by Kristen

My eyes skimmed the post until they caught these words: “Failure…implies an end. An end to trying. An end to worth.”[1]

I stopped.

My fear of failure is paralyzing. It threatens to sink me on my best days, and on my worst . . . on my worst it takes me places I should never go.

I re-read the words.

“Failure…implies an end. An end to trying. An end to worth.”

They took me back six years. I sat in a counselor’s office and choked out how I had failed and was failing. Then he handed me a piece of paper and a pen. His directions were simple: write down every single time I’d failed. Every academic failure. Every athletic failure. Every relational failure. Every professional failure. Every personal failure. Every one.

I fidgeted as I stared at the paper. In my head, there were only two categories: perfect and failure. I slapped the label of failure on anything I touched that didn’t end in unqualified success. I careened between success and utter failure with no room for landing in the wide middle of acceptable.

But there wasn’t much to write on the paper. I hadn’t stopped trying. I hadn’t lost my worth. I hadn’t failed.

I hadn’t failed.

It was a stunning realization.

Months later on a spring day I gave notice that I would not be returning to my job as an elementary school teacher, and as I submitted my paperwork I pictured a different paper: the list of my failures. And I knew this moment—this ending—was not a failure. It was an end to a season, yes. But my skewed perception of success and failure did not win. My worth was in tact. I signed my name to the form and felt freedom, not failure.

It’s been six years. My fear of failure shadows me every minute. But it’s easier to call it out as a fear—a possibility—not an inherent reality. And now when it crowds against my shoulder or slips its icy fingers around my heart I can counter it with these words—”Failure…implies an end. An end to trying. An end to worth.”—and I have a hunch I’ll find I’ve not reached the end.

The words aren’t magical. The piece of printer paper handed to me in a moment of crisis was just processed wood pulp. But together they put language and imagery to my internal struggle. They offer a filter through which to screen my labeling of life—or maybe they let me peel the hastily applied labels of failure off the imperfect moments.

The conversations that played out so differently in reality than in my head? Not failures.

The jobs I didn’t get? Not failures.

The degrees earned not directly applicable to my current position? Not failures.

The slow, slow process of figuring out what I have to offer, what my contribution to the world is?

Still in process, still trying. My worth is intact. I am not a failure.



[1] Mulder, S. (2014). The Success of Failure [Blog] That’s Me- Susan Mulder. Available at [Accessed 3 Nov. 2014].

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