The fear of failure can be tremendously powerful.
It is amazing in my physical education classes, especially at the third, fourth, and fifth grade level how many arguments occur about whether or not someone was tagged or if they were grazed by a dodgeball.
Does lying about whether you were tagged in a PE game mean you are going to grow up to be a criminal? Not necessarily. But I think it shows how powerful our fear of failure can be, even at a young age. However, most of the time these youngsters still want to compete. That’s why they aren’t 100% truthful all the time. They still want to get out there and struggle and strive. They don’t want to be taken out of the game.
So here’s the challenge for us as leaders in our classrooms:
Write down something you are afraid to do because you might fail. How can you attempt to overcome this challenge today?
This challenge comes from our fundamental of success of Overcoming Obstacles.
Avoiding the Struggle
As we get older, our fear of failure often can become a desire to avoid all struggle.
Awhile back, I came across an interview with Bruce Springsteen on CBS This Morning. Here’s how part of that interview with reporter Gayle King went:
King said: “I think after all the years of reflection and struggle that you have, I think people would be surprised that you sit here today, and you still find it a struggle still.”
Springsteen replied: “Yeah but that never stops.”
And King said: “Never?”
Springsteen said: “No, of course not. That’s life, you know? Life, it’s that way til you go into the box. I don’t think it’s supposed to stop, you know? You’re constantly in the midst of examining your life and you know, learning new things and hopefully getting better at it.”
King responded: “I know. But, Bruce, I wanna get to the point where I don’t want struggle anymore. I just don’t. Honestly, I just don’t.”
And Springsteen quipped: “When you get there, let me know. Let me know how you got there. All right?”
Honestly, I turned my nose up a little bit at the entitlement of Gayle King…until I realized I have done the same thing many times in my life. I’ve wanted the struggle to just go away. I’ve wanted my students and athletes to just do what they were told and behave so I wasn’t bothered with things that derail my lesson plans or practice plans.
Learning How to Lose
As Bruce Springsteen noted, the struggle never really should go away because, if it does, that means we are no longer learning and getting better at things…and this includes our relationships.
I think one of the things I’m most afraid of failing at is my relationships. Sometimes my fear of failure makes me want to avoid conflict and avoid the struggle. In reality, conflicts and struggles present us with great opportunities to build stronger relationships and deeper connections with our students and athletes.
Just like many of our greatest obstacles, the fear of failure, whether it manifests itself as lying in order to stay in the game or wanting to get rid of all struggle, is an obstacle in our own mind.
So how do we overcome the obstacle of the fear of failure in our mind and let it become a stepping stone to later achievements or to becoming the person we were created to be?
We must learn to lose.
This is the advice of Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph. Rudolph was born prematurely in 1940 and suffered double pneumonia, scarlet fever, and polio at a young age. She was forced to wear a leg brace until age 12. But just four years later she was on a winning track and field relay team at the Olympics. At the following Olympiad, Wilma Rudolph became the first female to win three gold medals in a single Olympic games at just 20 years old.
Here’s what Wilma Rudolph had to say about overcoming the fear of failure:
“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”
Our Stories Need Conflict
When we see our life as a story, we know conflict and failure are necessary parts of any story. We see it in novels, movies, and any type of story. No main character is ever able to make it through a whole story without facing frustrations, challenges, and struggles.
So in order to write our own story, we have to learn how to lose like Wilma Rudolph said. We need to stop wishing we didn’t have to endure the struggle and instead start getting ourselves ready to take action when it does happen.
Because when it does, we need to turn our loss into an opportunity to overcome.
When we live with courage and make the attempt to overcome our obstacles…our fears…then we will be living as a champion.
Winning in Our Relationships
So how about you?
What is something you are afraid to do because you might fail? How can you attempt to overcome this challenge today?
I don’t know what you are afraid to fail at. I don’t know what the specific action is you need to take to overcome your fear.
But I can tell you the tool you need to overcome your obstacles is to stop avoiding the struggle and start learning how to lose. Learn how to pick yourself back up again and keep giving it your best shot.
Even in our relationships, we need to learn how to lose.
It’s impossible to go undefeated in our relationships. But if we can pick ourselves up and continue to look for ways to touch the hearts of the young people we work with, then we will be champions.
Because that’s how we will win…by never giving up on our relationships with our students.