Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Battling Our Fear of Failure


I have struggled with a fear of failure for as long as I can remember. Several years ago I read Dr. Alan Zimmerman’s book Pivot: How One Turn in Attitude Can Lead to Success with a team member. I remember joking as we started the book that it was funny that two positive people with good attitudes were reading a book about attitude. However, as it turned out, Dr. Zimmerman included chapters about worry and failure in the book. I have to admit that I worry about failing. My wife can tell you that I tended to stress about each new class at seminary after receiving the syllabus. After looking it over and feeling overwhelmed before class even started, I thought there was just no way I was going to be able to do it. How could I, working 50+ hours a week, possibly do well on a mid-term and final exam, do all of the required reading, write a paper, etc.?

How about you? Do you have a fear of failure? Do you worry about failing?

At the same time, I’m a perfectionist. If I’m going to do something, I try to do it with excellence, to the best of my ability.
I always pay special attention when God repeatedly brings a certain topic to my attention. For example, the daily prayer recently in Scotty Smith’s Everyday Prayers devotional was titled “A Prayer for Perfectionists”. And the theme for the current Tabletalk Magazine is “Perfectionism and Control”. Part of Scotty’s prayer read:
“Gracious Father, I begin this day with a desire to live much less of a driven life and much more of a called life.”
He goes on to pray:
“It’s not difficult to see that my drivenness and busyness are rooted in fear – the fear of not being enough and having enough, the fear of losing face and losing control, the fear of missing the mark and missing out.”
Yes, being a perfectionist and having a fear of failure is not a good combination.
I have had a fear of failure as long as I can remember, and perhaps you have as well. I can remember walking into the gym to see if I had made the high school basketball team, or whether I would be dressing and travelling to the next road game. For some reason, I never developed good study habits and so I struggled with grades in college. I used to joke that my grade point average in seminary was double what it was in college, but sadly that wasn’t far from the truth. In the workplace, I worried about passing professional designation exams, and today I can worry about doing a good job speaking and teaching. My tendency to overcome this fear of failure is to really overprepare. So for me, preparation takes away, at least some of the fear of failure. That preparation, if it is taken too far, can become the drivenness that Scotty Smith refers to in his prayer.
One can ask, “What is the worst thing that can happen if you fail?” In seminary, failure would mean an impact to my grade point average, a major hit to my confidence and even shame, as I’ve never felt that I’m “good enough”. Not passing an important exam at work might impact your ability to achieve a promotion, or even maintain your current job.
But is it right for a Christian to worry and have fear about failure? I remember when I was still in seminary a few years back reading one morning in a John MacArthur devotional that worry was a sin, because it showed a lack of trust in God. That was initially shocking to me, but it makes sense. Instead of worry, we should pray for God to help us through the difficult times in our lives. I’ve read that there are 365 instances of “Fear Not” in the Bible, one for each day of the year. And “Fear Not” was something Jesus often said to his followers. A Tabletalk devotional titled “The Antidote to Worry” provides good advice “Persistent worry is not our calling as Christians. We need not be anxious about tomorrow if we are serving Jesus, for while we may not get all of our wants, He will certainly give us all of our needs.”
Psalm 27:1 reads: The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? (NKJV). One time when I was feeling fear about an upcoming exam, I took comfort in Chris Tomlin’s song “Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies), based on this verse.
I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind

The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

Do you battle with a fear of failure? Do you worry about failing? If so, what are some scriptures that you turn to that bring you comfort?

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

4 thoughts on “Battling Our Fear of Failure

  1. I battle with a fear of failure. I had a nervous breakdown doing the only graduate level job I’ve done. But success isn’t measured by salary. After all, Jesus was probably a carpenter for much of His life, and Paul a tent maker.

  2. Really appreciate your transparency, Bill.

  3. Pingback: Making Your Church a “Leadership Factory”: A Short Course on Leadership | Coram Deo ~

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