Monday, January 01, 2007
Fear of Failure
If you've not been afraid at some time in your life, you've not been breathing. There are all kinds of fears. Fear of snakes, bullies, spiders, your girl-friend's parents, heights, etc. In fact, there are a lot of books written just to help people rid themselves of their fears. Some therapists specialize in phobias. And yet, people still have fears.
When I was a young man, a suggestion by anyone that I would one day have to come to grips with fear would have only made me laugh. I thought that I was invincible and unbeatable and unconquered. I was wrong.
A man once said to me, "Stormy, the reason so many people want to take a punch at you, is that you are so cocky." I became even cockier. In my mind, there wasn't a horse I couldn't ride, a fight I couldn't win, a problem I couldn't solve or a girl I couldn't kiss. Not even a fear that I couldn't conquer.
Notice that I said "in my mind." That is trademark Type I Bipolar Disorder thinking. It is an expression of an inflated ego. Over-confident. Over-bold. Cocky. That kind of thinking doesn't reflect reality. It's a skewed view of ones abilities. It is bipolar mania.
That's the upside. The downside is characterized by failure and the fear of failure. Failure is defined by Webster as "a falling short, a lack of success, an inability to perform a normal function. Sometimes we think we fail when we really do not. Sometimes "success" is defined differently by different people. But if we define failure as the inability to perform a normal function, such as working at an occupation or going to school, then we begin to grasp in concrete terms what that feels like to someone who has chronic depression.
I'm not sure that I want you to know this much about me. Just to contemplate transparency is painful. My privacy is important to me. But when I started this blog, I committed to throwing the windows open, propping back the doors and raising the blinds. I feel that I can only help others by allowing you to see into the dark corners of my mind and my life. It's a scary effort, though.
I'm not "retired" from ministry because I want to be. It's because I have to be. If I was healthy, I would become a preacher overnight. It's my talent. It's what I'm skilled at doing. I have more experience as a minister than at anything else. My education has all pointed toward this role. But every time I've tried, I've eventually failed because of depression. That is, I've failed in the sense of not being able to "perform the normal function" of a preacher.
So, I find myself without confidence, without boldness, and anything but cocky. My ego is about as flat as a homeless man's wallet. My wife thinks that I'm getting to the point where I don't try to do things, just because I'm afraid that I will fail.
Two weeks ago, I was offered a new job. It would be the first full-time employment I've had in three years. Even though I would be working for a Christian friend (and maybe because of), I began to feel "performance" anxiety. I was concerned that I might not be able to function well enough to do the job. I was concerned that I might disappoint him and my wife.
On the morning of the day before I began my new job, I was in bed thinking about this opportunity. That's when I realized for the first time that I was afraid. I don't know when the fear of failure became my companion, but I was undeniably afraid. My mind was filled with remembrances of all the times I attempted to do things that I shoud have been lable to perform, and they all ended without success. Some of you may know how frustrating and disappointing that can be. It's a little like being a powerful 8 cylinder engine that only hits on 2 cylinders. You just can't tap into the power. In fact, the power is impotent.
I have no wisdom for those of you who have the same fears. I'm only now coming to grips with my own personal revelation. Maybe the first step to " success " is to acknowledge that the fear exists. Perhaps we can gather strength from an awareness that "We have nothing to fear, but fear its self." Our best defense is to keep the enemy in front of us. That will protect us from sneak attacks. Robert F. Kennedy once said, "Only those who dare to fail greatly will ever achieve greatly." Well...I've got the first part right.
To the healthy: Please be kind, be available, be humble and be thankful.
["I'm so low I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]