The Fear of Failure

In my previous post, “Obeying Fear is True Failure“, I wrote about how many of us don’t use our God-given gifts because we are afraid. There are many things to fear. One of the most common fears we face is being afraid of failure. If you were asked to answer the question, “What is something you would do in your life if you could do anything at all?” what would you answer? This could be a job you have always dreamed of doing, or maybe it is owning something that you have always felt was unattainable, or maybe it was pursuing a hobby or talent that you long ago decided you “could never” do. Whatever that thing is, why have you not done it. Are you planning to do it one day? If so, what steps are you taking to accomplish it? If you can’t specifically point to any real action steps you are taking, then I would argue that you are not really planning to accomplish it. Why do we so often neglect to pursue the things we long to accomplish? One of the biggest reasons we choose not to pursue our dreams is because deep down, we are afraid to fail.

You may have never realized you are harboring this fear. Many of us spend a lot of time thinking about how great it would be to do the thing we dream of doing but deep down we fear that if we set out to accomplish the dream and fail at it, then we would have no more dreams to hold onto. We would rather have a dream that we hold onto like Schmiegel’s “precious” than to actually try to turn that dream into action and find that the dream has conquered us and we can’t accomplish it. This is a common way of thinking within those who have grown up with a poverty mindset.

The Poverty Mindset

The poverty mindset is a deeply ingrained way of thinking within those who have grown up in a culture of poverty which keeps that person constantly suppressing themselves. For most who have been raised with a poverty mindset, it is so deeply ingrained into their worldview that they can’t even see ways it is impacting them. Those who grow up in poverty typically do not have examples of success around them. They are so underexposed to examples of successful people who take risks that they grow up to be adults who never allow themselves to believe they can accomplish anything great. So they don’t even try. This is one of the saddest and most common ways we see fear of failure play out. Someone stricken with this mindset have learned to settle for low life standards because they harbor fear that they could never be successful at the things which they would ever want to do. So they suppress their dreams and neglect their giftings instead of develop them.

A Change in Mindset

If you are someone who thinks you may be paralyzed by fear of failure, you need to consider the brevity of life. Salman Rushdie once said, “We all owe death a life.” One day you will die. That reality should inform the way you live. One day you will face your last day living this life. On that day, you will take with you the sum total of all you accomplished here. You will have to give an account to Lord for what you did with the gifts He has given you. At that point you will wish you had lived your life to the fullest now. So instead of harboring unfounded, imagined fears of failure, ask yourself the question, “What if I succeed?” Instead of spending your time worrying that you might fail at something that you have never tried, worry that you will die never using the gifts God has given you.

You only have one chance to live this life. You have been given certain personality traits, gifts, and abilities that are unique to you. No one else has been made to be the person God has made you to be. And one day you will stand before the Creator to give an account about how you well you used your gifts. He has called you and redeemed you to do good works that he has prepared beforehand for you to do. You can either fail by inaction or fail by action, or be successful. Be the kind of person who looks the risk of failure head on and seeks to conquer it. And if you fail in the end, then you failed while striving to succeed instead of by being paralyzed by fear.

Should You Believe in Yourself?

Belief is a powerful thing. What we believe about any one thing will directly affect how we interact with that thing. If I believe the floor is sturdy, I will stand on it without questioning or even thinking of its integrity. If I believe something is dangerous, even if it’s not, I will be more careful when interacting with that thing. An example of this is being under a car. No matter how strong, sturdy, or secure a car is when it is up on a lift or pulled up on a set of ramps, I can’t seem to shake my fear of it falling on me when I am underneath it. Recently I was changing the oil on my Ford Explorer, which has tires big enough that I can crawl underneath the vehicle without having to lift it at all. Even though the truck was not lifted and was resting on its tires on the ground, when I was underneath it draining the oil, I could not shake my fear that the tires were going to burst in that moment and the truck was going to fall on me and crush me. What we believe about anything affects how we act when interacting with it.

This is also true about what we believe about ourselves. When we believe we can do something, we will try it. When we believe we can’t do something, we will never try it or give up quickly. This is why, as a teacher, I often saw my students, and still see my own children, quickly give up when working on something that is difficult and then just sit there, waiting for “help” instead of struggling and trying on their own. Similarly, we humans foolishly choose paths in life too often based on these false perceptions about what we believe is true about ourselves, which have no basis in reality. I have made many life decisions in the past 20 years of my life based on a false understanding I had about myself which I now call the poverty mindset, which was based entirely on a myth that I was not worthy to be counted as successful by society’s standards.

That is what the content of this blog symbolizes for me. An internal change in my beliefs about myself.

Believe in yourself. For some of you that seems like not a very profound statement. Not me. As a Christian for most of my life, I have always wanted to be careful to not ascribe to statements that would compete with all glory going to God. I used to go to a church that was very intent on identifying the right things to say, and which highlighted a very close link between your beliefs and your actions and words. This church was full of wonderful people and I learned much and developed a love of Jesus there that I never had before. However, this church also instilled in me an overly critical mindset. When someone would say something like “Believe in yourself.” I was trained to instantly identify that as a heretical statement. For, humans are only sinful wretches and offer nothing good. We shouldn’t believe in ourselves, we should believe in Jesus; He is the only one worthy of our trust.

Like a good follower, I always reacted to the “Believe in yourself” statement with instant criticism. I would not fall into that trap of believing in yourself. No way. The problem with my commitment to never condone the “believe in yourself” mantra is that I have also always struggled with lack of confidence around fellow adults, especially other guys. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake this lack of confidence.

I believe there is a direct link between my religiously-based rejection of “Believe in yourself” and my lack of confidence. Could it be that it is okay to “Believe in yourself” and still be a faithful Christian who wants to glorify Jesus in all you do?

Not too long ago, as I wrote about in a previous post, I stumbled upon the story of how Matt Nagy, who was just voted NFL Coach of the Year in his first season as the Chicago Bears head coach, rose to become an NFL football coach. Nagy’s story and example of how he lives his life has been inspiring to me. During games he carries with him a large laminated play-calling sheet. In big words in one corner are the words, “BE YOU!”. He told some reporters that he tries to live by that saying. That if he is going to fail he will fail giving it his all while being who he truly is. That struck a chord with me, and continued me on an exciting journey. I began more deeply reflecting on my life and who I am and how I got here.

In my full time job I am a Realtor. I used to be a middle and high school teacher, but left teaching for various reasons two years ago to be a full time Realtor. Having always struggled with self-confidence, especially around other guys, I felt very frustrated with myself that I had not accomplished more in my life and gone further in any given career.   As I began to self-reflect with honesty and began asking myself some hard questions, I began to realize that I had what I call a poverty mindset, and this poverty mindset was limiting my ability to grow.

A story about an encounter I had with someone while I was serving with my wife in the church nursery caring for babies on a Sunday morning best captures one of the major causes of my confidence struggles, and sheds light on the solution. As I was speaking with a fellow church member who was serving in the nursery with us, he was telling me about being unemployed and how hard that had been for him. At the time, I was a teacher at a small Christian school making $20,000 per year with no benefits. My wife worked as a stay-at-home mom and we had two boys under the age of 5. We struggled to pay the bills. As this guy was telling me about his own struggle of unemployment, he said, “This year has been hard. It is the first time in my life that I have never made at least $100,000 in a year.” My jaw dropped. I was working 50+ hours per week making a poverty income and had to pick up a job stocking shelves at night and on the weekends for an additional 15 to 20 hours per week just to pay our bills, and this dude is complaining to me that he hasn’t made $100,000 this year?! Who does he think he is?! How arrogant of him to say that to me! Doesn’t he know who he is talking to? Those were my thoughts after his comment.

For several years after that I was pretty ticked off at the guy. You see, when someone believes it is wrong to “Believe in yourself.” and they struggle with self-confidence, they put powerful and low limits on what they can accomplish. This was an amazing scene. The other guy believed in himself and I didn’t believe in myself. So his comment was very offensive to me because I did not believe that I would ever make that much money in my life.

My family grew up poor by American standards. My father never finished high school. He was a very good man who did the best he knew how to care for and provide for his family, but he was not very well equipped. We moved from house to house growing up. We would get behind in rent and we would be forced to move to a new rental home. Consequently I changed school districts about every 1 to 2 years. By the time I was in 8th grade I had been in 6 different school districts. Consequently my grades were also bad. My dad did not effectively teach me to be disciplined. My mother worked very hard to teach me self-discipline but I was a stubborn, resistant child. Furthermore, I remember there were many times when our power was shut off for days or weeks at a time, or we had no hot water and we had to boil water to take a sponge bath or take a cold shower.

My dad struggled with a lot of insecurity as well. He was often borrowing money from people and unable to pay it back. He created a low self-image for himself and our family and projected that low self-image onto others. I recall one time I was sitting in the bleachers around 12 years old at a church softball game in which my dad was playing. A couple of young men in their early twenties sitting right in front of me began making fun of my dad behind his back unaware of my presence. When they realized I was sitting behind them and could hear them, they seemed embarrassed but said nothing to me. I understood who we were and that identity became my identity. When my dad was finally able to buy a home for the first time when I was in high school, he then had it repossessed when I was 19 years old. This way of life was generated out of a way of thinking within my dad, and I was brought up in that same way.

So when this man in the nursery lamented having not made $100,000 for the first time in his life, it offended me because he was supposed to know what I already believed, that he was talking to a failure whose lot in life was to always struggle to provide for his family. That was the way I saw myself. I wouldn’t dare to allow myself to believe I could make $100,000 per year, and if I did dare to think that might be possible, I certainly wouldn’t let anyone else know I was thinking it. They might mock me and think I was crazy. After all, it is me we are talking about here.

This whole mindset was supported out of a belief that it is wrong to “believe in yourself.” I would never let myself ascribe to the “believe in yourself” mantra. It was a couple of years after the $100,000 comment that I began to slowly realize that I am no different than the other guy, and I can give myself permission to think big and dream big. I continued to teach another 5 years at two other schools before I decided that if I was ever going to break this low self-image, and earn enough money to truly provide for my family, that I would have to leave the teaching profession altogether and pursue a career which had an uncapped earning potential. So I became a full time realtor. Ever since then I have been on a journey of slowly identifying ways I am still living in the self-inflected poverty mindset and trying to break down those false barriers I have constructed preventing my own success.

Then I learned of Matt Nagy and his rise to head coach. Nagy was selling homes as a realtor when he had a chance to become an assistant coach in the NFL. Something about his “Be You” slogan, his self-confidence, and his risk-taking struck a chord with me. Around the same time, I stumbled across a book entitled The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by a Christian man named John Maxwell. In the book, he urges his readers to believe they are dignified humans with a lot more potential than they realize. He spends a lot of time encouraging his readers to believe in themselves. This challenged me. How can a Christian writer be saying we should believe in ourselves. Believe in Yourself? Could it be that it is okay for me to believe in myself. That I can do that without compromising my faith in Jesus.

That I can confess to be a sinner in need of God’s grace while also believing I am a human created by a creative God who has given me certain gifts and qualities that are good and worthy to be developed. Yes! Something clicked. 

When I realized it was okay to be a Christian and still believe in myself, my gifts and abilities, and that I have great potential to accomplish great things, it was like something clicked inside of me. The potential to excel and accomplish great things, and earn enough to provide for my family has always been there but I lacked the ability to access it. I suspect I will be continuing to gradually uncover ways I have limited myself by believing something was impossible for me. I suppose living in the reality that it is okay to believe in yourself will be a lifelong journey in which I have to uncover many old barriers I need to break down, but I now have access to the right mindset to break down those barriers. If you or someone you know has struggled to believe in yourself/themselves, I hope this post will be an encouragement to you. I hope you will realize that no matter where you come from, you truly are a person created by God with dignity and the potential to do more than you realize. The first or next step for you just might be to believe in yourself.

Break Free from Our Self-Adorned Chains

As I have grown older (Not a young buck anymore), I’ve increasingly realized how much I’ve placed false limitations on myself due to my own self-perception. Too often I have enslaved myself to the subtle whisper in my head of the words “I can’t…”. There is so much I have not done in my life because I didn’t believe I could do it. And most of the time I didn’t even realize I was limiting myself in this way. It seems like so often lately I have uncovered a new self-limitation that has held me back in life.

No more.

One example of this is becoming a musician. My wife (of 15 years as I am typing this) is a very gifted and well-known (in our small circles) pianist and piano teacher. And yet I can’t play anything on the piano even though I have a piano teacher as my best friend. Why? Because I have always lived believing that I am unable to learn it. “I can’t play the piano. I wish I could but I can’t.”

Now I am asking myself, “Why not?”

So I went to the music store and bought myself an adult beginner book. I will play the piano darn it!

Now its your turn…

What is one thing in your life that you have limited yourself in doing because you didn’t believe you could do it? 

Leave your answers in the comments section.

I look forward to reading them.

And don’t forget to resolve to live inspired.

Disconnecting is The First Step to Living with Inspired Resolve

The first step I am taking in my resolve to live an inspired life is to do a little disconnecting. But it is not without good reason. Before I go any further, let me explain what I mean by “disconnecting”. While I would love to be able to completely and totally disconnect (get rid of my home wifi, all digital devices, my mobile phone, all social media accounts) my job requires me to be connected. However, there is one very important area in which I have taken the step to disconnect, and will chronicle how that is going throughout the next 30 days.

As a lifelong Chicago Bears fan, I am very excited my team has finally made the playoffs and have a good chance to make it to the Super Bowl this year. This is due in large part to their new coach, Matt Nagy. The more I learn about this guy, the more I am inspired by him. You see, Matt Nagy’s path is very non-conventional. After playing football in the now-shuttered Arena Football League, he decided to give up his dreams of football and get a regular job in the business world. He started selling new homes. However, when unpaid and low-paid opportunities popped up with the Philadelphia Eagles, he pursued them. Most people would not have taken the risk. (He had to start out with a pay cut of more than 50%). But he did. And now he is on track to possibly become the NFL Coach of the Year, turning around a Bears team with 5 wins, 11 losses last year to 12-4 this year, divisional champions, and a playoff berth. Matt Nagy chose to buck conventional wisdom and take a chance. He lived with inspired resolve.

Nagy’s example caused me to stop and ask the question: Is there some lifelong dream or passion in my life which I have put to death long ago because I believed the lie that I could never do it? As I pondered this question, I came across another interesting man who lives his life with inspired resolve. Daron K Roberts was a student at Harvard Law School. He was set to start a promising and lucrative law career. One day a friend invited him to work at a football camp for a few weeks. He fell in love with coaching football and the opportunity coaching could provide to inspire young men. He abandoned his law career and set out to become an NFL Coach. I couldn’t believe it! He resolved to pursue what inspired him. I had to learn more about this man.

After working long hard hours for little or no pay as an NFL coaching intern, Daron K Roberts eventually landed a position as an assistant NFL coach. After coaching in the NFL for several years, he now lectures at the University of Texas and is the founding director of The Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation and the author of a book called Call an Audible: Let My Pivot from Harvard Law to NFL Coach Inspire Your Transition. As I learned more about Daron K Roberts, I watched a talk he gave to a room of young college students about living with purpose. His first point in that talk was “Script don’t Scroll.” He emphasized the importance of not wasting your days away every day being closely connected to your phone scrolling through all the latest social media platforms to see what interesting thing the platform thinks you need to know next.

This got me thinking about my own social media usage throughout each day. My social media platform of choice is was facebook. I would look at it so often throughout the day that I got to a point where if I was bored, I would check fb. I am not sure but I would guess that I checked facebook probably more than 50 times per day. I would check it everywhere-in the bathroom, at my office, in line at the grocery store, in my living room after dinner when my kids were all around me and longed for my full attention, and everywhere else. The most concerning thing about this as I thought about it was (1) that I often was mindlessly scrolling through my feed while in the presence of others who need and wanted my full attention, and (2) that I was constantly connected to it. I would typically check facebook (for no good reason) within 15-30 minutes of waking up in the morning.

You may have seen this video, which has gone viral on social media, in which Simon Sinek discusses the way social media is damaging us and our whole culture. If you haven’t seen it, it is very much worth 15 minutes to watch. In it he discusses the importance of putting down our phones, not keeping them by our bed as an alarm clock, and keeping our social media usage limited. The video is enlightening and inspiring. I have seen it 3 or 4 times over the past year or two. And every time I see it, I decide I am going to delete my facebook account. And I never do.

However, after learning about Matt Nagy’s and Daron K Roberts’ intentionality, purpose, and resolve to live inspired, and being challenged by Roberts to stop scrolling and instead live a daily life of purpose, I have decided to delete my facebook account. Last night, I went into my fb settings and selected the button to create a temporary file which catalogued all my previous fb usage so that I have a record of my past posts, photos, and videos. Then I downloaded the file and clicked to delete my account. Facebook has it set up to have my information active and visible on facebook for 30 days to give me a chance to change my mind. This time facebook will not be getting me back though. I am choosing to stop scrolling and instead to script my life. I am resolving to live inspired. Facebook, by its very nature, builds into you a mindset of reacting to life instead of scripting your life. You have very little control as fb leaves you addicted to more of the same. The scrolling action invites a hunger for more scrolling. No longer will that be part of my life. I choose to be more present with the people around me and to live intentionally.

The most interesting thing about deleting my fb account is that I have had these urges to pick up my phone and check fb or to post an interesting article I found on it. At least twice in the 12 hours since I have deleted my fb account, I have come across an interesting article and began the steps of copying the url so I could share it on fb. It is amazing how much facebook has built itself its own little cozy place in my head. I have now kicked it out and it has no home with me now.

Tomorrow I will write about what other steps I am taking this month to live with inspired resolve and disconnect more from the chains of technology that occupy too much of my time. I hope you will join me and you too will live your life in 2019 with inspired resolve.

Please leave your comments. I would love to hear from you.