The “F” Word

It’s not what you think.  It’s not THAT “F” word.  It’s the “F” word that we fear, that we try to escape.   And, it’s the “F” word commonly accepted and used in our own self-talk.  To which “F” word am I referring?  FAILURE!  No one sets out to be a failure.  To fail is not acceptable in most areas of life.  Yet, how often do you or I accept failure as a way of living?  Why do we allow our own minds to attach failure to so much of our lives?  Why?

I struggle with depression.  I’m also an “overachiever”.  After my late husband’s death, feeling down became “normal.”  Just being able to get out of bed or a day without tears was a good day.   I learned to cope.  I convinced myself I was okay.  Because, I needed to be okay.  To be anything else, was to be weak.  I could not and would not be weak.  That was failing.  I read the books.  I did all the things I was told I needed to do (except counseling!) I moved on with my life.  I didn’t excel at life, but I was living.

Do you know some symptoms of an overachiever?  These taken are from John Eliot, Ph.D., a clinical professor in human performance at Texas A&M University and author of Overachievement.

  1. It’s all about the outcome:  Overachievers view failure more as a personal reflection on themselves
  2. You secretly think you’re not good enough:  While some people will “self-sabotage” when they feel inadequate, overachievers stake their identities on performance in order to conquer self-doubt.
  3. There is a short list of things you want to be good at: and that list only includes things you know you’ll be judged on.
  4. Criticism is the worst:  It all goes back to the fear of failure — overachievers’ public enemy No. 1 is criticism, because it implies that they failed at something.
  5. You’re very future-focused:  Because overachievers are constantly trying to avoid bad outcomes, they are heavily focused on the future — and as a result, often neglect the present.
  6. You feel anxious a lot:  Constantly worrying about what the future holds and achieving everything that needs to be achieved is a recipe for stress.
  7. You’re a perfectionist:  Overachievers may also be concerned about being a perfect spouse or parent, or having a perfect home.
  8. In high school, you were the one in 15 clubs:  They had an A in every class, participated in every club and went to music lessons and sports practices — all in the name of a strong college application.
  9. Being able to provide your child with all the opportunities in the world has more to do with your fear of being a bad parent, and less to do with helping your child realize his or her interests and passions.  All parents, to some extent, feel the need to “do it all” for their kids. But overachievers tend to do it big — attending every PTA meeting, making goodies for the bake sales, volunteering in class, constantly checking up with the child’s teacher — because they care so much about being the best parents.
  10. Crunch-time is the worst time:  When the stakes are high, “the overachiever tends to make mistakes in that situation, and are more out to choke because they’re so concerned with the outcome.

I never quite live up to the ideals that I picture for myself.  The smallest glitch can send me into a tailspin:  I’m not a good mother, I’m failing as a wife, I’m just not good enough.  I struggle with the fear of being utterly alone and unloved, of not being good enough to earn the love of those for whom I care so deeply.  I’m caught in a whirlwind of needing to be the best and feeling like a failure at every turn.  This, in turn, leads to anxiety and depression.

I am fortunate.  I have a husband that is constantly reassuring me.  I have friends that love and support me and are always there with words of encouragement.  I have a counselor that listens to my irrational fears and helps me see the truth.  I don’t want to be a victim of the “F” word.  I struggle each day to see value in myself and my actions.

I’m encouraged when I read  that others in the Bible suffered bouts of depression.  David wrote in Psalm 38: 21-22:

Don’t dump me, God;
    my God, don’t stand me up.
Hurry and help me;
    I want some wide-open space in my life!

There are several scriptures that talk about anxiety and trust.  Believe me, I’ve read them all.  I go to those verses when I’m overwhelmed with the daily concerns of life, when I am confronted with my lack of perfection.  I don’t want to fail.  I will not fail.  God is with me every step of the way.  I must look to His strength and remember it is through His love that I am made perfect.

Fear, Failure & Other Silliness

I have NOT done lots of things in my life because I didn’t want to:
a) look silly
b) fail
c) get hurt
d) lose
e) admit I was afraid
f) ask for help
g) all of the above

In school, I didn’t try out for anything unless I was fairly certain I would succeed. I avoided any activities that might be above my current capabilities. I didn’t want to fall and maybe be hurt. If I did take a risk and then I fell, I NEVER tried again. (It’s amazing I learned to ride a bicycle!) I stuck with the things I could do best and pretended I didn’t care about the rest of it.

As I matured, I learned that there were times when taking the risk was worth it. It was okay to try and to fail. I actually found that I could excel at looking silly and survive! I’ll never be a champion skater (or even very good for that matter!), but I can say that I tried. And fell. Many, many times. On a few occasions, I’ve been forced to face my fear of heights and bugs and snakes and telephones and have lived to tell about it even if I still get a bit nauseated at the memories.

One area in which I continue to struggle and grow in is developing true relationships. I’ve never had a problem meeting people. I can be friendly and even helpful. But, when it comes to really allowing another person past my personal fire-wall, that’s a different story. Because behind this facade is a person that fears the risk of transparency. You may discover that I’m actually silly or shallow. I may not be able to live up to your expectations. What if you don’t like me or find me annoying? Will you stick around if I admit that I’m afraid or that I desperately need your help? What will I do if you let me down? And those fears have tried to rob me of the joy of truly knowing and loving others.

There are no guarantees. Some people have come into my life for a specific time and now our lives follow different paths. There are people who I have loved and mourned when they were unwilling or unable to return that love. And then there are the people who are so deeply and richly ingrained in my life and memories that even time and distance cannot break the bond. I’ve had my heart broken and bruised through the years. There have been times that I promised God and myself that I would NEVER allow anyone the opportunity to hurt me that deeply ever again. But, as the pain subsides and the new normal becomes more familiar, I know that I need to step out of my safe zone. And, I’m so glad I haven’t given up on loving and caring about others. For all the tears and pain, I’ve also experienced so much love and joy.

If I had waited until love was safe and hassle-free, I would never have married. If we had waited until everything was perfect in our lives and in our world to have children, I wouldn’t have Zachary & Gracie. If I wait until there is no risk of being hurt before I love and care about others, I’ll live a very lonely, empty life. If I only live the parts of my life that come with guarantees, I’ll never know what it is to live life fully. Every day, I ask God for guidance and wisdom and protection. And every day, He reminds me that I am loved.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31 NIV

Drifting

When my kids were little, we would visit area water parks. At the time, there were 2 larger parks and then a smaller one on our side of town. The kids loved to go. They liked the slides and chutes, the faster and higher the better. My favorite parts of the park was the lazy river and the wave pool. There weren’t lots of stairs to climb or blind turns in the dark tunnels. And best of all, the water forced up my nose was held to a minimum. I just enjoyed drifting along in the waves, going nowhere in particular.

Drifting can be a relaxing and mindless activity. You just enjoy the gentle rocking up and down and let the waves carry you along. It works really well in an enclosed park. But, mindless drifting can get you into trouble in the ocean. Before you realize it, you can be further away from the shore than you ever intended. It’s easy to be totally lost with no idea where to go if you don’t pay attention. And the effort to get back on course is often exhausting at best.

Sometimes in life it’s just easier to go with the flow, to just drift along and do what comes easy. Then, I look around and wonder where I am and how did I get here? Often it’s the rush of the falling rapids of my life that get my attention. How do I get back on track with “the plan”? Is it even worth trying? And I don’t think I’m the only one. I’ve watched others drift past and wondered when are they going to realize the rapids are coming even as I ignore my own destination.

One of the few things I remember from the Franklin-Covey training I received many years ago was this: If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time! When I allow myself to just drift along, I am choosing to aim for nothing. Dreams and plans require some effort. I have to open my eyes to the possibilities. I have to allow myself to dream even if those dreams may never be reality. Even failure is better than simply drifting. I have to stop retreating to the lazy river and make an effort to jump into the rapids. I need to take aim at life and with that the responsibility of where I’m going.