Don’t Fear Failure

Hey, it’s me Mark!

I’m a sinner.

You’re a sinner.

So…we’re all sinners. But as Christians, we’re called to not sin. How does that work? Is it some sort of joke? Are we meant to live a life of frustration and self-criticism? Or are we meant to hide in our homes, oven mitts on our hands, desperately trying not to sin? We’re going to anyway, shouldn’t we just give in and at least have some fun doing it?

What should we do?


Because let me break some bad news to you. We’re going to sin. All of us at some point are going to mess up and sin before we die. So what do we do about it? We’re being asked to do something impossible. We’re being asked not to sin, but we can’t do this: we’re sinners and sinners sin.

But, think about this: The Pope goes to confession, and he’s the Pope. Imagine what the Pope’s confessions must be like. Is he confessing actual sins or is he just being crazy and scrupulous?

Is he in there like, “So, I wasn’t a good enough Pope. I prayed a lot, but still not enough. It was like thirty rosaries, but still…I probably could of squeezed in a few more. Also, I briefly had a moment where I didn’t think the absolute best about everyone…”?

Or is he like, “I smacked a guy right across the face and I knew there was nothing he could do about it because I’m the Pope and who’s going to believe that the Pope smacked you right across the face? Open palm, healthy windup and follow-through…it felt good too. Satisfying…”?

I gotta believe it’s closer to the first one.

Don’t sweat it. Even the best of us sin.

Improv to the Rescue

I’ve seen this scene a lot:

Somebody in a scene tries to give someone else a name but fumbles it. “Well I don’t like the way you send company wide emails to everyone about the way my feet smell … Jrosh!”

Uh oh.

Then there’s a moment where the audience chuckles because they got to peek behind the curtain and see that there is no wizard, just normal people, up on stage, making stuff up.

Then another person enters the scene, “Hey, I got that email, super funny stuff Jrosh.”

The audience laughs again, this time with a smattering of applause because the mistake has been accepted into the reality of the scene!

Then Jrosh says, “Thanks for bringing this by Jrason.” Huge, thunderous applause because the mistake has not just become part of the reality, it has informed the reality.

And suddenly, everyone sees that there was never any mistake to begin with.

Change Your Relationship to Failure

Before I began to study improv, I hated failure. It scared me. It tied me up in knots, and as a result I just didn’t do many things. I didn’t write. I didn’t act. I didn’t sing. I didn’t date. Because what if I failed?

I mean, think of the embarrassment, the heartbreak, the discomfort, and shame that would result from those failures…

Long ago, when I was seven years old, I was at the pool with my sister. She spent all day coaching me on the low dive. I did swan dives. I did flips. I did inwards. I did backdives. Then, she said it was time for the high dive. She wanted me to try a front flip off the high dive.

“Are you crazy? It’s a million feet high, and I’ll die a horrible painful death!”

“Come on Mark, you’re great! You’ve been doing flips off the low dive all day! Just try one off the high dive.”


“You can do it. I know you can.”

She was persistent, and eventually I climbed the cold, wet rungs of the ladder to the high dive. I was nervous. I could see for miles in every direction, in the distance, the Taj Mahal rose from the sands of the desert, to the north, Mount Everest’s icy peaks dominated the skyline. I was fifteen feet in the air.


“Go Mark!” she cheered.

My knees trembled as I took my place. I reviewed the flip in my mind and opened my eyes, face set in an expression of steely determination. A few rapid steps, plant, spring, and I was in the air! I tucked and flipped, and came out of my tuck extending my legs and toes, ready for the water to rush up and smack them. But the water didn’t come. My body continued to flip forward, slower, but definitely still happening. I came past vertical and could see the water waiting ten feet below where I was used to it being. In that last ten feet, I continued flipping forward, arms pinwheeling comically in a vain attempt to reverse the forces of physics I had put into motion until I slammed into the water face-first.

I felt like I had been slapped and punched at the same time.

I let my body go limp as I sank into the water. I drifted downwards initially, and then my natural buoyancy brought me back to the surface. The whole time I was motionless, directing all of the saved energy into a laser beam of anger. As I surfaced, I exploded into motion and brought my dripping arm out of the water in a dramatic point of accusation at Lauren.

I issued a primal bellow, “You…made…me…do…it!”

Such anger. Such fury. Such resentment. But what lay at the heart of it? Embarrassment. I had tried, and I had failed.

Fear of Failure

We all know that it is fruitless and pointless to fear failure, but we don’t exactly know how to get past this fear. Improv provides a safe environment to fail and then encourages you to see how big you can fail. Starting off, you’ll feel the fear stopping you. You’ll tell yourself to only make small, meek offers. You’ll let other people in scenes dictate the whole reality. You’ll take a backseat. But as you continue, and you fail a few hundred times and find that you’re still alive and in generally good emotional shape, your choices will get bigger.

Like a baby who tries sitting up first, then crawling, then standing, then walking, then running, you progress. You take small risks and mess up, you fail. And it’s a little embarrassing. You do it again. It’s less embarrassing. And again. Then you take bigger risks, and then insane ones. Before you know it, failure doesn’t scare you.

And it shouldn’t. Because it isn’t the end of the story.

Fear of Sin

Christians have a strange relationship to sin. On the one hand, we’re supposed to fear sin, which makes sense when we think about what sin is. It is separation from God, which rightly strikes terror in us. But at the same time, we know that the power of sin is nothing compared to the power of God. Christ defeated sin. Christ has redeemed us. So we have nothing to fear from sin.

Even if we commit a sin, it’s just a matter of going to confession and that sin is wiped away. “Wiped away” doesn’t even really convey how totally confession gets rid of our sins. When we go to confession, it’s like we never sinned at all.

In improv, we don’t want to mess up, but if we do, we can use those failures to achieve our goal. Our sins, once forgiven, can bring us closer to God. I’m not saying we should try to sin. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t worry to much about it. Like Augustine said, “Love, and do as you will.” This is great advice in improv and in life. Don’t worry about mistakes. Avoid sin, but don’t worry about it too much if you commit one. Just confess it and move on.

Sin isn’t the end of the story. Easter is.

Christ overcomes sin.


Image: Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Don’t Fear Failure

  1. Hi Mark,
    Your dad read this to me. It struck me so that when I got home, I googled it. Glad to have found it. You certainly have a great grasp on what fear does I all aspects of our lives. Thanks for a thoughtful read and remember to thank Lauren for cheering you on. LOL Marcie


  2. Pingback: God is an Artist | Mark Leopold's Blog

  3. Pingback: Changing Your Worldview | Mark Leopold's Blog

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