Maria describes her relationship with food as a love/hate affair. Food is her BFF (Best Friend Forever), her secret pal, and her lover. She loves to plan special times with her favorite foods—on her way to work, during every work break, at lunchtime, on the ride home, at dinnertime and during midnight cuddling. She loves every tasty morsel while she is eating it. However, with the food nestled in her stomach, she begins to hate it. She hates that her eating is out of control. She hates that she feels bloated and ten pounds heavier. She hates that she has failed another diet. She knows she has to change her disordered eating, but she fears failing again.
The fear of failure is being afraid of not accomplishing a desired goal. Fear of failure might cause people to sabotage their own efforts to avoid the possibility of a bigger failure or to avoid trying something new altogether.
Many people are afraid of failing at some point in their lives. But fear of failure crosses the line when it becomes debilitating. It can render them immobile—preventing them from ever moving forward. There are three characteristics that contribute to the fear of failure:
People-pleasing is simply the fear of man. Proverbs 29:25a states, “The fear of man lays a snare.” The fear of appearing as a failure to others controls and confines a person’s thoughts and actions.
Maria desperately wants to please her relatives at the Christmas family reunion by showing them that she lost the extra weight gained since having two kids. She worries about what they will think or say so she decides to go on a crash diet. She fails to complete the diet, doesn’t lose weight, and decides not to go to the Christmas family reunion.
Perfectionism at its core is pride. It refuses to accept any standard lower than perfection. People with this mentality set excessively high standards, strive for flawlessness, and are overly critical of themselves and others who fail to reach their standards. Fear of failing in perfectionism renders a person useless. This too is a snare, because God’s Word tells us “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
Maria makes an appointment with a nutritionist. At the first meeting, Maria sees that the nutritionist is a little pudgy around the waist. Immediately, Maria is turned off to whatever information is given and leaves the appointment determining never to return again. She fears failing to eat right, because the nutritionist did not live up to her expectations.
Pessimism is fearing that whatever is hoped for will not happen. There is no confidence in the future. Pessimists look at challenges with a “glass-half-empty” mentality. They refuse to believe the best and eliminate positive expectations. This is a serious problem that comes from within the heart. The Psalmist cries out to himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Ps 42:5). His faith wrestles with his fear. There is a sense of despair for the future.
Maria is pessimistic about the weight loss program at work. She has no confidence that she will lose weight. She has tried so many different diet programs resulting in nothing but utter failure. She thinks to herself, “Why would this program be any different? I will fail at this too.”
Overcoming the Fear of Failure
Do you struggle with the fear of failure like Maria? Overcoming the fear of failure begins with acknowledgement. It takes courage to admit and face your fear of failure. Next, you must explore the causes of your fears. Are your fears rooted in people-pleasing, perfectionism, or pessimism? Finally, seek God’s solution to the problem of fearing failure by trusting in God, boasting in God, and hoping in God.
Trust in God
People-pleasing comes from a self-focused desire to be significant in the eyes of others. People-pleasers fear failing to please others, dealing with their disappointment, and losing their credibility. This is misplaced allegiance which in turn is sin. When people are controlled by pleasing people, they are not pleasing God. To overcome that snare, they must put their trust in God. Proverbs 29:25 proclaims, “… whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Trusting in God keeps people safe from the snare of people-pleasing. Trusting God—and following him—protects them from concerns over what others think or say about her.
Boast in God
Perfectionism is fear of showing weaknesses by failing to meet high standards of perfection. It is rooted in self-centeredness. It promotes self-praise and self-glorification, which is a sin. The Bible teaches, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness… God’s power works best in my weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9; 11:30). The power of Jesus Christ dwells in those who boast about their weaknesses instead of trying to cover them up.
Hope in God
Pessimism is a choice. The pessimist chooses to view life from a despairing perspective. But this denies the omniscience and omnipotence of God. The fear of failure implies that God doesn’t know what He is doing in your life or that He doesn’t have the power to fix it. Fearing failure demonstrates a lack of hope in God. Yet passages like Psalm 42:5 encourage us, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.” The psalmist challenged his own pessimism and chose to put his hope in God.
Maria acknowledges that she is a people-pleaser, a perfectionist, and a pessimist. Through prayer and an earnest desire to seek the Lord instead of her own self-focused desires, her heart has begun to change. When the temptation arises to fear failure, she chooses to trust God instead of pleasing people; she chooses to boast in God instead of her own achievements, and she chooses to hope in God.
Our greatest hope is found in Jesus Christ. The gospel reminds us that our failures are not a surprise to God. He uses our failures to teach us flexibility, humility, patience, perseverance, compassion, and persistence. Ultimately, our failures, when surrender to God, help to grow us into the image of Jesus Christ.
Join the Conversation
Do you have a fear of failing? If so, in what areas of your life? How does it affect your relationships with people and with God? How have you sought to overcome the fear of failing?