Failure, Doubt, and Perfectionism: A Lenten Reflection

History certainly does repeat itself. 

Every semester, the vicious cycle of sleep deprivation kicks in around week eight. During this time, the “normal” daily routine is as follows: wake up, go to class, do homework, stay up late, sleep for a few hours, and repeat the next day. In the typically ironic fashion, the hopeful student begins the semester promising themselves that papers will be started earlier, bed times will be strictly enforced, and socialization and personal fitness time will be a part of the daily routine. As all hopeful students (and I included) know, this lofty promise almost always seems to be abandoned. We start out strong but inevitably stress surmounts us. No matter how many years we have been in higher education, we are almost never prepared for what is to ensue in the final two months of classes. When coupled with the stress of schoolwork, sleep deprivation becomes a thorn in our flesh. Those papers we attempted to start early somehow got pushed back, our bed times become later and later, we interact less and less with those around us (for those of us who are married, this also unfortunately means our spouses), and our fitness aspirations become a figment of our imagination. At the end of each day, we find ourselves slipping further and further into that vicious cycle with which we are all well acquainted.

On the one hand, I know there are those blessed ones who are able to conquer this cycle. Stress is not an object of fear, and somehow everything always seems to end up okay for these people. When the busy time of the semester is over, these people walk away feeling slightly worn out. On the other hand, there are those who get to the end of the semester (or perhaps the one month point) and feel like they have been ran over by freight train. It is in this camp where I find myself at the end of each semester.

Come December and May, I am always bruised and broken. In these months, I find myself filled with frustration and doubt. As one who aspires to continue to move on in the world of academia and pursue a PhD in Religion, the doubt in me screams, “You cannot do this. You are not cut out for this type of work.” In response, I often retort to my doubt, “Maybe you are right. Maybe I am not meant for this. Maybe I need to reevaluate my ‘call’.” This semester my doubt almost got the best of me. I highly considered changing my directions in my academic path.

Thankfully two papers (a total of 52 pages) lighter, I can finally think clearly again. With a solid eight hours of sleep last night, I now realize the origins of this dastardly doubt. Doubt finds its genesis in two components of my life: 1) My fear of failure. I am a perfectionist in every way possible. If things are not done properly and/or the grades do not reflect success, I personally depreciate my value and abilities. I allow fear to prevail. 2) My lack of sleep. Ironically, such an avoidable inhibitor is often the iconic source of stress. Lack of sleep produces doubt, it produces fear; thus, it sends me (and many others) spiraling into the vicious cycle as mentioned above.

In times such as the past month and a half, I often throw myself a personal pity party. This time, however, I will choose to ‘party’ no longer. The past few weeks, I have been reminded of David’s words in Psalm 51. Although the situation in which David wrote this psalm is much different than what I am currently in, I still find immeasurable peace in his cry. He pleads to the LORD, “Restore in me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit” (Ps 51:12 NRSV). Fear and doubt yearn to take this from us, and for me, they have succeeded. Nevertheless, they will succeed no more.

I may have majorly failed on my lenten devotion (blogging and writing more often). I may have not made the most desirable grade on my Greek midterm. But at the end of the day, none of that really matters. I have something far greater to rest in, something that will continue on much longer than any grade or personal goal.

History certainly does repeat itself. This fact is undeniable. However, history can be rewritten. This fact, too, is undeniable. It is my time to write a new chapter. It is time to stop worrying about failing and stop letting doubt control me. Life is beautiful. Failure and success alike.

χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη (Grace and peace to you) – Michael


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