Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher once said, “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” Being obsessed with perfectionism is one of the most crippling conditions that cause people to fear making mistakes. They want to be right the first time. And since they are not sure they can achieve that, they decide not even to try. As Hubbard said, that can be a person’s greatest mistake.
One way we can overcome this debilitating effect is to change the way we think of failure. Instead of it being a bad mark on our reputation, it can become an A+ on because we take it as an opportunity to learn. Rather than it being seen as an ending, it provides an opportunity to grow. Let’s use our modern GPS systems as a way of illustrating this. Once you determine your destination and hit the “Start” button, you will be told when to turn. But sometimes, we miss calculate the distance and end up going past where we should have turned. Almost immediately your GPS will read, “Recalculating.” It will then tell you to go on to another turn, or make a U-turn so you can go back and do it right this time.
Another way to combat perfectionism is to find someone you can trust to help you make decisions when you can’t rely on your own conclusions. They can be like a cheerleader who helps you keep from just throwing up your hands and walking away. Make sure they know what your goal is. And rather than looking at their corrective suggestions as failures on your part, look at them as having four eyes and two brains helping to get things done to your satisfaction. And don’t call them when it’s already an emergency, but check with them regularly to advise them where you are on your project.
You can also start celebrating your small achievements instead of waiting to rejoice over your big wins. It will help motivate you and keep you going. Have you ever noticed that marathon runners don’t wait until the race is over before they hydrate? Instead, they grab bottles of water offered to them along the way. The same is true in your journey toward our destiny. Each small victory that you celebrate will help you overcome your fear that one mistake will bring your race to an end in failure. Rather, see a mistake as a simple mid-course correction to get you back on track.
Why not help yourself by determining why you are afraid of not being perfect. It may have all started when you were a child and were scolded because you didn’t eat everything on your plate, or when you put your shoes on the wrong feet or didn’t make straight A’s in school. Or it may have come from always being blamed for making mistakes but never praised for getting things right. Once you realize that this was imposed on you, you can shake it off and use each new opportunity as a way of showing that you’re not afraid of falling because you’re determined to get up and keep going.
Also, sometimes we judge things before everything we have everything put into place. Then we use up all our energy trying to avoid difficulties as though they are roadblocks instead of stepping-stones. What is happening now is only part of the big picture; it’s one small piece of a larger puzzle. What is happening to you at this moment plays a small role in your success. Once you realize you can adjust to make things better, don’t rush, just keep it in mind until the right time comes to deal with it. But don’t just sit back and let your life fall apart. You must always keep going forward, otherwise, things will start going backward.
Try this: take a chair and hold it out in front of you and see how long you can keep your arms up before the weight of the chair pulls them down. Then take the same chair and pull it close to you and wrap your arms around it as you hold it tight to your chest. You’ll see that you can hold that chair much longer. This is another way of facing your fears head-on. Opportunities are not to be feared. Remember what you’ve learned so far and that will help you deal with what you’re facing now.
As one psychologist said, “Failure will happen no matter what but how you react to it says a lot about you as a person and where you’re headed in life. You basically have two options: The fear can either hold you back from even trying to do those scary things or it can propel you forward. We hope you choose to embrace fear, let it ignite your fire, and empower you to make changes in your life. Honestly, what’s scarier? Taking a risk or staying where you’re at forever?” As Charles Swindoll said, “Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it.”
So what does the Bible have to say about this? A Christian is told that even though they may stumble, they will not end up flat on the ground and unable to move because God is walking with them and holding their hand.1 In other words, we are not going toward God’s destiny for our lives alone, He is always there by our side.
King Solomon reminds us that we all have a future, so there’s no reason to lose hope over one mistake and think it’s all over.2 He goes on to say that even the most accomplished person make many mistakes but they keep going, while the person who does not have God in their lives may want to end everything when they get into trouble.3 And finally, Solomon says, that things won’t go well if we try to hide our mistakes. The person who admits when they’ve made an error and then moves on will find that others have empathy with them.4
One time the prophet Isaiah announced God’s promise to His children. He told them not to fear, that God is always with them. He also encouraged them not let things bring them to a halt because God can keep them going. He will give them the strength they need to handle life’s difficulties and opportunities. So the message to us is that we shouldn’t worry about letting go of His hand because He will never let go of ours.5
And the Apostle Paul told his fellow believers in Philippi that he had not yet reached his ultimate goal in life. But one thing he does do to keep moving on is to forget what’s behind him and focus on what’s in front of him. That way, he’s not always looking backward but looking forward. By constantly looking backward we’ll miss many opportunities that stand before us.6
And to the Christians in Rome Paul wrote them, “We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are chosen to be a part of His plan.”7 If we are not part of a plan, then we sit around as a useless piece that doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. But when we are part of God’s plan for our lives, then He knows exactly where we fit in and will guide us to that place if we will only listen to His instructions. So as Mr. Hubbard said, don’t let your fear of making a mistake become the biggest mistake of your life. – Dr. Robert R Seyda
1 Psalm 37:24
2 Proverbs 23:18
3 Ibid. 24:16
4 Ibid. 28:13
5 Isaiah 41:10
6 Philippians 3:13
7 Romans 8:28