Monday, June 1, 2015

Overcoming the Fear of Failure by Embracing Imperfection

I used to grade weekly reading response papers for a college professor. He viewed these assignments as a "grade booster." He told me to grade leniently. I awarded most students As and Bs, but rarely gave a student 100%. On almost every paper I found a typo, grammatical error, or incomplete answer.

No one was perfect, not even one.

Their reactions underscored their imperfection. Many of the students complained and wanted justification for a missed point. Some lamented and asked for extra credit. Most labeled me strict.

I was strict: I never backed down.

These students demonstrated a dangerous thought pattern: they equated a minor flaw with failure. Imperfection and failure may be distant cousins, but that doesn't mean they should be married (not even in West Virginia). We do ourselves an injustice when we chaff at failure and imperfections.

Imperfection implies room for improvement. Imperfection gives opportunity for growth. Imperfection suggests a standard to mark future progress by. Imperfection may be the result of cut corners, hasty editing (e.g., this blog), and half-hearted efforts, but it does not spell failure...unless.

If in the face of imperfection one makes excuses, shifts the blame, or quits the task at hand, then failure it births.

Fortunately, many professionals excel at imperfection without resigning as failures. A great baseball player fails to hit the pitch three out of five times.  A great preacher may fail to reach two thirds of his audience on any given Sunday. A great salesman fails to close a deal four out of five times. A great inventor will fail on a new product ninety-nine out of one hundred tries.

What makes these individuals great is not their perfect records, but their persistence in the face of failure. The batter adjusts his stance. The preacher modifies his content. The salesman finds new clients. The inventor constantly tweaks her design. Imperfection is a spur inspiring forward motion.

Perhaps more of us would overcome the fear of failure if we embraced our imperfection. God knows: He accepts all this way. He grades on a curve.

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me" (Philippians 3:12, NIV)



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