Have you ever had a fear that seemed to define you? Over the past week, we have been dealing with this kind of fear in the Ozment household. About a week ago, my daughter was suddenly struck with a fear of something being in her room when she was going to bed.

I tried everything… music, lights on, doors closed, doors opened. There has been a lot of tears, hugs, reassurances, frustration, more tears, guilt, stress and repentance…mostly on my part.

Just like that, everything that defined her was lost in the reality of the fear that she was facing and she was exhausting herself trying to avoid the thing she thought “might” happen.

Sound familiar?

As adults, we may have moved beyond the fear of the dark, but our fears are no less powerful. If we’re not careful, they begin to define us and we lose sight of who we are.

Your identity is fluid:

In a recent post, I wrote about the fluid nature of our identity, how it’s constantly evolving through our interaction with the world. Because it is so fluid, it is easily manipulated. Fears, prejudices and labels all corrupt the integrity of the true identity that God placed inside of us. And many times, we are unaware that it has even happened.

Suddenly, you find yourself on one of two paths. Either you will retreat within yourself, doubting your every move and intention, or you will become twisted by the value you place on your accomplishments. Surprisingly, both paths often lead to the same place.

The ego test:

Here’s a great way to test whether or not your ego is shaping your identity:

How do you respond to failure?

When your identity is driven by ego, failure becomes a very difficult thing to swallow, because your self-worth is defined by what you accomplish. When you fail, it becomes a direct reflection on your value as a person. You’re defining your worth by what you do.   If you don’t win, it doesn’t count.

So what do you do?

  • Stay in the safe lane
  • Pursue the things you know you can accomplish
  • Calculate risk, not because you’re being pragmatic, but because you don’t want to be embarrassed
  • Rely on your talent, rather than God’s anointing

So, ego actually causes you to accomplish less with your life than you could have. You never face a diminishing of your worth when you stay in the safe lane. It’s easy to be king of the hill if you’re standing on three feet of dirt. Mountain climbing carries a lot more risk.

The worst thing that can happen to you:

My husband got a dvd set with all four Rocky movies (the last two don’t count) for Father’s Day, so we have been binge watching Rocky all week. Remember Rocky III when Rocky is challenged by Mr. T? Rocky realizes that even though he is the champ and he is still winning fights, Mickey, his trainer has been setting him up for easy victories. He’s been living his life in the safe lane and didn’t even realize it. Rocky and Mickey have a huge blow-up and Mickey tells him this:

The worst thing happened to you that can happen to any fighter: you got civilized. – Mickey Goldmill

Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine whether of not you have become civilized:

1. Have you stopped signing up for visible and important projects?

Think about your recent work product. Are you achieving all you should, or have you settled for safety?  Innovation and creativity are a reflection of God’s ability within you, but there is inherent risk in this kind of life. Truly innovative ideas are forged in failure. This is why proper identity is so important.  If we are fearful of failure, we can never really deliver exciting innovation.

2. Are you avoiding leading, creating or connecting because it seems too risky?

Maybe there is a person that you know could take you to the next level, but all you can see is the shame that failing in front of them would bring.  Or perhaps you have a novel idea or understanding that could help others, but putting yourself in front of the world is too intimidating.  If that’s you, you’ve become civilized.

3. Who is defining your boundaries?

One of the side effects of an identity rooted in fear of failure is that we redefine our boundaries.  God creates a set of boundaries for your life – an arena in which you can lead, create and build. When ego is ruling your identity, you diminish your boundaries, never paint on the edges and live a life of carefully measured accomplishments that really don’t mean anything. You won the prize for participation, but what you’ve made of your life is “meh.”

  • Have you redefined your boundaries?
  • Are you putting out fires of no real consequence?

4. How long has it been since you have experienced a spectacular failure?

If it’s been a while, it’s probably not because you’re awesome.  You’re probably just not trying hard enough.

ego and fear of failure
Trying to avoid failure is the real failure.  And it’s exhausting!  You spend all kinds of energy constructing boundaries of your own making, far from the life of risk and purpose that God intended. You’ve insulated yourself, but at what cost? Avoiding risk isn’t free. Someone always pays the price.  What’s the bigger risk — being laughed at or being irrelevant?

Now, when we fought, you had that eye of the tiger, man; the edge! And now you gotta get it back, and the way to get it back is to go back to the beginning. You know what I mean? – Apollo Creed

Getting back the eye of the tiger:

If fear and ego have been driving your agenda, here are a few thoughts that can help you get back on track:

  • Understand this: when you feel the pressure to be right or to be well-regarded by others, it’s a pressure of your own making. If you made it, you can control it.
  • Identity is not about the things you do or don’t do. There is no pressure from God to be perfect. That’s the voice of religion.
  • You and God have two very different definitions of failure. You see not winning in the moment as failure; God sees taking the safe, but sure route as failure.
  • If you let Him, God will use your failure as a tool to teach you tenacity and resilience.
  • The only way to stay connected to your true identity is to stay centered in Christ. He keeps pushing you back to His original intention for your life.  Ask Him to reset your boundaries.
  • Call fear of failure what it is – PRIDE.

You can look like you have it all together and be absolutely paralyzed by risk.  You can live a life that most people would applaud and live well below God’s intention when He created you.  Fear doesn’t have to look like fear to define you.

It’s up to you.

Do you want to be civilized, or do you want the eye of the tiger?