This year I have one New Year’s resolution: to get comfortable with failure. To get to know its middle name. To invite it over for dinner and show it around the house. And here’s the living room. Say, would you like to stay for some coffee?
It’s not that I don’t know failure; we’re met several times. I just tend to treat it a little more like an ugly cockroach than a house guest. If I can’t squash it on my own, you’d better believe I’m calling the exterminator for backup.
I’m hoping that embracing my lifelong fear of failure will make me more authentic, more comfortable in my own skin. I’ve always had a perfectionistic bent. As a kid, my fear of failure was most apparent in group games. I hated playing them. What if I dropped the football and my team hated me? What if I tripped during the three-legged race and looked stupid? (Sidenote to 10-year-old Amber: you’re doing a three-legged race. You already look stupid.) This same fear caused me to accept Jesus into my heart a dozen times, worried that I had somehow managed to “undo” my salvation.
During high school and college my fear of failing haunted me academically. I worked hard to get good grades and was largely able to accomplish that until I received my first “F” on a health final in college. I had two other finals the same day and ran out of time to study for it. When I saw the red “F,” I was horrified — and then I felt something release. I had failed, and the universe hadn’t come crashing down on me.
I wish I could say that experience cured me of my fear of failure, but it didn’t. Failure has continued to stalk me through all of my jobs, my marriage, and into my new role as a mom. Now the stakes seem higher than ever. What’s worse than messing up your offspring? My sweet little son is only four months old, and I’ve already convinced myself that I’ve ruined him on at least four separate occasions. That’s not the truth, though. Yes, I mess up. However, he continues to smile and grow and flourish. It turns out that babies are resilient, and so am I.
A few years ago my husband and I moved. I did the majority of the packing, and I made sure to scrawl “fragile” in sharpie across the boxes with breakables. As I was packing a box of glass items, I soon realized that I had written “fragile” on the vast majority of boxes. I needed to alert the high school boys who would soon be slinging our possessions into the moving truck that this box required even greater care, so I wrote “SUPER fragile.” Problem solved. That is until I realized our wedding china still needed to be packed. In a panicked, last-ditch effort to protect it I wrote “THE MOST FRAGILE OF ALL!!!” across the box.
Apparently I have a fear of things breaking. I think I’m afraid of breaking, too. To protect myself against failure, I wrap myself in layer after layer of bubble wrap.
Here’s the question I’m left with: why do I think myself so fragile? Why do I think that one failure will shatter me, like a wine glass hitting the floor? I’m not as fragile as I think. I need not label myself “the most fragile of all”.
Instead of adding layers of packing peanuts, I will trust in my strength and my resiliency.
I want to be the best version of myself — not the most protected version.
Let’s just state the obvious here: I’m not excited to fail. Failure and I aren’t going to become best friends. But, this year, I’m done running from it. Instead, I’ll look deep into its eyes over a cup of coffee in my living room. My hope is that getting comfortable with failure will help me view it not as a tragedy but as a tool.
This year I will take my trembling fingers and begin to peel off the layers of bubble wrap I’ve accumulated. It’s getting hard to breathe wrapped up like that, after all.