The cost of choosing fear


I had just put my daughter to bed, filled up my big water glass and curled up on the couch. I had the remote handy while I clicked around online. Just a few minutes into my Friday night wind-down routine, the lights flickers once, twice and then poof!

The house was dark. REAL DARK.

Before I could even move, my kiddo began screaming as loud as she could in a terror-filled voice I’d never heard before. She didn’t quiet down to take a breath or hear me shouting, “I’m coming! Hold on! Just a second! I’m on my way!”

Her bedroom shares a wall with the living room, so it’s not like I had far to go. And thanks to the light of my computer screen, I could see for several feet down the hallway. I pulled open her door and said firmly, “Annalyn! Stop it. I’m RIGHT HERE.”

I shuffled over to her bed with memories of her messy floor and my decision to wait for morning to clean it up. Then we walked up front and proceeded to have what I called “a little adventure.”

She was clearly terrified by her unexpected plunge into darkness, and I understood. So I did my best to stay upbeat and reframe the unusual evening as a fun adventure for the two of us. We lit candles, went on a hunt for flashlights (WHY do we have four flashlights and ONLY ONE that works?!?), and eventually hopped in the car for a drive when I realized my phone would die soon.

While my phone charged in the car, we ate pie at Perkin’s and arrived home to every light in the house burning brightly. (The aforementioned candles were not burning brightly, however. Just in case you were concerned.) I tucked her back in bed and tucked the whole experience away in my mind.

Until the night several days later when she refused to go to bed because she was afraid the power would go out again.

“What if it does, though? What if the lights go out in all the rooms and it’s dark again and I can’t see anything and what if?”

Reminding her that out of the approximately one thousand nights she’s slept in our house, the electricity has only gone out once didn’t help. Neither did reminding her that I came to her room immediately and we actually had a fun little night when the power went out.

In case you were thinking of nominating me for Mom of the Year today, I should probably tell you that yelling at her to quit being a baby didn’t work either.


Because my sweet girl is also a smart girl and has proven quite capable in the manipulation department, I just wasn’t sure if she was truly scared or if she was using it as an excuse to stay up late. Once she asked me the following question, though, I knew something real was going on in her little head. She said, “But how do I stop my head from thinking about it, Mommy?”

Oh, baby girl, if only I knew.

Obviously I know – IN THEORY – how to stop fear in its tracks. I know about thinking happy thoughts and praying for courage and protection and singing Sunday school songs or One Direction songs (you know, whatever does the trick). I know about reason and logic and thinking about it, really thinking about it.

But even though I shared with my little girl all the tricks I’ve used since I was her age and suffering from recurring nightmares, I knew that, in the end, the choice was hers. She had to choose whether or not to be scared.

As a perfectionist, I choose fear all the time.

Several months ago I was contacted about speaking at a large women’s conference. I was thrilled. I enjoy speaking and sometimes feel that I do it well, and I’d really like to speak to groups more often. This felt like a huge opportunity.

So huge, in fact, that I built it up to epic proportions in my head. (Like I do.) And that’s when the fear slipped in.

What if I blow this opportunity?
What if they hate me?
What if I don’t have anything useful to share?
What if I get tongue-tied or make offensive jokes in my nervous state?
What if I am not good enough?

Once those fears started bombarding me, the procrastination wasn’t far behind. They go hand in hand, you know. I feel afraid that I can’t live up to expectations – mine, someone else’s, or both – and so I put off getting started. Even though I know that I am skilled in this area and will feel better once I just get started, I wait. And wait. And WAIT.

And this time? I waited so long that by the time I decided to stop choosing fear, it was nearly too late. It is only by the grace of God and the sugar high I got from mainlining about 20 mini candy bars that I finally got to work and went to that conference mostly prepared.

You want to know a few things? First of all, the moment I scraped up an ounce of discipline and practiced my presentation out loud, I remembered that, Yeah, I really am good at this.

Second of all, even though I felt great and prepared in the end, the first (of FIVE) session I taught was terrible! It stunk and I went directly back to my hotel room (with more candy bars in hand, if you must know) to revise my presentation and think through my approach. But – here’s the giving up on perfect and getting on with life part – I survived. And, if you twist my arm, I’ll admit that I think my other four sessions were awesome.

It turns out I didn’t have anything to be scared of. Failure (or a less-than-stellar session) didn’t kill me. And success wasn’t as hard to accomplish as I’d feared.

Choosing fear is not smart. It’s not, friends. It wastes time and saps our energy. It steals our sleep and our thunder and our dreams. And more than likely, those fears are really just lies in disguise anyway.

Have you ever found yourself choosing fear as you fight perfectionism?

This post is part of 31 Days of Giving Up on Perfect. I won’t be talking about skirts and saleswoman every day this month, but I will be working through a whole lot of ways I need to kick perfectionism to the curb in my life. For more 31 Days, visit The Nester.

21 Comments The cost of choosing fear

  1. Karen October 3, 2012 at 2:03 am

    This post is awesome!!! Thank you.

  2. mindy October 3, 2012 at 5:48 am

    All the DANG TIME! Thanks for this, Mary – going to reread and soak it up later – such insight!

  3. Gina October 3, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Why do we do that procrastination thing??!!! So typical. Nice to know not alone.

  4. Kate October 3, 2012 at 9:22 am

    Maybe I am splitting hairs, but I don’t think fear is a choice. It is an emotion that happens to us – how we deal with it is where choice comes in.

    1. Cheri Gregory October 3, 2012 at 12:44 pm

      Kate — I’m with you. I’ve heard “pain is inevitable; misery is optional. So perhaps “fear is inevitable; paralysis is a choice”?

    2. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 24, 2012 at 9:10 pm

      Kate, you’re right. By saying “choosing fear,” what I really meant was choosing to respond in fear.

  5. richelle @ "our wright"-ing pad October 3, 2012 at 10:49 am

    just wanted to let you know i’m very much enjoying your series – and that i loved this post. i can list at least three things right now, this very moment, where i’m afraid because i know i won’t be perfect – a conference i’m preparing to speak at in 13 days, worrying if the 2nd half of my gang will end up with whooping cough (and that’s a fear for the future) because i’ve made a wrong decision, and what will people think if we really change mission fields like we think the Lord might be leading us to do.

    it is a continual battle – wish not choosing fear was as easy to do as it is to type.

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 24, 2012 at 9:09 pm

      Richelle, I’m so late to responding here, but I truly hope your conference went well and your family stayed healthy!!

  6. Abby October 3, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Eeesh, I feel like I do this all the time! My very creative imagination plus fear left unchecked soon produces an intimidating sequence of worst-case-scenario “what ifs.” I’m slowly learning to recognize that and trying to make different choices because I know the vicious cycle my usual choices will lead to.

    1. raeann October 11, 2012 at 7:14 pm

      ohmygoodness abby, it’s as if i wrote this myself! i have the most vivid imagination, and get paralyzed by fear, which totally leads to my chicken little what-ifs!

      mary – thanks for this post – it is so easy to be wrapped up in fear. my fear is all about the future, my health, family’s health, my business, and it’s just so.dang.hard to keep the fear away. i’m truly working on it, trying to rest easy in God’s word, and scripture, and Bible study, but my fear creates doubt, and i feel my faith faltering. :(

      again, thanks for writing this!

    2. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 24, 2012 at 9:09 pm

      I think recognizing our cycles is a huge step. I’m slowly changing, too…so slowly…

  7. Cheri Gregory October 3, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    I’m slowly understanding how my mother’s anxieties taught me to react to everything with fear and perfectionism. She literally thought through, and voiced, everything that could possibly go wrong with anything and then did everything she could in order to prevent them all!

    Since so many of her fears were irrational, typically nothing went wrong. But rather than seeing that as proof that she didn’t need to worry, she saw that as proof that all her hyper-vigillant efforts had paid off!

    My poor husband has spent most of our marriage telling me, “Just relax!” and his words which were meant to encourage me have, instead, struck terror to my heart — how can I? how dare I?

    As I am learning to identify — and release — the perfectionistic thinking that has ruled my mind, heart, and behavior for so long, he is starting to understand why I’ve been so driven and so exhausted for most of our quarter-of-a-century of marriage!

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 24, 2012 at 9:08 pm

      So interesting how your mom’s way of processing affected you. This makes me think about how much I say out loud in front of my (VERY observant) daughter!!

  8. chelleybutton October 3, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Glad to know I’m not the only one. I am SUCH a procrastinator, and while a lot of it has to do with laziness (like the housework stuff, for example), so much of it has to do with FEAR. I even procrastinated birth (just ask my mom), probably for fear of coming out into the world. So typical of me.

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 24, 2012 at 9:07 pm

      Haha – but aren’t you glad you did? Now your birthday is such a fun day!

  9. susan October 3, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    I sooooo get the perfectionism/fear thing. It can paralyze me.

    If your little one continues to express a concern about the power going out, go grab a package of glow sticks from the dollar store. (I learned this during an extended power outage from a hurricane). Activate ONE and place it in her hand at bedtime. Sing “this little light of mine” together.

    The next night, show her the box of glow sticks. Explain that they are there if the power ever goes out. They are her light in a dark place. Sing the song again. Repeat nightly.

    This worked for my littles, I hope it works for yours.

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 24, 2012 at 9:07 pm

      Susan, I love this idea! I haven’t tried it yet, but I am planning on it. Bedtime has continued to be a struggle and I think this would help. Thank you!!

  10. Laura October 3, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    I love this post! Perfection in the form of fear plagues me as well; thank you for reminding me I’m not the only one. I’m really looking forward to following your journey!

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 24, 2012 at 9:05 pm

      Thanks, Laura. I hope you’ve been enjoying the series this month!

  11. Wendy Reichle October 6, 2012 at 8:43 pm


    I’m pretty sure that the conference you spoke of in this post is the one I attended in St Charles last weekend. You were awesome, and relevant, and interesting! I have hit your site a few times, but always get distracted or torn away. I finally got a chance to actually read a few of your posts, and love your writing style. Keep it up, your imperfection is exactly what makes it perfect.

    Stalking your site from here on out,
    Wendy :)

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 24, 2012 at 9:05 pm

      Wendy!! You were such a blessing in that session! Thank you for all your participation and questions! You are welcome to stalk me any day. ;)

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