My wife and I were discussing something about the kids and one of us uttered the sarcastic statement “I don’t want to be a bad parent”. While it was in the context of a relatively minor issue, it’s amazing what comes out of our mouths. What is called a “Freudian slip” in my circles, is more accurately described as the mouth speaking out of the abundance of the heart. None of us want to fail, especially at parenting, but being terrified of failure almost assures that it will occur.
I’m not afraid of failure, I’m confident it will happen. I’d rather fail with good intentions than delude myself that I’ve succeeded in order to avoid the sting of being a screw up. I’ve heard that being bad at something is the first step to being good at it, and I believe it’s true. Refusing to accept being a novice, ensures one will never be an expert. So how can we keep from sabotaging success? Here are three things to avoid.
Avoiding mistakes instead of aiming for excellence
This is a classic blunder of the conscientious. The mistake that perfection is equivalent to excellence. In beginning my academic career of countless standardized tests, I tried to take in whatever advice I could, and assumed it was the gospel truth. I learned that if I wasn’t sure about an answer, to skip it and move on, then with the remaining time, go back and spend the time on those questions at the end. Maybe good advice for some, but not the best for me. You see, this was before computerized testing, and it was scantron sheets only. If you’ve ever accidentally buttoned your shirt wrong by skipping a button, and ended up with uneven shirt tails, you know about 1% of the pain that an uneven scantron sheet can cause. Avoiding a hasty answer can lead to hundreds of wrong results.
We read in Matthew 14 how Peter suffered failure due to second guessing. This is the classic account of Jesus calling Peter out on the water. I feel bad criticizing Peter for walking on water wrong, but it’s so striking that when he remained focused on Christ and where he was called, he accomplished the impossible. When he focused on the details around him, and all the reasons he might not succeed, he began to sink into failure. Avoid this trap, and aim towards success over avoiding failure.
Some times we are comfortable with mediocrity if no one notices. We were discussing Zaccheus in a church recently, and how Jesus invited himself over to his home. This led to the question, what would happen if Jesus showed up at your house unannounced? Not a novel concept, I’m sure, but the point it hits at is accountability. If we expected oversight, we do things with diligence, and when we avoid accountability, we permit all manor of silent failure.
When I was digging ditches for a living, my bosses were fond of saying “you get what you inspect, not what you expect”. I hated that saying. It meant that every job I was on was subject to surprise inspection. When the bosses truck would roll onto the job site, my stomach would turn, worried that every rushed task would scream for correction. Of course, over time, my work became impeccable, and I welcomed their visits.
Learn to view inspection as discipleship, and welcome it. Transparency with a mentor is a big step towards success.
Planning to fail
I know the saying states “people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan”, but I beg to differ. Want proof? Think of every New Years resolution you’ve ever started. How many times did you know you were going to drop it at some point?
“I’m going to stop smoking”, “I’m going to cut out sugar” or “no more Diet Coke for me!” How confident were you that you could succeed? How confident was the rich young ruler who declared his intention to follow Jesus? When asked to sell all he owned and give it to the poor prior to following, he immediately gave up and walked away. He knew he could not succeed in changing his life to fit the charge given to him.
There is an equation to change, and it helps predict success and failure. High importance to change + high confidence change is possible = high success. Low confidence or low importance drive results to almost zero. When facing a goal, and struggling with low confidence, often we can be guilty of a show of effort to save face, but no intention to truly succeed.
If you are called to something that you are sure you can’t do, lean not on your own understanding. Find confidence in Christ, rather than yourself, and change the entire equation.
You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. You are not cursed to sabotaging yourself over and over. Be honest with yourself and pray for wisdom. Keep your eyes on Jesus, welcome discipleship, and be confident that the work He is doing in you will be completed.