Living with the fear of failure

So… there is a thing…

There is this thing…this thing I decided to do, and I found people to help me do it (it’s a work thing but I won’t get into that now). We have had meetings and exchanged emails about it and a sort of final ‘let us confirm this’ email was sent to me, which I just replied to. Exciting right. But the thing is the email was sent almost exactly 31 days ago. And I just replied. Yes.

No, it is not because I didn’t see it or because it got put into the spam folder with all the people who ‘found my profile’ and want to send me money from their dead uncle. I didn’t take 31 days to reply because I didn’t like their response or had lost interest. Au contraire, I have been talking about this every day since our last meeting so it’s definitely not that. I took 31 days to respond to something I have been wanting to happen, wanting to start, wanting to leap into. Why? Because I was scared.

Scared of what Lilly? Oh I am so glad you asked.

I am scared of what might happen. I am scared of what the results of this email will bring, scared that I am starting something, getting a ball rolling and that the ball might not even roll but just deflate horribly into a disappointing and humiliating mound. That it will deflate like a sad, lonely balloon, flying across a room, falling behind a bookshelf and left to die because everyone was too lazy to pick it up. I am scared that I will fail.

Happy Birthday to me

It is my birthday today and really, the older I have gotten the more aware of my fears I have become. So aware. Perhaps it is because the older you get, the greater the chances of life happening to you are, and chances are, it already has. So I have become all too aware, a little more stressed and kind of high-strung. I live my life every day and the best way I can describe my experience is like this: It is like trying to sleep with a loud party happening next door, like trying to drink that ice-cold Coke I deserve after a week of gym and no sugar, and there is a bumble-bee flying around. The fear is always there, it is loud, and it is crippling.

Honestly, for me, failure is something I was only really introduced to only in my early 20s. Of course life wasn’t breezy and I had tough moments as a child and teen. No, I was not spoilt, sheltered or privileged in a way that I got undeserved rewards. See, I was just the kind of person who wouldn’t participate in anything I couldn’t be the best at, or at least really good in. That’s why I never did sports (that and I was kicked off the netball team at age 9 cause I couldn’t catch –and I am scarred for life), that’s I wanted to drop higher grade maths (but wasn’t allowed to) and that is why I will never cook a meal for more than 5 people. As in never! Forget about it, you will go hungry. Because I am not good at it and I can’t bear you finding out I am less than average. It’s not something I am proud of but truth is, at times, if I can see failure on the horizon I change paths and move on to something more promising and that is it.

Okay sure, let me not exaggerate because really, becoming an athlete, a mathematician or chef has never been on my list of things to achieve before I die so perhaps they were easier to let go of compared to other things. I am sure you can relate.

Going in head first

What happens when it is your dream on the line, that goal you really wanted to achieve, that amazing idea you cannot help but believe in. The one thing that keeps you up at night wondering if you’re really where you should be. What happens when eventually one day you pluck up the courage and you jump! You take the leap! *Cue inspirational tear-jerking music* Yay you!

But then, it gets real, and real, LIFE choices have to be made. Options have to be weighed and risks have to be taken. It’s not that easy to simply run away or ignore the threat or fear failure staring at you in the face when you have put your life savings into that project. When you decided to drop out, change courses, resign, go back to school, immigrate or you fill in the blank. Everyone says “you’re so brave,” but they don’t know how many insecurities and doubts you fight daily. And then with all that, in your feigned bravery, you jump into that thing head first and come out with a concussion, a nosebleed, and a missing tooth. You taste failure.

You see I have always been a big dreamer just like Vuyo and his boerewors in that old school advert, but when I HAVE taken the risk and dared to believe, a lot of times the outcome hasn’t been too favourable. Or maybe it has been favourable, just not favourable enough. I can admit that. I can also admit that when that happens it has left me broken, in tears and snot on the floor, having 2 hour pick-me-up conversations with my mother.

Tired and cried out

So what next?  When you have cried to the point of dehydration and you’ve finished all the expensive baby soft toilet paper that you have even moved on to the rough paper towels. When the sun comes up and you have to live another day, how do you go on to strive for that greatness you have been striving for.  To go for that thing that is still nudging at you at night. When you have the burn marks and battle scars to prove that you gave it a shot, that you tried, how do you step into the sun and try, try again. How do you continue to live, even with the fear of failure? A failure you have met and know very well or maybe a failure you haven’t met, but have heard the frightening rumours about.

Last night I described it to my husband like this (last analogy I promise): While changing my bedding yesterday, I opened the bedroom curtains and noticed how pretty the grass looked, so green, rich, and healthy that I just wanted to go sit on it. But once the sun set and it got dark, suddenly looking out that same window was scary. Once I closed my beloved black out curtains, it was hard to remember how pretty it all was. That’s what living trapped in fear feels like. It’s honestly ridiculous because the grass is still there and I just have to remind and convince myself that it is, it’s still pretty, and I can still walk out and sit on it.

Stepping out into the sun… again

So yes, even though I was 31 days late, I sent that email and I am taking a step on a path I am scared to take. One of the reasons I am doing it is because I would hate to look back and say I didn’t do it simply because I was scared. I don’t know what the outcome will be. No one knows any outcomes but we have to go on living and that’s where my trust in God comes in. I trust that if God who created the heavens and the earth knows when even the mountain goat gives birth (Job 39) or when the sparrow falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29) surely I will be okay. No matter what.

So Living with the fear of failure is exactly that friends, living.

I haven’t mastered it and while when looking at something I want to try, my default is to ask myself “What if it doesn’t work?” I also ask myself “Yes, but what if it does?” and I step into the sun and try, try again.

And I live.


I would love to hear from you, feel free to leave a comment or share your story.