Giving Up My Fear of Failure: A Lenten Meditation.


It has become a standard part of our life now. Outrage, I mean. Outrage is all the rage these days. It really is the new black. Person A says something stupid and those who “like” him defend him at all costs; while those don’t howl in fury at the inanity of it all. Person B does something stupid and those howling a moment ago suddenly castigate anyone who would criticize her; while those urging compassion and understanding ten minutes ago are now declaring her and this incident the.end.of.america.as.we.know.it. Back and forth we go. Spinning like a Devo tune. Compassion is what we need. Understanding. Forgiveness. Generosity of character and spirit. We need to be free to speak our minds and express ourselves however we wish…. Wait what did that Facebook friend just say… We need judgement. Public flogging. We need to be able to condemn. We need…..

In the dualism to end all dualism we shuttle between extremes.  Anger driving it all. Hate being the force that binds us together. I had noticed and complained about this before; but this Lenten season the feeling seems heavier and more concerting.

You see, this Lent I choose to give up my fear of failure. Truth, I have long been a people-pleaser. Truth, I have often cared more about what people thought of me than was healthy. Truth, I have often been the can’t we all get along person. This is despite the fact that many see me as a passionate advocate for truth. As an idealist and romantic (in the sense of 19th century German philosophy that is). And yes I have longed for, called for, advocated for, and gotten in trouble for this. I have been a questioner. What Scientology would call PT- potential troublemaker. This is part of my story getting in trouble for passionately arguing for a better and more just society. Yet the drama surrounding this has often been the bane of my existence, the one thing I would change about myself if I could, and probably a driver of my desire for peace (at all costs).

So this Lent I decided it was time (after 40 years of head hitting wall) to do something. I decided to give up my fear of failure. I decided to stop worrying about the ramifications of my actions (pondering every nuance of a decision). I decided to stop worrying (as much as possible and was unhealthy) what people thought of me. I decided to start making moves and committing myself to deal with any of the consequences that came when they came (but again not worrying about them beforehand). I decided to stop with the stressing. To stop expanding my self-awareness to the level of actively monitoring others reactions and adjusting myself accordingly. I decided to call this what is was: a type of manipulative control freakedness, I decided to feel emotions without worrying about how I might be perceived.

This is, of course, abutting against a lifetime of accrued habits, sensibilities, and histories. I will need more than 40+ days to solve these issues; but this was to be one small step in the right direction. To stop actively working against myself.

In a sense this has been freeing. Last Sunday I was running a slight fever and I called into work without guilt or remorse. I didn’t care what this meant to my boss or my coworkers. I was sorry that they had to deal with a short-handed close; but, hell, I dealt with one the next night without bitching and figured they could as well (or not, that’s on them, not me). It was freedom and it felt good. It was like a great boulder lifted AND RATHER THAN SPENDING THE REST OF THE DAY BEATING MYSELF UP FOR MISSING WORK, I WAS ABLE TO NAP, WATCH TV, FINISH A BOOK, AND GET BETTER. For once in my life I got sick and didn’t spend the rest of the week recovering from it; because I recovered Sunday night and Monday morning.

In a sense this might seem to be worse. Yesterday I was frustrated because I left a 9 almost 10 hour workday to find a seriously deflated tire. I hit two different gas stations to find broken air gauges. I pulled into a nearby store hoping they might have an air pump, they didn’t. At this point I was tired. I was starving hungry. My feet felt like they were about to fall off. I decided to just go home and deal with it today. As I was exiting that lot for the three minute drive home, traffic decided to be stupid. It was like the drivers of all 30 cars around me all at once forgot how to drive. I caught myself yelling at the traffic- “OK moron now its your turn to go. Stop texting. Go. There’s your break. You missed it. Don’t turn now moron, the traffic is… wow that was close, I don’t know how you both didn’t hit each other. Arrrrgghhh, light is green just move. It’s the right foot.” Listening to me you would have thought I regressed as a moral being. Yet here’s the thing, I screamed “arrrgghhhh, I acknowledged my frustration, and the light changed and I moved on. By the time I got home (three minutes later) I was calm and sat down to relax and catch an episode of iZombie, Here’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t spend the next hour annoyed at life. I didn’t lose the chance to take the night to relax and get ready for today. I didn’t hold onto the anger. I didn’t lose any sleep to insomnia. This morning I awoke refreshed. I was ready for the day. I realized this was a small thing; but as I showered I couldn’t help but wonder how many times I had let little annoyances linger. I wondered how much of my struggles with insomnia came from not dealing with frustration in the moment. How much better would I be if I allowed a little release valve to pop and then moved on.

I don’t want to justify irrational anger. I don’t want to be the “truth-teller” that takes out his frustrations on others. I don’t want to allow the blackness that wells in my heart to contaminate others.I don’t want to be so self-contained that I have no awareness of how I affect others. Yet I do want to become the person that can feel and deal. I want to acknowledge the frustration, the anger, the desire to rage, the need to disappoint others in order to care for myself, and to lose the need to always and forever be the nice guy. I want to deal with it in the moment- I want find healthy ways to feel, to acknowledge, and to vent.

Martin Luther wrote some oft misunderstood words. They pop up in the voices of students pushing their limits. They appear on beer steins. You hear them again and again. “Sin Boldly,” Luther wrote. We, theology nerds, love this quote; but we have often not gotten what it meant. Paul wrote to the Romans that all have sinned. All are evil. There is no one righteous. Not one. Luther studied this text in depth and over time he got it. Everything we do is tainted with sin, Luther argued. Even the most righteous action you make today will harbor traces of wrong motives or be done at a subtly wrong time (perhaps a beat too soon or too late as it were), or be done in a subtly wrong manner (a hair off on the trigger as it were). When one realizes this, a temptation can occur. Hesitation kicks in. Analysis ramps up. Paralysis ensues. We cannot do anything without over-analysis, without over-thinking, without judging.

Now in our own lives we can tend to give ourselves a surprising amount of leeway. This is how we cope. We acknowledge all the reasons that our actions fail to qualify. We also tend to give this benefit of the doubt to others we consider “like” us or whom we feel connected. So when we say something possibly racist (or a friend does) we say “we didn’t mean it like that. Stop judging. And besides who hasn’t gotten a statement tangled.”  Yet due to some mysterious cranial magic we also choose to withhold this benefit from certain groups that are not “us.” We choose to take at face value (at best) or read horribly into (at worst) the actions of “them.”

Liberals do it. Conservatives do it. Let’s fall in hate. Men do it. Women do it. You get the point. But here is the place that we have gotten to it.

The cure I propose is the course of my Lenten devotion. It’s time to give up our fear of failure. I would propose that the fear of being wrong (and the consequences of being wrong) are driving most of the discourse in modern American and Christian life. The fear of being wrong is what keeps a Christian baker from baking a cake for a gay man. It’s one thing to have a belief about sex; but perhaps we go over board, a little, when we start refusing any type of contact with others we deem wrong. The fear of being wrong is what keeps many a Christian from voting outside the party assumed to be the right one in their area (for the coastal areas and urban areas, North, East, and West that is Democrat; and for the South, West, and rural areas it is Republican). We are so concerned with being right that we have stopped listening to, being around, or working with those in the wrong. We are afraid of looking like or being failures. But perhaps it is time we stop spending as much time as we do worrying about failure; and decide to stop caring so blasted much what the neighbors in the next pew or Facebook comment might think.

It will be freeing to just be able to stop caring about the rightness of the next person’s post. And it may look a little more chaotic than the current predictability of the rage generator,

Here’s the thing, I am learning. In worrying about failure I was worrying about all the wrong things. I was creating all the wrong crises and issues for myself. I was expending all my energy on the wrong things. 99% of my time was being wasted on superficial issues that didn’t mean a (pardon the expression) damn thing in the long run. Meanwhile real issues and crises existed that never, ever got acknowledged or dealt with; and these had consequences- insomnia, isolation, etc.

I was expending a lot of energy trying to be good guy. Yet never truly coming close to what I wanted to be. Yet when I gave up fear, I started acting like the person I wanted to be; and life got better without half (or three-fourths) of the effort. I was free to be who I wanted to be.

I hope this lasts, but who knows tomorrow I will probably fail at it; and best all,  I’m not going to worry about it then or now, though. I’m done with that shit.

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