We’re Doing Better Than We Think
If the fear of failure consumes your thoughts, convincing you you’re pulling off the facade of the century and your empire will surely crumble at your feet at any given moment — right in front of everyone — don’t feel alone.
What We Really Fear
What seemingly has more power over us than the actual fear of failure itself is the fear we will appear as a failure. It’s called the “I got this” game. We fear we will appear incapable, inadequate, and inept. We believe we have to make thembelieve we’ve got it all together, and “them” could be referring to any number of individuals or people groups depending on the day.
I’ve experienced this, have you?
It’s time to uncover the truth. It’s unlikely you’re pulling off a facade, you’re not a fraud, and you’re perfectly capable. I’m sure you think it strange that I say this to you when we’ve probably never met, but I’ve been where you’ve been or at least where you are now, and I’ve learned a thing or two about running a ship in stormy weather.
While working as a manager in one of the top ten banks in the U.S., I recall those days when corporate guests would show up unannounced — usually those days were when three employees called in sick and I’m spinning plates and keeping balls in the air. They walk through the door and I smile and welcome them as if all is well, and you know what?
Because what does all is well look like anyway? On those days it looks like survival.
Why do we sweat at the thought of looking like we’ve lost control? This makes me thankful God is in control because control isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We can’t lose control of something we never had control over in the first place. Things can happen everyday that are so far beyond our control, all we can do is react.
And sometimes we confuse control with authority.
We Can’t Control What We Can’t Control
We try maintaining control over our goals, our schedules, our families, our daily activities, our lives. We believe we are in control while driving our vehicles, yet we have no control over whether someone else runs a red light. We plan to get a ton of work done early, yet lo and behold, the internet goes out. We need to leave for a meeting, just as our child feels the need to throw up and of course running a fever is a package deal.
In his article Forget About Setting Goals, Focus on This Instead , published on PsychologyToday.com, James Clear had this to say…
“You can’t predict the future. (I know, shocking.)But every time we set a goal, we try to do it. We try to plan out where we will be and when we will make it there. We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way.” — James Clear
No, we can’t predict the future but thankfully God already has that covered, so let’s focus on getting through today.
When we stop focusing an exorbitant amount of energy on trying to maintain control, we can redirect our focus on exercising the authority we have been given.
When dealing with irate customers, caring for toddlers, parenting teenagers, and supervising employees, we can’t control what they do or how they act, but we can take authority over the situation. We can use our authority to resolve issues, put littles in time out, withhold the car keys from unruly teens, and exercise corrective action when an employee takes one too many breaks.
When we assert our authority without abusing it, all may not feel well at the time, but it is well because we are maintaining balance. Asserting the authority we’ve been given over areas of our lives can positively impact current circumstances. The fringe benefit is it can also improve future circumstances.
Because it’s not the circumstances that determine whether all is well, but rather it’s our reaction and actions we take that will determine whether we’re navigating smooth sailing or going down with the ship.
Fakers Vs. Survivors
The lie we believe is that our reaction to coping by juggling and scrambling means we are flailing and failing. But it doesn’t mean that at all. It means we’re running the show because the show must go on. Sure, there are some who really are faking it. Kind of an oxymoron — the real fakers. But I have a feeling there are less real fakers and more real survivors out there.
I’m not talking about putting on a show — I’m talking about running the show that keeps a well-oiled machine running smoothly. I’m talking about running the show when others would give up under the same circumstances and cut the house lights.
This is where teamwork is essential. Ask for help when help is needed and hear me, it’s okay if we drop some of those balls and plates because the reality is, a broom and dustpan works wonders.
When Things Heat Up, Stay Cool
Keeping our cool in the heat of emotion is an art and people who are doing this are becoming a rare breed. Have you watched the evening news?
I want to be one of the rare breed of cool who actually adheres to the “Stay Calm and…” memes. Remember, it’s also okay to strive for better than our best since that’s how we arrive at better, but we have to be careful we’re not striving for perfect. There’s a difference, and striving for perfect can kill us.
This isn’t only in the business world — this happens at home, too. When the kids are running wild and your in-laws decide to drop in at that precise moment, or your friend arrives from out of town for a surprise visit the day you decide to clean out all your closets, or the neighbor who heard “all the commotion” and wanted to see if everything was alright.
Granted, we want neighbors who keep an eye out and work to keep the neighborhood safe, except of course on that one night when your son gets a splinter under his fingernail…
Actually, that was my son. On a memorable night long ago when my son was a wee little one, he managed to get a splinter under his fingernail. I’m sure it was painful. How he did this, I do not recall. What I do recall is being amazed by his lung capacity. His screams were of the curl-you-hair-and-curdle-your-blood kind.
I tried pulling the splinter out with my fingernails at first, but to no avail. Then the tweezers came out, but of course not before lighting up the tips with a match to kill the germs. Every good mom knows that trick, right? Except not only did the scorched tweezers heighten his fears, they didn’t work. His screams rang louder.
Next, the sewing needle. And of course, I had to light that up, too.
Finally, success! I got it out! What a relief…
Until the police showed up at the door. Did I mention his bed sheets were still tumbling dry? No, I don’t think I did.
Here come the officers walking down the hall and into the room where my little guy sat sniffling and blubbering on his bare-naked mattress that wasn’t exactly brand-new. I think you know what I’m talking about — the mattress you have to keep flipping because your child is too old for diapers and pull-ups hadn’t been invented yet, circa 1983ish.
As you can imagine, I was mortified. I could see the headlines:
“Mother abuses son by attempting to rip off his fingernail while making him sleep in unfit conditions”.
A bit of an exaggeration but an accurate description of my exact emotional state at that moment. Thankfully, my little guy didn’t have it in for me that night and backed up my splinter story. The officers inspected the nail and could see what all the commotion was about. By the way, my little guy is now 37 and obviously made it through that ordeal just fine.
What I’m getting at here is this: We do the best we can under the circumstances thrown at us and we have to believe if we are doing our best, we are doing well. When we remain calm it allows all the knowledge, training, and equipping we’ve received to kick-in. That’s what well looks like and hopefully the police will believe you, too.
I must caution you, if times come along when you are truly struggling, please do not remain silent. It happens to all of us, and to some more than others. Let’s not compare what hard looks like because it won’t look the same for everyone.
We have this fear that if others know we’re struggling they’ll think we can’t handle things — they’ll think we’re weak. Here’s what others already know, we’re human. Better to admit when the water is rising than to wait until you need goggles to see.
Grab Hold of This Truth
Here’s a major breakthrough in thinking, if we could just grab hold:
We do not need to fear looking like a failure. Instead let us focus on being realistic, thinking on our feet, and knowing it’s okay if we drop the ball, the spinning plate, or our lunch tray. Of course, this doesn’t apply if we’re a brain surgeon, but most of us aren’t.
We’ve heard this before, it’s actually a good thing to fail. Of course this doesn’t mean failing all the time, but even failing many times can teach us. Others have failed before us and went on to make valuable contributions to the world. It makes sense that never failing means never trying. Elizabeth Andal wrote a great article, 10 famous failures that will inspire you, but that’s not what this article is about. What I’m saying here is when we kick it into survival mode we’re not failing, we’re reacting and taking action to compensate for what is lacking.
Challenges inspire growth, make us stronger, and help us learn. Mistakes and failures fit that bill as well. When these challenges come, that’s the time when we can show the world what we’re made of. Grit goes a lot further than grumbling and giving up.
How about this?
Let’s stop fearing the appearance of failure and next time unexpected visitors pop in at the most inopportune times, we can be honest and say…
“Wow, you chose the perfect time to witness me in my element — turning an extremely unwell situation into an amazing all-is-well experience.”
Share a time when you faced a challenge due to unexpected circumstances…