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Are You Frightened?

Fear of failure

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To encourage us to consider strategies to use when something has gone wrong.

Preparation and materials

  • None required.


  1. Ask the students, ‘How do you feel when test results are returned?’

    Pause to allow time for thought.

    Ask the students, ‘How do you feel when the test paper is covered in crosses? You got it wrong. Quite a few times.’

    Pause to allow time for thought.

  2. There are some of us who pass each test with flying colours. Our paper is always covered in ticks. To those of you for whom this is true, I say, ‘Well done!’

    However, life is about more than school tests. What about the mistakes that we make in life, the miscalculations, the errors of judgement, the lapses in concentration, the relationship breakdowns? Nobody, including the teachers, is immune from getting it wrong sometimes.

  3. Ask the students, ‘How do you feel when you get it wrong?’

    For most of us, it depends on how important the mistake is. Some failures we can put behind us quite easily and move on. Sometimes, we even get a second chance and can redeem ourselves.

    However, there are other times when getting it wrong can affect us deeply. We wonder what everyone else thinks of us. We feel disappointed. We might be confused about the error that we made. We thought that we were right, but apparently not. At worst, regular failure can become a source of depression. Whatever our reaction, we don’t enjoy getting it wrong. We have a fear of failure.

  4. If we were to talk to a research scientist, they might put a different perspective on the matter. Scientific research is about trying different approaches to a situation and observing the results. For every useful observation, every scientific breakthrough, there will be dozens - maybe hundreds or thousands - of times when there is no useful result, no sign of a significant development. For research scientists, getting it wrong is part of getting it right. And they are often wrong, in the short term at least.

Time for reflection

Christians believe that it is human nature to get things wrong, at least some of the time. St Paul describes it like this: ‘Even when I want to do the good and right thing, I don’t. In fact, I tend to do the very thing I don’t want to do.’ (Romans 7.18-19) Christians believe that this is an inbuilt human failing. We won’t ever get it right all the time.

So, what can we do about it?

It’s helpful to start by considering why we got things wrong. In a test, it could be because we didn’t understand the questions. That’s a situation that’s easily addressed by seeking explanation from the teacher. Or perhaps we didn’t revise enough. Again, that’s easily addressed.

Looking more widely, what was our frame of mind when we failed? Were we tired, feeling ill or out of sorts? Relationship failures, for instance, often arise out of trivial circumstances that grow because of unstable emotions.

When we made a wrong decision, did we have all the information that we needed? Were we hasty in our words or actions? Who were we with? How did the mistake occur?

The next step is to explore approaches to fixing things. We could ask for an explanation, be more disciplined in preparation and get a good night’s sleep. If others have been affected by our mistake, we should admit it and apologize. The forgiveness of others is really helpful in remedying what went wrong. Let’s remember this when others do us wrong too!

Finally, we can seek advice about other ways to approach whatever we feel that we have failed in. In school, we have a variety of support [you may want to outline the support available]. It can also be helpful to develop relationships with people we regard as inspirational, encouraging or resourceful, people we can look up to. For St Paul, that person was Jesus, and many people take that same route today.

A cross on our work indicates a failure. However, turn it 45 degrees and it becomes a different kind of cross, a plus sign, a positive sign. Getting something wrong can so often be part of getting something right.


‘Oops! . . . I did it again’ by Britney Spears, available at: (3.31 minutes long)

Publication date: October 2023   (Vol.25 No.10)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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