Chapter 3 - Courage to Fail

Copyright © 1996 Wayne Grovenburg

The Western High School Warriors were facing the defending state champions on the first Saturday in November, 1970. The Clark High School Chargers would have been a formidable opponent, even if we had our entire team. For most of us seniors, we were about to play the last game of our football careers, with some of us starting in positions we had played very little the entire year. Our starting quarterback, Lyle Jensen, also played defense. I played the entire game on both offense and defense. There are many more examples of inexperienced players facing a seasoned, undefeated team on their way to the state championship game in Reno. The local sports writers picked up on this and the news got around town quite fast. This was to be the last massacre of the Western Warriors. Some predicted this to be the "run away" game of the season. After the mass resignation, the remaining players had to call upon substantial courage to hang in there. The Clark Chargers had more speed, size, depth, and experience. No one would have blamed the crippled Warrior team had they just "called it a season" before that Saturday game ever started. The Warriors had to call upon the courage to face such circumstances and to forge ahead. The Warriors faced the fact that it would be a physically demanding and punishing game, and it was. Our linemen faced opponents who outweighed them by 60 to 70 pounds. Some Warriors literally lost blood that afternoon and still wear the scars of that game to this day. The Warriors had to take the risk of getting beaten very badly for their grand finale of the season. Yes, they had to have the courage to fail!

Many years ago, in the Sunday comic section, Andy Capp was shown napping on the couch (as usual) as his wife Ruby was walking to the door on her way to work. As she crossed the room she muttered, "You miserable failure, laying around the house while I'm off to work." After she left, Andy sat up and put his head in his hands. "She's right. I am a failure", Andy thought to himself. He sat there saddened for a few minutes, but then a light bulb came on! Andy proclaimed, "How can you be a failure, if you've never tried anything?" Relieved, he lay back down to continue his nap. Andy's thinking stuck with me. Not so much the conclusion that "you can't be a failure if you don't try anything", but even more relevant is, "How can you be a success, if you've never tried anything?" Think about that one for a minute or two.

How can you ever get the job you want, if you don't apply for it and risk being turned down? How can you ever get the date with the girl of your dreams, if you never risk getting told "no"? How can you ever hope to win a battle, without risking losing it? I am convinced that before we can ever make our vision a reality, to press on toward a specific, big, exciting goal, we must call upon the courage to fail.

I remember as a teenager not having many dates. I was not an introvert by any means. In fact, I was a class clown. Folks could always count on me to act stupid, cut up, tell jokes and laugh a lot. But when it came to asking a girl out, I was scared to death! I remember partially dialing girl's phone numbers and hanging up or, even worse, hearing their voice on the line and hanging up. What the dickens was I so afraid of? Rejection, plain and simple. So while all the other guys and gals were out having fun, I was alone or spending time with my guy friends talking about why we could never find any dates. It was sad! Whenever fear is in the driver's seat of your life, it is crippling and miserable. It can be far worse than not having a date! Fear of failure can keep you from going to college, finding a better job, standing up for what you know is right, overcoming peer pressure, getting married, buying a house, writing a book, and many other worthwhile things in this life. Through my years in this life I have noticed this:

Anything worth doing is going to be at least a little scary.

Just think a moment about the things you would consider really worth doing or accomplishing in this life. How many of them carry the risk of failure? How many of them invoke at least a little fear? If fear is in control, you won't do much. You will find the position of least pain and risk, and the most comfort, and stay there.

Well, if there is fear associated with anything worth doing, what is a person to do? .... Expect it. Embrace it. Master it! You need to realize that:

Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the mastery of fear.

Consider these people of courage and what they accomplished.

History tells us that when the Spanish explorer, Cortez, landed on the shore of what is now Mexico, he sent out spies to scout the land. They returned with reports of large numbers of opposing inhabitants. Being greatly outnumbered, the spies advised Cortez to withdraw. Cortez lined his men up on the shore and had his ships burned and sunk. His message to his troops was, "Conquer or Die!". Cortez had the courage to risk a really big failure to attain his goal. This act preceded his victory in that campaign.

When we think of Babe Ruth, what do we think of? If you are not a baseball fan, you may think of a candy bar. But, Babe Ruth is a baseball legend who set a record for the most home runs hit in a lifetime. This guy was the "home run king" for many years until Hank Aaron surpassed him many years later. The Babe was etched into history books for hitting 720 home runs in his lifetime. Did the Babe possess the courage to fail? He must have had it to ever walk to the plate enough times to hit that many home runs. You see, the Babe also set a record for strikeouts. This champion home run hitter also struck out 1,330 times! After getting some experience, the man had to realize when he went to the plate that there was nearly twice the chance he would strike out than hit a home run. Many times (1,330) he would strike out and walk back to the dugout. But, he would walk back to the plate the next time and "swing for the fence". Yes, the Babe had the courage to fail.

I don't usually read Sports Illustrated, but a few years ago I was in a doctor's waiting room with a copy, so I flipped through it. I noticed some baseball records being reported. A player named Ricky Henderson had set a record for the "most stolen bases". The same player, reported in the same article, for the same period of time, also set another record. He held the record for being "thrown out while trying to steal bases." He never could have stolen all those bases without risking being thrown out all those times.

I hope you see the relationship between achieving success and overcoming the fear of failure. This principle is true in business also.

Arkansas Best Corporation (ABC) is the parent company of one of the four largest less-than-truckload (LTL) freight companies in America, ABF Freight System. The corporation has annual revenues in excess of $1 billion and over 15,000 employees. In 1988, the stock value of ABC was low enough to entice a hostile takeover attempt. After a "white knight" came in to save the company from the liquidation intended by the rascals doing the taking over, the company was left with a huge debt. Many corporations have failed at times like this. Knowing this, some employees found other jobs and left what they thought was a "sinking ship".

Forty ABC executives put a personal stake in the future of the company by investing nine million dollars of their own personal assets into the company. They could not control the situation or the outcome, but they had the courage to do what they could. They had the courage to take a chance. They had to if they wanted to taste the success that was to follow. It was an amazing feat in trucking history, but the company worked out from under the huge debt and went back on the public stock market in May, 1992.

Courage is essential to success. But what if you don't have much courage? Where do you go get some? Is courage something you either have or you don't?

If we accept that courage is the mastery of fear, then we need to spend a little time understanding the psychology of fear. Webster's dictionary defines fear as "anxiety and agitation caused by the presence of danger, evil, pain, etc.". Fear and stress have several things in common, even though they are not exactly the same. Both can be brought on by the perception of threat or discomfort.

Imagine standing in front of a tiger's cage at the zoo. You may gaze at the tiger gazing at you. The steel bars separating you from the tiger make you feel safe and you enjoy the meeting. There is a "man eating" tiger within a few feet of you, but you have no fear. Now imagine that the bars were to fall down and there is nothing between you and the tiger. You now have a perception of danger and threat. Now fear and stress set in. Your glands dump adrenaline into your blood and you can run much faster than you could imagine possible. This is the way the human body was designed. It is a defense mechanism. Fear sets in when there is a "perception of threat". Fear is a reaction we have to our environment based on rules that we have learned in our life. A newborn baby would probably experience no fear at the feet of the tiger until it experienced physical pain or heard Mom and Dad screaming. The newborn baby does not yet have a set of rules that tells it when danger is present.

Therefore, fear comes from a set of beliefs or rules we have learned over the years. Some folks call this our script that was given to us by our parents, teachers, significant others, and experiences we have had in life.

All fear is not bad. In fact, it serves to protect us in many ways. For instance, I would never climb on to the roof of my two-story house and jump off. I do not have a fear of falling. I honestly rather enjoy the feeling. It is the fear of the sudden stop that keeps me from doing this. Fear serves us well when it protects us from physical danger.

But, it is the fear of failure we must master and it comes from the same process. It is a form of psychological discomfort that may manifest itself as embarrassment, degradation, rejection, etc. This fear usually sets in when we feel there is something terrible about to happen and there is something really important at stake. Often that message of "terrible" and "really important" are coming from deep centers of our subconscious where all those unwritten rules reside and tell us how to interpret our environment. If we want to master our fears, we must bring them up from the deep file of our experiences and rules tucked away in our brains and analyze them. Often when we do this, we find something we can chuckle at and dismiss because, even though it may have been real at one time in our life, it simply is no longer true. Other times we may find things where the consequences have been greatly exaggerated and we can logically reduce the level of threat associated with them.

Let's consider the fear that stems from our beliefs about our environment, the people around us and ourselves. To discover these beliefs, we must go through a process of self study. One way to identify the beliefs that produce our fears is to listen to our own self talk. We all talk to ourselves. Some do it vocally and some only mentally, but we all do it. When we reach for the phone to call that girl of our dreams for a date, a little voice in our heads may say, "She'll just say no. She probably already has a date. Why would she want to go out with a guy like me anyway." After a mental barrage like that, we hang up the phone and don't even call. Or it may be when we are about to apply for a job, the little voice tells us, "They would never hire a person like me. I probably would get fired anyway. They only hire real smart, talented people. Why would they hire me?" Then we don't even fill out the application. Or, you may be about to try out for a play and that little voice acts up saying, "You? in a play? Oh, come on. You could never stand on a stage in front of a live audience and act." So, you go home.

You must focus your mind on the messages that come into your mind when the discomfort of fear sets in and write them down. If you study that self talk, you often will find the belief that is the source of your fear. Sometimes that belief is something you were told as a child by your parents, teachers and friends, and you have accepted it as fact and brought it into your adult life. If you never examine those beliefs you are destined to live with their effects whether they are valid or not. If you identify them, then you can do something about them. You can choose to change your beliefs based on current circumstances, change your self talk and, literally, change your life.

When the fear of failure is plaguing me, I try to sit down and face it. I ask myself, "In this upcoming set of circumstances, what is the worst that could happen?". I try to visualize the worst possible outcome and figure out what the consequences would be. I try to guess what the chances of the worst actually happening. Based on the consequences and probability, I may accept the worst outcome as a possibility and proceed. Usually when I do this, I see that the worst possible consequences are not all that terrible and the chances of the worst happening are small. Given this analysis, the fear I felt usually diminishes dramatically. I often find that I have far more to lose by doing nothing and accepting the consequences of my lack of action.

Just what is failure anyway? Isn't it a relative thing? Failure could be defined as the difference between expectation and reality. You expect to win and you don't, therefore you fail. You expect to play a clean, tough game and you do that, therefore you succeed, regardless of who gets the most points. But the crowd thinks you failed if you don't get the greatest score! The point I wish to make here is we have to realize whose expectations we are basing success or failure on. Who is in control of this? We can be, if we choose to be!

Do you remember the Time Machine game described in Chapter 2? Who came up with your list of three most important things at the end of your life? You did, if you really participated the exercise. If your life is centered around making those three goals become reality, and you are progressing toward them, then you are in the driver's seat of your success. Your life will be a fulfilling journey and a success based on your own expectations.

At the time of this original writing, I am about to send off a book proposal for the very first time. I have never done this before. I have researched the process, but I'm sure I have a lot to learn. I believe experience will be my best teacher. Do I expect a rejection from the first publisher? Yes, I expect it and I accept it. When this happens, I hopefully will learn something in the process and submit to another publisher. And another. And another. I will continue my learning process until I learn enough to get published. I will not accept any rejection as failure. It will only be steps in my growth as a writer. I won't be a failure until I stop trying.

If a cowboy gets thrown off a horse, does that make him a failure as a cowboy? No, not as long as he gets back on the horse. Yes, he was thrown off. Yes, it hurt when he hit the ground just like he knew it would. But he is not a failure until he stops getting back on the horse. He is merely a more experienced cowboy.

My point is this. Falling down, losing the game, messing up a piano recital, getting rejected, getting thrown from a horse, losing a bunch of money, getting laughed at; none of these things makes you a failure unless you stop trying or you let the fear of these outcomes keep you from ever trying in the first place!

The "courage to fail" is the courage to accept setbacks, rejection, strikeouts, embarrassment and stay with the task at hand with a vision of the long term outcome! The "courage to fail" does not expect perfection nor an easy path to follow. The "courage to fail" expects to get knocked down and dragged out at times. It expects the setbacks and accepts them as part of the road to success. The "courage to fail" charges on anyway.

Without this "courage to fail", we are restricted to live in a narrow, safe path, where there is no risk, no danger, no change and very little excitement and progress. Without this courage we are destined to be like the masses and merely exist in this life without making much of an impact on the world around us. I believe God designed us to do better than that.

Now, let's go to the "user manual of life" for some more insight. Yes, I believe there is a "user manual for life." It was written by the developer. When computer programmers make a system, they sometimes write a user manual. They made the system. They know how the users should use it. Well, I am a firm believer that God made us. I also believe He is behind the writing of the user manual: the Bible.

Let's start in Matthew 14:22-27 (NIV).

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."

Let's get in the disciples' sandals for a moment. It is late at night. They are in the middle of the lake. The wind is whipping up the waves. Then here comes someone walking along on the lake. Now what do these guys have to be "terrified" about? Well, I imagine they were in fear for their physical safety and in fear of the unknown. They figured it was a ghost walking on the water, not the Lord body surfing out to them. Sure they were fearful. But let's draw our attention to the words of Jesus. "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." The King James Version reads: "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid". In either version, I see the Lord instructing those in fear to purposefully change their attitude and banish fear from their minds. Jesus may have felt he addressed both their sources of fear. Their lives were no longer in peril because he was there and he could handle the weather just fine. They should not fear the unknown of the ghost because it was him just catching up to them.

Jesus' message to "not be afraid, that He is here and He can handle the circumstances" is a message we need to hear loud and clear today. If you truly believed the Son of God was watching after you, what in the world would you ever be afraid of? Sometimes, our problem today is we are like the disciples were back then. Check it out.

"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." "Come," he said. Then Petergot down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"
(NIV) Matthew 14:28-31

Do you see a familiar problem that Peter is having? It is a faith problem. It is a "doubting that Jesus will handle it" problem. It is a problem that is still rampant in fearful hearts today. We sometimes doubt the presence and intervention of our Lord who said, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." The cure for fear is an active faith in Jesus!

Is "fear of failure" a major factor in your life? Well, just who is behind the wheel? And how much do you trust the driver? If the Son of God is the Lord of your life, just listen to His words to His disciples, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." .

Faith is an active and exciting kind of thing.

There was once a man who stretched a tightrope across Niagara Falls. A crowd gathered as he walked across the falls on the tightrope and came back to the same bank. He turned to the crowd and asked, "How many of you believe I can walk back and forth on this tightrope, blindfolded?" The crowd cheered and cried out, "We believe! We believe!". The man made the trip blindfolded. The crowd went wild, cheering and clapping. The man then asked the crowd, " How many of you believe I can walk this tightrope, blindfolded, pushing a wheel barrow?" The crowd yelled even louder, "We believe! We believe!". The man performed the feat once again and the crowd screamed and cheered ever louder than before. This time he asked, "How many people believe I can walk this tightrope, blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow with someone inside it?" The crowd went absolutely wild, yelling and screaming, "We believe! We believe!". The man yelled over the roar, "OK, I need a volunteer!". And the crowd suddenly became very quiet.

That isn't so amazing, now is it? Don't we see this today ourselves? People, who profess a faith in Jesus Christ, that He rose from the dead, that everything written about Him in the Bible is true, will fall quiet when Jesus says through one of His servants, "OK, I need a volunteer!". So many will stand on the sidelines of Christ's work in this world, screaming and singing, "We believe! We believe!", "Oh, How I love Jesus!" until there is a need to exercise their faith and actually do something for the Lord. No one ever said that the Christian walk would be boring or slow, now did they? I think God wants us to get in that wheelbarrow of faith, to take courage, and to not be afraid to go wherever He leads us.

There are many examples of ordinary men doing extraordinary things with the power of God. If you read Acts 4:1-13, you see Peter and John before the rulers, elders and teachers of the law in Jerusalem. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, taught a "power filled" lesson to a hostile audience. In verse 13, we see :

"When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus."

Have you ever thought that you were not smart enough to do some job? Did you ever think you didn't have what it takes to do something? Have you ever thought you did not know enough to try to lead someone to Christ? To teach? To serve the Lord? Well, folks, when you get God involved, He can use ordinary folks in some mighty extraordinary ways. He always has and He always will.

Chapter 1 of this book began with part of the story of David and Goliath. The entire account is recorded in I Samuel 17. Let's look at it here, focusing on the attitude of David. Remember that Goliath was a nine foot tall, war trained, armed and armored loud mouth, who shouted,

"Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us."
(NIV) I Samuel 17: 8-9

All the Israelites were terrified. Fear froze them. For forty days, no one stepped forward. They did, however, step back.

When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear.
(NIV) 1 Samuel 17:24

You need to read the entire account yourself to get the full weight of the moment. The shepherd boy David entered the picture, checked out this whole thing and he volunteered! The Israelites, using the wisdom of man, tried to put war armor on the kid. He said he'd rather go with what he knew, his trusty slingshot! David used the ability he had and was comfortable with. Now consider David's attitude when he faced these ridiculous odds:

"Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine."
(NIV) I Samuel 17:34-37

The last sentence says it all folks. David's courage stemmed from his faith in God. He had seen God do it before, and knew that God would do it again. David overcame the fear that stopped all the others. Consider David's response to the message Goliath delivered.

And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. "Come here," he said, "and I'll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!" David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give all of you into our hands."
(NIV) I Samuel 17:44-47

David acknowledged that it was not his battle. It was God's. Armed with that confidence, he took five smooth stones and his slingshot and he charged the battle line.

Imagine how this looked! A shepherd boy with a slingshot running quickly toward a nine foot tall, armed, trained warrior, who intended to feed him to the birds. Imagine the look on David's face and the courage and faith in David's heart.

David killed the giant with a well placed stone and then cut off his head with Goliath's own sword. He killed the warrior who was more powerful than David, but not more powerful than the living God that David served. This was God's fight, won by God's power. David got in God's wheelbarrow and went for a pretty wild ride.

I believe that this same God is interested in being involved in every area of our lives today. Our faith in Him can act as a tremendous source of courage for each of us. I believe He wants us to succeed, to live life to the full, to be effective servants for him, and He doesn't expect us to do it alone. He said He would always be with us. I believe that. Don't you?

Often when I speak before a large group of strangers, I get the pre-game butterflies. On a regular basis, I go to the county jail and get locked up with 15 to 20 inmates and teach a Bible lesson. The cure for my fear in both cases is the faith I have in God and the prayer I pray each time I feel the fear raising up.

"My dear God and heavenly Father, I pray at this moment for your guidance in the lesson I am about to teach. Please prepare the hearts and the minds of the people who will hear this message that you have given me to pass along to them. I pray that your will be done in each person's life. Please fill me with energy and enthusiasm. Please lead my mind and my mouth. Please take from me the uneasiness I now feel. Father, please use me as your servant to these people. I have prepared as much as I know how. I know that alone, I am not able to meet the needs of this group. But, I know that you can and that you will. I put my trust and faith in you, Lord. I can hardly wait to see what you are going to do! This is going to be great! Let's go get'em! In Jesus name, Amen."

I have prayed that prayer many, many times. Sometimes it was in a stall in a men's room, minutes before I was to begin. Sometimes it was just anywhere I could get off by myself for a few minutes. I have experienced a wonderful peace and assurance, a surge of energy and insight, and a delivery that literally could not have come from me alone. I have seen many souls led to Christ in the jail ministry. I give all the credit for that to God. It is Him working with ordinary, but willing, men and women. I proclaim to you the ride in the wheelbarrow is exhilarating.

Now what about you? I don't know what your circumstances are in life. I don't know how fear affects your life. But I urge you to examine the inside of your own mind and dissect the "fear of failure" that may be holding you back from something you should be doing. Perhaps fear keeps you from standing up to peer pressure and saying "NO" to things you should be turning from. Perhaps you are selling yourself short in life, by accepting a role, a job, a position in life that someone handed to you. Perhaps the fear of failure keeps you from applying for the better job, going for the degree or trying to improve your mind. Perhaps you feel locked into a situation that you can barely tolerate, but are afraid to try to improve it, so you survive it and merely exist from day to day. Perhaps, fear of failure keeps you from being the active, effective working Christian that God wants you to be.

Remember what happens if fear is the master? You don't want that kind of life, do you? I encourage you to expect the bumps and setbacks that are bound to happen and learn from every one of them on your way to your vision. Have faith in yourself, your team, in something bigger than yourself, but most important, have an active faith in your Creator.

God intended for us to live life to the full, not just merely endure it.

So, live courageously!

Get in God's wheelbarrow!

And hold on to your hat when you do! This thing really moves!

Copyright © 1996 Wayne Grovenburg

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