The prospect of failure terrifies me. I guess it terrifies many people and is the reason many an adventure is not sought, why many a business venture is not taken up, why many a work of art is not created, why many a relationship is not begun, and why many words remain unwritten and unspoken. I imagine a world in which this is not the case, in which every opportunity is taken and our efforts always prove fruitful. It would be a different world, to be certain—fuller, more vibrant, more intriguing and thought-provoking, more full of love, more inspired and passionate. Fear of failure stunts us and blunts our effectiveness. It is a thief, stealing our ambition, and a murderer, extinguishing our dreams. Fear of failure is the reason many of us give up. It is a tragedy.
In writing, the effects of fear take many forms. Some of us never even begin. An idea might strike us, a passion and message might take hold of us, but we snuff it out as soon as it threatens to become anything more. For others, we might write, but we hide it, a lamp under a basket. It burns inside us, but we refuse to let is see daylight, afraid criticism would douse our flame. Still others delay and put off the day we might share our writing with those around us. “One day,” we tell ourselves, once we are satisfied with our work, then we will let someone else see it, only “one day” keeps extending into the future, and we are never satisfied. Then there are those of us who lean into the fear, who use our fire not only to brighten but also to burn. With seeming overconfidence, we promise everything and deliver next to nothing because we see failure as inevitable. We set everything around us aflame, thinking that if we cannot affect those around us in the way we desire, we can at least disturb and agitate them. Using our words as weapons, we cut down where we ought to build up and sever what we need to heal. Fear of failure is a tragedy.
How do we fight it? What blade can cut through it; what bullet can pierce it? How do we combat something so powerful and visceral and deep as this fear? Faith—I would suggest we need faith. Yet not faith in ourselves or in some empty, positivist promise that if we only try, we will succeed. Neither do we need the kind of faith that says, “Pray about it and let it go,” asking us to diminish the significance of what we are trying to do such that failure will no longer affect us. We don’t need to kid ourselves that we are somehow more capable than we are and that victory is assured, and we don’t have to make our success less important or vital to us. Rather, we need the kind of faith that says, “I will put in my all, and even so I might fail, but I will know that my efforts were not in vain.” But how can they not have been in vain if we fail? It is simple: we have been doing what we were made to do. Maybe writing is not about becoming a best-selling author, maybe it’s not even about changing just one person’s life. Maybe it’s about using words as a tool of creation even as our Creator used words to create us.
Our sentences might be clunky and our strivings to create meaning amateurish, even as an infant’s formation of consonants and vowels only vaguely mimics what its parents speak to it, but we are learning. Do we not tell ourselves substance is in the process, not just the finished product? When will we start to believe that? We need faith to combat our fear, trust to fight our timidity. We must believe that there is a greater purpose, a grander scheme, than the words we type and the sentences we speak. We have a deeper significance than what we do, and what we write is simply an overflow of that. That is what it means to be a writer. That is what it means to overcome fear.