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Article – Too Scared to Try; How to Break Free from Perfectionism

Researcher/ Writer:  Pat Murphy

Subject: Too Scared to try; How to break free from perfectionism

(Take up to one page per point below.  Personal testimony and scripture is welcomed. )

1. Describe the correct way this is done:

Fear of gaining achievement at home, work, socially, and even in a church setting can become so paralyzing and all-consuming that you fail to follow your desire to be a part of the activity.  Many people become withdrawn, and only do the things that are easy with out any chance of failure.

“Fear is inevitable, I have to accept that, but I cannot allow it to paralyze me.” ~Isabel Allende

Many of us are afraid of failing, at least some of the time. But fear of failure (also called “atychiphobia”) is when we allow that fear to stop us doing the things that can move us forward to achieve our goals. 

What has fear and perfectionism stopped you from doing?

When I was younger, I allowed the desire for perfection to control all of my actions. In drama, if I couldn’t have a lead role, I didn’t want to participate at all. In speech club, if I couldn’t place first I did not want to ever compete again.  First place was the only place that was good enough.

  1. First, I was never satisfied
  2. Second, my admirable drive to succeed transformed into something ugly. My friends and co-workers would look and sometimes walk the other way when I came into their presence due to the pressure I was putting on them and myself.
  3. And then the fear turned into anxiety which brought health related issues. I did not sleep, did not eat a balanced diet, and became obsessed with being the best at any cost.
  4. Realization that there is no perfect life, only a life that difficult.
  5. Making the right choices.
  6. Attempting new things or get involved in challenging projects.
  7. Procrastination, a failure to follow through with goals.
  8. Low self-esteem, thinking you’ll never be good enough to do that task.

You might experience some of these symptoms if you have a fear of failure:

  1. Reluctant to try new things or get involved in challenging projects.
  2. Sabotaging yourself – procrastination, excessive anxiety, and/or a failure to follow through with goals.
  3. Lack of self-confidence using negative statements like “I could never lead a conference like that.”
  4. Perfectionism – willing only to try those things you know you will be successful. Perhaps in a children’s program failing to plan new things fearing failure.

2. Illustrate or outline the wrong way this is done:

If I cannot do it right, I do not want to do it all.

Vanessa Coggshall wrote, “I wanted to be the best, but I didn’t want to work at something that I might not ever achieve. The threat of failure was too much to bear.”

  1. Allowing others to step in and make plans, giving them credit when failure occurs, making it clear that if I did it, success would have happened.
  2. Remaining in the safe zone – only doing things that have been successful in the past.
  3. Pulling out the file and handing it to someone and telling them to stick to the script – do not change anything.
  4. The plan worked last year and it will be fine this year.
  5. Failing to listen to others who may have new insight into how to create a “better mousetrap”.

For example – fall festival:

  • Everything a person needs is in the file
  • Not permitting any change for fear of failure
  • Updating games, location, follow-up methods – why? It has worked for 20 + years so why rock the boat?
  • Becoming a bully, this is my project and I know what is best. You have only been here less than a year and I know this church.

3. How to correct this:

(Tips, keys, or steps)

  1. Recognize and face your fears and the need to be perfect.
  2. Training, studying and practicing.

“Failure is necessary from time to time.  Failures are stepping stones that slowly uncover the correct path forward, one slippery step at a time.” -Marc Chernoff

Your future depends on what you do today.  The fear of failure, or whatever, can be daunting, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the realization of looking back on great opportunities you never took.  Don’t be satisfied with telling stories others have lived.  Write your own story, your way.

Walk the dog.

I could walk that dog for a solid fifteen minutes and do everything right. I’d put on that leash, walk up and down the block, give her time to do her business, pick up the business in a baggie, and return home. I was a solid A dog walker.

But boy was I unsatisfied.

I had dreams and passions and hopes and aspirations. But I didn’t dare touch any of those things for fear of failure. I couldn’t bear the sting of defeat.

So I walked and walked and walked that dog. I was neglecting my other interests, which would pop into my mind and quickly get pushed out, but my joyous, tail-wagging, tongue-lolling dog certainly loved every second of it. And then I learned two life-changing lessons.

My first lesson came from my dog. Just watching her pure joy of life—her contentedness to just be—had a positive effect on me. Instead of focusing on being the best dog on the block, she drank in the sunshine and set her sights on appreciating her surroundings.

That contented dog has taught me more about life that I ever thought possible.

My second lesson came from a day at our town’s street fair. The organizers brought in a rock-climbing wall, and I plopped down near the wall to eat a snack. I watched the kids excitedly scurry to the top and come whizzing back down.

One girl, about ten years old, made her way to the front of the line. She got strapped into a harness and approached the wall.

What came next was painful to watch. She tried climbing the wall and stumbled again and again. One step up, one step down.

She couldn’t grab a foothold, and the other kids waiting their turn started to become anxious. To my amazement, she didn’t seem to notice her detractors. One step up, one step down.

She went on like this—without making an ounce of a progress—for a good ten minutes. By this point, the kids behind her became loud and restless. They wanted her to stop trying—to stop wasting everyone’s time.

But she kept on. One step up, one step down. Watching her perseverance, something I didn’t have at my age and certainly didn’t have at eight years old, made me cry.

I was so proud of this little girl—this stranger who reminded me of the person I wish I had been. Even if I couldn’t be the best, I wish I tried.

Finally, tired and sweaty, she backed away from the wall. Instead of looking defeated, she had a huge smile on her face. She turned around and ran towards her mom.

“Mom,” she cried. “I almost did it! Can I try again later?”

And with those simple words, I was a changed person—a recovering perfectionist!

  1. How to keep this correct:  (Tips, keys, or steps)
  1. Seek God’s intervention.
  • Envision and declare what you want.
  • Listen to God through prayer and His word.
  • Be willing to change your mind, attitude, and service ideas.
  1. Believe that God will provide all the tools and encouragement necessary to complete the task at hand.
  • Surround yourself with others who are in the same field.
  • Listen to their ideas.
  • Ask questions to clarify why some things are working and some are not.
  1. Share your vision with key leaders on your team and help them to buy in to your vision.
  • Ask how they can partner with you to make this a better project.
  • Give them permission to dream.
  • Provide tools to empower them.
  • Listen, listen, listen!
  • Respond, not react to their ideas
  1. Know the consequence of staying where you are.
  • Frustration for you and your team
  • Self-doubt and eventually others will begin to doubt your abilities
  • No growth or potential for new families to align with you if you are not willing to share your vision and make changes from time to time.
  • Some will say there is safety/job security in remaining just as you are, but that is simply not an accurate assessment.
  1. Take it slow, but GO!
  • Action must be evident.
  • Set measurable goals.
  • Be willing to change mid-stream as appropriate.
  • Take your team with you on the journey.
  • Give God the glory for all the good things that will begin happening.
  1. Accept that failure is possible and necessary.
  • Consistent evaluation.
  • Learn from any failure.
  • What can be done differently in the future?
  • Seek advice from others.


Great reads for further information:

1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently, by Marc Chernoff , Angel Chernoff and Jonathan Wondrusch

The Power of Habit.

The Success Principles

As Winston Churchill once said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”




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