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Fear of Failure

An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive

Suitable for Whole School (Sec) - Church Schools


To tackle issues of self-esteem and feelings of failure.

Preparation and materials

  • Have available - or display around the room - letters, certificates and emails that could depict ‘failure’ of some sort. Otherwise, use imaginary letters or results. Examples could include:

    – a rejection letter following an interview for a job
    – a rejection letter following an audition
    - rejection letters from publishers
    - unsuccessful exam results


  1. Show the students the letters, certificates and emails or pretend to read the imaginary ones.

    Explain that when people dont get a job that they really wanted, when they try to get a book published and it is rejected, when they dont make it into a particular sports team or when they dont do as well as they hoped in an exam, people can feel like they have failed.

    If possible, describe a time when you yourself felt that you had failed in one of these sorts of situations.

  2. Point out that in many ways, we are surrounded by failure each day. Failure to get up on time, failure to do what we meant to do, failure to speak when we needed to, failure to laugh at a joke. Batteries fail, recipes fail . . .

    Give other examples, choosing ones that are particularly relevant to your school, if possible. Examples could include a team losing or some disappointment for the school.

  3. Ask the students to take a minute to think about the ways in which they feel like they fail. (With smaller groups, you may wish them to write things down.)

  4. Point out that if we were to count up our failings honestly, we would all probably have quite a few! Ask the students to total in their own minds how many failures they can think of immediately: answering back, not doing homework, gossiping, being untidy . . .

  5. In truth, there is failure all over the place. We are surrounded by it, filled with it. It is part of the human race.

    In each human life, there are some notable successes and some notable failures. Then there are the failures that we ended up being glad about because of the success that they led to later on.

    Its important to grasp that failure is part of life, part of the way we learn about life, part of the way we learn about ourselves. Because it is part of us and all around us, if we totalled our failures between us, we could reach a massive number! However, we dont need to be afraid of failure; rather, we need to learn from it and move forward.

  6. Fear of failure is when we freeze and stop being the creative people we usually are. You know what I mean! You know how you feel when you can hardly get into the classroom because you are afraid of the exam. You know how you kick yourself when youve finished the exam and calmed down, because you put that silly answer down when you knew what the right one was, but were too frozen by fear to remember it.

    You also know what youre like when youre on your own and are not afraid because no one is watching or listening. You can sing! You can dance! You can thump the life out of those drums! In front of your class, though? An audience? You think youll fail – you’ll slip, youll go off key – and you freeze. Some of you dont get that way often, but all of us have at some point.

  7. There is a book by Susan Jeffers called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (Vermilion, 2007). One of her fear truths is this: Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.

    In other words, those who never take risks live with the dread of something going wrong. They want to feel safe, but the result is that most days, they are wobbly.

  8. It is actually easier simply to go ahead and try new things or welcome difficult things, accepting the fact that you may fail. If you decide to take failure in your stride and face your fear of it, you will discover that you will get stronger and learn that you can tackle anything. GCSEs? A levels? A job interview? Anything. You might fail, but then again, you might not.

    You can tackle anything.

Time for reflection

There is a helpful passage in the Bible about how what is perceived as failure can, in fact, be success. The apostle Paul was put in prison because people found his preaching threatening. While he was in prison, he wrote to the Christians in Philippi. He said to them: I want you to know . . . that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear. (Philippians 1.12–14, New Revised Standard Version)

God of all time,
Help us to see failures as a chance to grow.
Help us never to give up.
Help us to persevere.
We thank you for the gift of all that we are and all that we have the potential to be.
Help us to celebrate the successes of others and to help them to suceed.

Publication date: October 2020   (Vol.22 No.10)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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