I'm going over to my mom's house today, to celebrate my birthday. She said she's making potato salad.
I hope she's a little stressed out while she's making it.
I wouldn't feel this way if my momma hadn't let me in on a little secret a few years ago: the secret ingredient, like it or not, is fear of failure.
“I don't know why,” my mom said, “but when I think the potato salad is gonna be GREAT, it usually ends up being gross or mediocre. But when I'm freaking out the whole time, afraid it's gonna be a disaster, people say it's delicious.”
As I mused about this strange phenomenon, I realized that it's also true of my life. When I was terrified that I wasn't going to finish a poem in time, I made it to Nationals. When I fretted about a story I was trying to write, my boss said she loved it. When I'm portraying a character and I think I got it all wrong, a little girl comes up to me and says I am a great actress.
It's when I have something to prove (and something to lose) that I seem to do my best.
Don't get me wrong: fear of failure can be crippling. There have been MANY projects that have been planted in my brain and never made it to fruition because I was afraid to start. Fear of failure keeps dreamers from making their dreams a reality, lovers from pursuing the object of their love, and parents from embracing their children freely.
But a small dose – a tiny fear of failure that doesn't keep you from starting but propels you into creative genius – that's the kind of fear that I'm talking about.
I wonder if that's sort of the same kind of fear that God mentions in the Bible. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” The psalmist doesn't mean terror... he means a respect that makes us want to honor God's greatness.
When I'm struggling with something, I find myself praying far more often. “God, help me with this awful parody I'm writing... Lord, I'm giving you this day, because I have no idea how I'm going to get all of this clean... Jesus, please fix my bad attitude. I'm tired of yelling at my family all day.”
God enables me to do things the right way – the way I like to do them. But many times, it first takes a humble admission that I have no idea what I'm doing before I see the light.
Perhaps pride has something to do with it. In elementary school, I was sure I would get a gold medal for track and field day, and I only made bronze. In junior high, I brought a dead lizard to school in a plastic bag because I was SURE that my science teacher would want to dissect it in class that day. (For years, people remembered that, and I unknowingly became the weird kid that day.) After I graduated high school, I thought I looked “hot” in a dress I wore on Valentine's day, and I wound up falling off a scooter and being covered in dirt and road rash.
I could lament all of these “tragedies” in life, but the truth is that I needed to be humbled. I thank God that He quickly humbles me.
I need to write uncomfortably. I need to LIVE uncomfortably. Because life is not all about me anyway.
It's about the moments, the memories. Making life count. And that is never comfortable.