippling fear that makes you hesitate and consider whether or not you should even attempt something; that’s not a fear I’ve been overly familiar with.

I’m not talking about obvious things, like the healthy fear that should cripple you when you are considering doing something stupid, like handling an Australian snake you found on a roof that you know nothing about (I may be implying that my brother lacks this fear). I’m talking about a fear that lurks within. That sneaks up on you when you least expect it, ever unwelcome but never quite absent.

Recently I have found myself greatly hindered by a fear of failure. Ian has occasionally listened to my musings and told me with a chuckle that I’m headed toward Nihilism. I have gotten this idea in my head that if I know I’m going to fail, it’s not worth trying. Maybe that seems an obvious conclusion to you, but it goes against every fiber of my being. My whole life I’ve decided to do things that I knew might lead to failure because I felt it was worth it. I applied for that scholarship even though I knew there was no chance I’d get it, because what could it hurt? Well, I got that scholarship. I decided to run cross-country because it sounded fun and what could it hurt? Well, I was a painfully slow runner no matter how much I practiced, but I learned so much from that experience and still carry remnants of that season with me daily. I painfully decided to quit the tennis team at Taylor after my first year, knowing that I would be judged for it, but also knowing there were other things for me; things that would be better for me.

That decision led to the opportunity for everything else I did while at Taylor, including being a part of Habitat for Humanity (which I loved), marrying my husband (whom I love), getting the job that led to my current status of earning us money while working from home (which I also love), and giving all that I could give to my beloved Art major (which I loved more than I knew possible) to name a few.

I wasn’t afraid to take risks, small as they may have been. I had confidence in the insight the Lord had given me and tried to make decisions with His wisdom, decisions that seemed right. I rarely hesitated when I felt I knew what I needed to do. And if I did, I nearly always regretted it.

April 26, 2006. Spring of my junior year at Taylor. I was married and no longer living in the dorms. We got a campus-wide email saying one of Taylor’s vans had been involved in an accident. It was really bad. There were deaths but names were not being released. Please pray. I began to panic. I was racking my brain trying to remember if I had any friends that I knew were traveling that day.

The next morning I searched the news for names. I cannot remember how I missed this information, as I’m sure it was released on campus somehow, but I still didn’t know who had been involved in the accident. I will never forget reading the line. There were five that had died. One was Laurel E. Erb. One of my fellow art majors. My heart sunk. I felt so sick. I kept reading the names, shaking as I went. Then I came to another one, Elizabeth A. Smith. In my heart, I knew that I knew that person, but the name wasn’t right; something wasn’t clicking. Suddenly it hit me. It was Betsy.

Classes were cancelled and we gathered at the chapel, many of us in a broken daze. I found my fellow ‘Fourth Bergers’ (Bergwall Hall, Fourth Floor) and we held each other as we mourned the loss of our friend. Betsy had touched us all. I found my fellow Art majors and we held each other as we mourned the loss of our friend. Laurel had such a graceful presence.

I can’t really describe those days. That accident swept over our campus and didn’t let go. Some were only touched at the periphery, not knowing anyone who had been involved, but so many of us knew them.

Much of the next week was spent in the car. I went to both of the services for my friends. I drove to the Chicago area and back twice. A few of my sweet friends who didn’t even know her drove with me to Laurel’s funeral so I wouldn’t have to do it alone.

Classes resumed. It was hard. It’s still hard to think about all these things again. But every time I do, I am overcome with the changes that took place in my heart.

A few days before the accident took place, Laurel and I were both working in the ceramics studio. She was a pretty reserved person. She was serious about her work, but was very kind and I never knew her to turn down a conversation. Her boyfriend was there with her. They were going somewhere as soon as she finished. I noticed the pot she was working on and inwardly admired it. She made beautiful things, but I had never told her so. I had the sudden urge to encourage her, to tell her how lovely I thought her work was.

But I didn’t. I made the conscious choice not to. Not out of any poor motives, but just out of distraction. She was in a hurry, I was working. I didn’t say anything.

And then she died.

It may not seem like such a bad thing, but that is a regret I still live with. To think that I had chosen not to take an opportunity so readily presented to me to encourage her, and then to realize that had been my last opportunity, it was too much. There was no way to fix it. At some point in all the grieving and thinking and processing, I realized that I never wanted to experience that again. To miss an opportunity. To know that I could have made a difference in her day and chose not to for some silly reason.

I made a conscious decision during that time to go with my gut. When I knew it was the Spirit moving me to say something to someone or to do something, I was going to do it, no regrets. And, for the most part, I have stayed true to that decision. It makes for all kinds of awkward situations, let me tell you, and it is humbling, but it has become a part of who I am. If I think someone is beautiful, I tell them. If I think what they just did is amazing, I tell them. Life doesn’t have to be a competition, it is so much easier when we support each other and help to carry each other along the way. I made a mistake and it has left its mark. I can’t change what happened, but I can do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Betsy left me with something different. I don’t even know how to describe her. She was a whirlwind of love and fun and activity. I never felt worthy of her friendship, but she never, never let me doubt it. Betsy was a people person to her core, and her celebration of life service was a testimony to that. Hundreds and hundreds of people attended, as wide a variety of people as you could imagine. Betsy didn’t care about the boundaries people created, and through her death, she had brought us all together.

I realized in reflecting on her life, and reflecting on mine, that she lived something I didn’t. She saw people with Jesus’ eyes and loved them no matter who they were or what they brought to the table. She wasn’t afraid.

Fear of failure. When I had Aed, so much of me was lost to ‘survival mode’. For so long, he encompassed me in such a way that I was no longer functioning as myself, I was simply trying to let each day pass without losing my mind. Not every day was hard, but so many were that I never really had a chance to regroup and sit down to remind myself of who I was.

In the last few months, I’ve had some time to myself and been able to start pulling off this shell of protection I’ve created. But it is hard. It was so safe to just stay home. I always had an excuse if I didn’t want to answer the phone or go somewhere or see someone. I could justify not meeting other people’s needs because I was trying to meet the needs of my family. I could forgive myself for never opening my Bible or talking with God because I was so tired. It was ok if I failed because no one expected me to do otherwise, right?

I had created a little cocoon around myself and just decided to stay inside. I became more guarded than I realized in my conversations with people because it was easier that way. I stopped taking risks of any kind. I stopped engaging with life. I don’t know what I was waiting for exactly, or how long I thought I could go on that way, and I don’t even know what clicked to make me step back and look at how I was living, but something did.

I was so far from myself that I wasn’t sure how to get back. I’m working on it. I think this is where the fear is coming from. I am setting standards again. I am putting myself out there again for all to see. I am taking little risks here and there not knowing how people will respond. And I am insecure about it all. I am afraid that I’m going to mess up my friendships. I’m afraid I’m going to let people down. I’m afraid that they’ll see me all ‘put together’ one day, and the next stop by and find me unshowered, writing a blog post at 10:45am, still in my sweats that I’ve had since fifth grade. I’m afraid people are going to know that I’m not perfect.

Newsflash.. I think they already know.

So, I’m back. Back to creating awkward situations because I think you look beautiful this morning. Back to trying to love people regardless of what they do or who they are. Back to setting standards for myself and reaching for them. Back to the Bible, and back to my sweet Jesus.

I’m going to fail. I know I will. I am going to royally screw up all kinds of things. But, I think I have finally remembered that it’s ok, because it doesn’t matter if I might fail at something if I know it’s worth it.


  1. Thanks for this honest post, Corrie. I am sorry you lost your friends in the crash...we didn't know anyone who died, but others in our church did, and the whole thing just reverberated throughout the Midwest. You are brave to dredge up those memories and commit again to the lessons you learned from those girls. I totally get the "mother-shell" thing. I have done it, too. Honestly, I have not had success at returning to who I was before, but instead have discovered that I am becoming something new that incorporates both before and after. (Not that I fully understand what that is!) I was just talking with my daughters about a quote from a former pastor's wife: "Anything worth doing is worth failing at." It is one of my favorite quotes because I like to be sure I will succeed before I try anything! But if it's worth doing, then it's ok to risk failing at it. May the Lord give you courage to risk, and give you good successes, and grace if you fail. (And sorry for the epic comment!)

  2. I think you and I have a lot in common. I love when you post stuff like this.

  3. My dear wonderful Daughter-In-Law,
    You are as I have always seen you...beautifully formed in God's hands inside and out. I love you.
    Corrie, as I read this blog entry... I couldn't help but notice how well you looked at the prospect of failing early in the events you reported in the blog... you are still very capable of making wise choices, success or failure. I also noted in a early comment to your blog another person talking about the blending of your former self and who you have become after the birth of your delightful son. That is what growth is a synthesis of life experiences. If fear feels different, I am not totally surprised because as you go through life the blessings that are added (husband, child, family, career, friends, etc.) provide with more to consider... You do have more that you consider when thinking through things. More that is thrown into the mix. As a result fear feels different because it is a bitdifferent. As a mother, you will always question behavior as it relates to your child and your responsibility to your child. That in itself can't help but put a different level of feelings into the mix as you work toward using the great 'sense' you have already developed in stepping forward in life. You are so absolutely wonderful and I know you will continue to learn lessons, be blessed, and serve as an encouragement to others. You couldn't really stop if you tried. I love you so very much.